The American Studies program hosted a webinar on religious diversity on April 2nd, featuring four panelists with common values of acceptance and understanding.
The Jewish book Pirkei Avot is dated back 2,000 years and poses these timeless questions: “Who is wise? How do we define a wise person?” Pirkei Avot answers this question with the simple yet powerful response of “the one who can learn from everyone”, as Panelist Rabbi Spector explained in Friday’s (April 2, 2021) webinar.
The four panelists were of various backgrounds and faiths, and all work within the state of Utah in a field related to their religion. The panel was aimed at creating a conversation about what it means to foster religious diversity.
Pirkei Avot’s answer of “the one who can learn from everyone” set the tone for much of the conversation. Each panelist shared unique experiences that have taught them how to be open, accepting, and charitable.
“It’s very easy for religious people to think that we have the answers, and that we’re there to teach other people”, said panelist Dr. Rachel Cope, who is a religious history professor at BYU. “We need to interact with other people with our own questions and expect that we’re going to benefit from whatever they have to share”.
Pastor Corey J. Hodges, who is of The Point Church, spoke to a similar concept. Hodges studied at Regent University, a private Christian university in Virginia. Hodges emphasized intentionality in our interactions with others and noted that when we are at qualifying universities such as BYU or Regent University, where he studied, it can be easy to stay within a bubble. “Qualifying” meaning universities that are directed at certain religious faiths, or types of people. Hodges used the examples of BYU, Regent, historically women’s colleges, or HBCU’s.
Hodges stated that at these qualifying universities, “we are comfortable with what we believe, and our faith is fortified, solidified, in really good and positive ways." He then emphasized the importance of intentionally seeking out information about other faiths and people who are authentically different from you. “At the end of the day, I'm not living in a world with only Christians,” Hodges explained, “and religious diversity affords all of us the opportunity to lay down our fears.”
Intrinsically tied with the desire to understand others is the responsibility to serve them. Reverend Elizabeth McVicker, of Centenary United Methodist Church, shared an anecdote from her time as the new head of Centenary in Salt Lake City. Within a week of her arrival to Utah, the South Salt Lake Stake president knocked on her door with balloons in hand. The two went on to work together on various interfaith projects, including a multifaith cultural event where McVicker met Latter-day Saint Burmese refugees who live in Utah. This was a special coincidence because McVicker is originally from Burma.
“I would say to the people observing this panel, if you find yourself in a position as stake president, or some other position, to recognize the richness that could be found in reaching out to the other faiths in your neighborhood,” said McVicker.
Josie Manwill is the president of the American Studies Student Council and she explained that the process of organizing the event was a testament to the panel’s ideas and concepts. “Getting all of this done took so many other people, and on a bigger scale that is always going to happen,” said Manwill. “That was kind of my personal big takeaway, why connection and community is so important.”
To learn more about the American Studies program or how to get involved, click here.