New interfaith faculty group hosts event

The newly-formed Calvin Interfaith Engagement team hosted an online conversation between three local faith leaders on Mar. 18.

Professor Frans van Liere described the team’s mission as promoting interfaith engagement within Calvin’s current curriculum, an aim outlined in the university’s mission statement.

The new team consists of Professors Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim, Douglas Howard, van Liere, University Pastor Mary Hulst, Executive Associate to the President for Diversity & Inclusion Michelle Loyd-Paige, and Andrew Haggarty of the Service Learning Center.

At the forum, students learned about the importance of interfaith experiences and dialogue by listening to Rabbi Michael Shadick from Temple Emmanuel, Imam Sharif Sahibzada from the Islamic Center of West Michigan, and Hulst. 

Speakers described how they’d seen interfaith dialogue bridge communities and revealed similarities where once only differences were perceived.

Shadick described how he and his wife began a dinner group for couples of different faiths. They had conversations about similarities and differences between their beliefs.  Diversity and education, he said, serve not to diminish one or the other but enhance individual perspectives on our traditions and give us ‘gems’ from others’. 

Sahibzada, who was the first imam in Grand Rapids and came just two months prior to 9/11, said there can be “no peace among the nations without peace among religions, and no peace among religions without dialogue between religions.” He believes that interfaith dialogue is a preserving practice: it fosters love of fellow humans, and peace among those with religious differences. 

Hulst, born and raised in West Michigan, explained how her early experience with interfaith dialogue was limited due to her homogenous religious background. However, she later developed a more intellectual interest in Judaism to help her better understand the Bible. She believes that it’s important for students to understand that it is “part and parcel of our faith to love our neighbors well.”

In response to a question from van Liere on the growth of anti-semitism and Islamic hatred in the U.S., all three leaders pointed out that hatred not only exists in sensational media reports, but also in Christian attitudes. Shadick pointed out some are convinced that their faith is worth more than others’.

Shadick said that the purpose of interfaith dialogue should be understanding and sharing  values, not denigrating other faiths’ beliefs. Hulst recognized that for many Christians, including many in the Calvin community, there is a mindset to ‘evangelize at all costs.’ She argued that such mindsets can hurt others when they are forced into uninvited conversations. 

The forum closed with each of the three leaders listing the ways Calvin students can engage in interfaith dialogue. Student organizations such as Hillel, the Jewish student organization at GVSU, can be partners with Calvin. Calvin students are also welcome at the Temple Immanuel and the West Michigan Islamic Center or the Islamic Center of Grand Rapids. Van Liere pointed to the Calvin Interfaith Alliance, an interfaith student organization, as an existing group facilitating interfaith dialogue. 

Hulst also mentioned that there are many opportunities in Calvin’s classrooms the Calvin Interfaith Engagement team is looking to foster.