Faith And Inclusion Are Not Opposites

For some, interfaith is viewed as a choice between staying true to one’s faith and being inclusive. These two are not mutually exclusive concepts. This is fairly evident in my institution’s experience in our interfaith initiative. It’s also fairly evident in my experience as an immigrant. 

Holy Family University is a small faith-based institution in Northeast Philadelphia with two-thirds  of our student population identifying as Christian. Most recent data suggests that those who identify as non-affiliated are the fastest-growing faith group, which is in keeping with national trends. This is most evident, especially among our graduate students.  

Our interfaith initiative started in February 2020, when our president granted the request of the Diversity & Inclusion Team to create an interfaith space. In the summer of the same year, the Team applied for and was granted an IFYC Racial Equity & Interfaith Cooperation Award. The funds were used to furnish the interfaith space which later on was named the Reflection Room. Through IFYC’s guidance, we planned for the launch of the Reflection Room, and on April 7th, 2021, in a virtual event called Celebrating the Diversity of Faiths, we commemorated the launch of the Reflection Room. The event featured multiple voices from our community, from faculty, staff, and students, coming from different faith traditions. 

What has happened in our institution provides a template for similar institutions that may be going through some challenges in establishing an interfaith program. It shows that being true to one’s faith and being inclusive are not opposites. 

Our nascent interfaith program shares the same theme as my own journey as an immigrant in this country. I am an immigrant from the Philippines, and like most immigrants, I had to deal with experiences of exclusion. And in those moments, I always find solace in my own faith, particularly the Bible. As an immigrant, as someone who moved from one place to another,  as someone who has been a stranger in this land, when I read the Bible, I find comfort and solace. The Bible has always been clear on how strangers have to be treated: 

  • “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). 
  • “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow” (Psalms 146:9). 
  • “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “ (Matthew 23:35-46). 

As an immigrant, when I am troubled by experiences that I perceive as moments of exclusion, I seek and find inspiration in my faith. And this is proving to be true as well for our institution, that faith can bring us together.

As an institution of higher education, we are founded by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and are guided by our mission of seeking “direction and inspiration from the life and teaching of Jesus Christ”, affirming “the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition”, and witnessing “to the dignity of each person and the oneness of the human family.” Furthermore, we direct our actions towards the fulfillment of these core values: family, respect, integrity, service and responsibility,  learning, and vision.  Two of these core values have become our main sources of motivation in establishing an interfaith program: respect and vision.  

Respect is the  affirmation of  “the dignity of the human person through openness to multiple points of view, personalized attention, and collaborative dialogue in the learning process and in the interaction among members of the University community. The University seeks to instill an appreciation of and respect for differences so that its graduates can function successfully in multicultural contexts.” Another university core value, vision, allows us to go back to our roots, an education that is “grounded in a Judeo-Christian worldview that serves as a foundation upon which to address contemporary problems and to build a vision for the future.” This  Judeo-Christian worldview provides us a pathway to welcoming other faiths, as Pope Francis has said, the Church is “aware of the importance of furthering respect of friendship between men and women of different religious traditions” and that those who do not belong to any religion “are our precious allies in the commitment to defend human dignity, build a more peaceful coexistence among people…” 

One of the most iconic images associated with the Holy Family is the nativity scene--Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, bringing together and surrounded by vastly different creatures: shepherds and their sheep, Magi from the east, angels--a perfect symbol for interfaith. Faith can and does bring people together. I have witnessed this in my personal life and I am witnessing this in how my institution lives its mission.  


If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"99.8% of U.S. deaths are of the unvaccinated. If you heard of an airline of that percentage dying, whereas a 0.02% on another, you’re switching flights." -- Dr. Jimmie Smith, Macon-Bibb County Health Department, Georgia.
As a scholar of religious studies, I frequently use critical race theory as a tool to better understand how religion operates in American society.
Inspired by their faith, four LDS students built new study resource that has revolutionized how hundreds of thousands of aspiring physicians study for their exams. "It really started because we just wanted to help people," one said.
We're now in one of the holiest seasons of the year for one of smallest and oldest religions in India -- one with a long history in the United States.
Organizing on-campus vaccination clinics, calling thousands of students, hosting informational webinars with medical experts – these are some of the ways in which IFYC’s Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors (FIVA) have been raising awareness around the COVID-19 vaccine on campuses and high-need communities across the nation.
Last year's winners, listed below, created a range of initiatives, from virtual retreats and criminal justice initiatives to book clubs and racial equity workshops.
Religious objections, once used sparingly around the country to get exempted from various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot.
What will the campus chapel, and the chaplaincy, look like more than a century from now? Let the adventure begin.
The issue is not the presence of religion in the public square. Instead, the question before us is how to express those religious commitments within in a pluralistic society.
We don’t know what the year 5782 – as it is in the Hebrew calendar – has in store for any of us. But we have the power to act in a way to do right by each other and bring a little more peace and love and joy into this profoundly broken world.
The following interview features Dr. Toby Bressler, senior director of nursing for oncology and clinical quality at the Mount Sinai Health System and vice president of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association.
Part of what I found so beautiful about our conversation is that we both agree that American pluralism is not simply a pragmatic solution to the challenge of a diverse democracy, it is also a kind of sacred trust that God intends us to steward.
After 9/11, there was increased intentionality in widening interfaith relations to include a broader number of faith groups and discussions. Twenty years later, it is not unusual to see interreligious conferences, joint advocacy efforts and disaster relief teamwork involving faith groups ranging from Adventists to Zoroastrians.
Twenty years later, we at IFYC, like so many others, collect the shards of memory, recollecting, reconstituting the trauma and horror of that day. And the sacredness is in doing so together.
As we approach this significant anniversary of 9/11, we must work to infuse the day with purpose and pluralism. Pay it Forward 9/11 is bringing people together to do 20,000 good deeds for the 20th anniversary.
In the first month since 9/11, The Sikh Coalition documented over 300 cases of violence and religious discrimination against Sikhs in the U.S. and has since grown to become the largest Sikh advocacy and civil rights organization in the country.
“If you were to quiz these students on what happened on 9/11, they think they knew what happened, but nobody really explained it to them,” Lisa Doi said. “I had to think through, how do you teach this history to somebody who doesn’t really remember it?”
My prayer is that for as long as we remember 9/11, that we will take time to listen to the stories of loss that break our hearts, and join together in finding ways to heal the division, violence and hate that continue to tear apart our world.
It has been 20 years, but the pain of that day is still present in so many places.
20 years after the 9/11 attacks, four remarkable people took profound suffering, loss and grief and “somehow managed to not center enemies. What can we learn from that? How can that be a teaching to the culture?”
Now the entire planet is our garden, and Rosh Hashana is our chance to remember that we are all descended from the original gardeners — that we are here, each of one us, to tend our chosen plots as best we can.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.