Campus group embraces denominational differences

In light of APU’s conversation about diversity, the campus’s Interfaith Alliance is seeking to break down boundaries through conversations between Christian denominations.

The group has been in the works since last spring, but the organization made its first appearance on Feb. 2 at its Diversity in Christianity event. The discussion-based panel of representatives included Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Pentecostal and Quaker participants.

According to its mission statement, the group aims to help “students to engage in respectable interfaith dialogue, working together for shared causes to enhance religious awareness and build bridges.”

President and cofounder of Interfaith Alliance Jennifer Maidrand said she formed the group to sort through pressing and divisive issues in the Christian faith.

“We need to work very hard to cultivate peace and love among different faiths and among our own faith,” Maidrand said, a senior biblical studies major. “There can be so many things that tear apart Christians and tear apart the body. I think we should be actively pursuing knowledge and learning about people in other traditions and other faiths so that we can better cultivate this unity.”

Maidrand said she has received positive feedback from students and professors who largely say the conversations the Alliance have are needed on campus. She said the first meeting brought together such a large group that there were not enough chairs to seat them all.

“It was an inspiring time of sharing and realizing that there are so many rich things about all of these different traditions,” Maidrand said. “I want to learn from and embrace them in my own practice of faith.”

Assistant biblical studies professor Justin Smith, Ph.D., said he believes Christians tend to emphasize differences instead of commonalities.

“Instead of saying and experiencing a relationship with God and one another that is based on God’s love and grace, we have been gravitating toward a more fear-based model,” Smith said.

Coba Canales, associate campus pastor for discipleship ministries, said Christians need an appreciation of the vastness of spiritual expression.

“[It is important to] recognize that my specific denomination is not the only way for the expression of the body of Christ,” Canales said. “There should be something in us that reminds us that we are incomplete.”

The next Interfaith Alliance meeting on March 3 will focus on theological perspective and interfaith dialogue.

The group will have a discussion with people from Islam and Judaism on April 12 in the Duke Art Hallway from 6:30 to 8 p.m.