Interfaithfully speaking: The discovery of ‘universal faith’
By Jenny Wang | Special to the Courier
I’ve always been a curious student. Raised a Christian, I used to clearly separate my religious beliefs with academic pursuits. I would spend Friday mornings absorbing a lecture on how European colonizers used religion to subjugate and oppress indigenous peoples across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, learning how white Christianity became a weapon for racial segregation and white savior complex. At night, I would attend youth group meetings at my local church, falling back into the warm, loving God that I know so well, not the textbook version who brought so much suffering.
I remained that way until the 2020 election, when my worldview was turned upside down. Election-deniers permeated digital outlets, and heartbreakingly, my own pastor was one of them. I struggled to understand as he repeatedly described the imaginary trucks that arrived in the middle of the night and stole election ballots. I turned away as he instructed our youth group to pray for an alternate result that would never take place. I failed to come to terms with the fact that someone I trusted and relied on so dearly –– who introduced me to the kingdom of God –– could endorse such flagrant partisan warfare.
I was dumbfounded, hurt, incredulous, with all the impossible notions swirling through my mind. Religion’s link with conservative politics was no longer a far-fetched story but was in fact manifesting in front of my eyes.
Following the realization, I confronted the facts I had always known –– no matter how wonderful and altruistic the religious principles are, they are bound to succumb to fallible human judgements. Christianity is not alone in this pattern. Extremists exploit passages from the Qur’an to commit violent atrocities and suppress minority non-Muslim groups. Hindu right-wing nationalists reinforce the caste system to distinguish the elites from the untouchables. Zionists exploit unequal negotiations in Jerusalem while orthodox Jewish communities continue embracing misogynistic practices that haunt women to this day.
Are such downfalls inevitable? It seems that involvement of nation-states often twists the founding intentions of religion, transforming original narratives of love and compassion to hatred and exclusivity. Between theological disagreements and institutional clashes, one group remains a consistent victim: people with marginalized identities. From the South African miners who toiled under De Beer’s ruthless governance, to as close as the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe in Claremont that lost possession of its sacred land –– one of many countless similar occurrences during westward expansion –– flesh-and-blood humans have borne the brunt of the impact.
Perhaps we can circle back to the most basic definition of religion. After interviewing more than 20 local pastors, imams, rabbis, and swamis, a pattern began to emerge: that is, the desire to care for the poor, show kindness to others, and cherish one’s connection with God. With these common goals, leaders work to address the pressing issues within our surrounding environments such as hunger and homelessness. It is crucial, now more than ever, that we promote interfaith collaborations among our local communities. Through storytelling and land reclamations, we can hopefully contribute to social justice dialogue, reverse cultural genocides, and remember what it really means to be religious.
Jenny Wang, 17, is a junior at The Webb Schools, where she is the copy editor of the Webb Canyon Chronicle. Jenny plans to study international relations and journalism in college.