Lessons from my Cohort
Updated: Jul 30
“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which humans have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”
- John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopalian Bishop
Being a Christian in an interfaith community is not easy; in fact, I have found it to be one of the more difficult social situations I’ve ever been in. I grew up in a majority Christian community: my parents’ best friends are all from our church, and I went to Christian school growing up. All this is to say that, in my youth, I didn’t have many opportunities to engage with people from different faith traditions. This changed a little bit when I went to college; however, during my freshman year I made a significant effort to surround myself with like-minded Christians in an attempt to grow in my own faith. But even after all my work toward my own faith formation, something was still missing. The groups I had joined focused a lot on the Scripture, as expected, but I realized that their focus on Christians’ relationship with other faiths was, at the end of the day, lacking. I grew up surrounded by evangelicals, but I no longer saw my primary responsibility as a Christian to be to convert, but instead, to understand - or further, to learn to love traditions that are not aligned with my own.
So, I made a decision: I would apply for the multifaith internship working for the Truitt Center for Religious Life at Elon University. A friend who was in the cohort of interns before me encouraged me to look into the job, and after feeling an immense lacking in my own faith, I resolved to look for more purpose through interfaith work - engaging with people of different traditions through one-on-one talking and community events.
However, purpose isn’t found easily, and it definitely isn’t found without trial. I realized this in early conversations with other interns in my cohort: those who were not Christians seemed to have an idea of Christianity that just didn’t seem to fit the tradition I grew up in. I’ll be honest; it hurt. It hurt to know that the religion and tradition I held so close to my heart had been a source of pain and misunderstanding to my colleagues.
The quote by John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopalian bishop, helped me through this difficult realization. Spong is the founder of Progressing Spirit, a progressive Christian organization, and his words spoke to me. For a long time, I had this image in my head of the “Christian God.” He was the right God. He was the God I grew up with. But Spong’s words made me realize that God doesn’t change through religions. In my tradition, or the Jewish tradition, or really any tradition - God is God. And I will use my tradition to further my relationship with Him. However, if that is not the tradition that allows others to feel most in touch with their spiritual side and spiritual leader, then who am I to say which way is right?