The new interfaith leaders
Last week, Interfaith Youth Core held our sixth conference on interfaith work, Leadership for a Religiously Diverse World. At the opening as I looked out on more than 600 faces, I thought back to our first conference, where I spoke with the 30 attendees about a lofty idea for an interfaith youth movement.
Needless to say, this conference showed that the interfaith youth movement is more than a big idea now. The people paying attention and the goals we set launched the new era of this movement.
Conference speakers included Joshua DuBois, Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities at the State Department; Rev. Jim Wallis, Founder of Sojourners; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Delegations came from the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Malawi, and India, as did representatives from over 90 college campuses.
But the conference, and this movement, is about more than the congregation of these influential speakers, international delegations, and college students and staff.
It's about a group of people creating a new category in the culture. A category called interfaith leader.
A hundred years ago, nobody called themselves an environmentalist, or a human rights activist. Twenty years ago, people didn't call themselves social entrepreneurs. These are new identity categories that have emerged in the culture and made a serious impact.
What do interfaith leaders do?
Interfaith leaders change conversations. There are still folks in the interfaith movement who talk about Evangelical Christians as people who can't participate because of their exclusivist theology. But there were enough Evangelical Christians at this conference that they changed the conversation. And now folks are talking about how Evangelical Christians are taking leadership in this movement instead of how they can't be part of it.
Interfaith leaders launch projects. The teenagers of a youth-led non-profit in Sharon, MA -Interfaith Action - already lead workshops and run a conference. Now they are re-launching a project they initiated one year ago called "One Bag, One Life" to raise money for bed nets and help prevent the spread of malaria. They show how by working together, faith communities can really address issues of local and global concern.
Interfaith leaders transform environments. Katie Basham, a chaplain at Berea College in Berea, KY, coordinates extensive interfaith programming on this majority Christian campus. She and her students are making Berea a model of interfaith cooperation, and their inspiration comes from nothing less than the campus motto from Acts: "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth."
Collectively, what does a generation of young people calling themselves interfaith leaders mean?
They can have the same impact of environmentalists, human rights activists and social entrepreneurs.
They can make what sounds like a lofty idea into a social norm.
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