Here’s an excerpt from an article by Eboo Patel, published in the September-October 2010 issues of Sojourners magazine. Patel, a Muslim, is founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.
“...There’s never a shortage of requests for the White House to support a cause—so people naturally have asked the question: why interfaith and why college campuses? ...First and foremost, college campuses train the next generation of leaders; students who know how to build bridges between faith communities on campus will be able translate that skill as they become leaders in various sectors of society. Second, campuses have the resources and opportunity to advance a body of knowledge that appreciates and engages religious diversity. This can counter the well-known ‘clash of civilizations’ theory, which suggest religions are fated to fight, as well as the ‘new atheist’ theory that all religions are harmful to individuals and society. Third, college campuses are social laboratories that can model what ‘good’ looks like for the rest of society, demonstrating cooperation over conflict. Rattle off major social movements of the 20th century—environmentalism, civil rights, service and volunteering—and you’ll see they all started with the vanguard of college campuses leading the way.”
Many of our own CRC campus ministers are in the thick of the interfaith discussions and activities on campuses across the U.S. and Canada. They are there seeking understanding, being a redeeming presence and explaining and living out their Christian faith through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As Patel notes, it is an exciting place to be, and one that our denomination has been active in for almost 70 years now. Being a redeeming presence in the midst of the social and intellectual laboratories is a gift we gladly bring to these institutions of higher learning. It is a gift we bring through our faithful presence as pastors, students, staff and faculty. It is a gift we bring because we value Christian education, and that includes these secular institutions of higher education. Maintaining our presence there places us at the intersection of faith, learning and culture. Through programs like the Emerging Leaders, we are able to mentor younger leaders from a Reformed perspective and help prepare them for a lifetime of engaging and challenging the various empires of the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. Endeavors such as the Center for Faith & Scholarship at the University of Michigan contribute the mission of the universities through world-class Christian scholarship. As another school year gets into gear, I can’t think of a better place for our church to be!