Interfaith Leadership

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core speak at GVSU. Here are a few highlights of his talk.eboo patel2

The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in human history. And the US is the most religiously devout nation in the western world. We, in the US have a choice about how we will live in an interfaith nation and and interfaith world- war or cooperation. Neither option is predetermined.

If we want cooperation we will need a critical mass of interfaith bridge builders and that is the work of the Interfaith Youth Core.

Interfaith leaders need three main skills. These skills are not primarily about thinking but are primarily about doing.

  1. The ability to recognize and develop and tell a public narrative. Future interfaith leaders will need to tell a story. They will need to be able to tell why interfaith work is important. This is not a philosophical argument for interfaith work. This is telling the story of real people with the real struggles and blessings of life in an interfaith nation and world.
  2. The ability to create activities that people of different religious orientations can do together. One value most, if not all, faith and non faith traditions hold is that of service. Serving others, helping others is a shared value. Our reasons for holding that value may be different but the value itself is what we have in common. When people from different religious orientations have the chance to work together, stereotypes and fears lessen.
  3. The ability to facilitate  deeply felt and meaningful conversation.  Leaders will need to be able to create a safe place where people can talk. They will need to ask the right questions and to identify areas of dialogue. These conversations should not focus immediately on deep differences. Deep differences exist and need to be addressed, but not right away. First people need to get to know each other, explain what is important about their faith and so on. eboo patel1eboo patel3

From my perspective these are important skills and students do not have them and perhaps most importantly do not see them in today’s religious and political climate. Even intra Christian dialogue is difficult for students to do. In campus ministry we do quite a bit of this, although mostly between Christians of different traditions. We help students recognize the faith’s narrative and to discover their place within that narrative. We provide opportunities for students from various backgrounds to so service together, to find areas of common concern. And we seek to provide safe space where students can talk and think together.

In our collaborative approach to ministry, we are not all in total agreement on every issue. But we are intentional about modeling respectful discussion. We are intentional about shared service. We are intentional about creating safe space for conversation.

Colleges and universities are more religiously diverse than many people think. Campus ministry will do well to expand our work into interfaith dialogue.

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