God's Own Beloved: Reflections on Theology, Multifaith Education and Christian Faith
By Lisa Anderson
June 23, 2010

As Auburn’s associate director of educational programs, director of Auburn’s Women’s Multifaith program, and as a theologian -- a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at Union seminary -- I understand my work and my life as one seamless realm of service; as one integrated space where the opportunity to love God, love my neighbor and love myself all come together.

This is true for me because within each of these arenas I realize the opportunity to help enable, enhance and equip people of faith, especially those from within historically marginalized communities -- those who, for whatever reason do not participate in the dominant narratives of our culture -- to discover and to fully embrace what being made in the image and likeness of God can mean for them.

This, in the broadest terms is what I care about. I care about bearing witness to the fact that we are, each and everyone one of us, members of God’s own beloved creation. And that the barriers to our ability to embrace this essential belovedness – well, I believe we are called to break them down. This, at its core is what ‘doing justice’ is about to me. This, at its core is where the seat of any activism I have or ever will know resides. It resides in those spaces and places, both personal and political, where every BODY regardless of configuration or confession; regardless of orientation, or affiliation MATTERS.

In my work at Auburn Seminary I get a chance to concretely live out this belief, this passion, every single day. We do multifaith work at Auburn -- serious multifaith work -- which means we don’t bring folks to the table so that they can transcend their differences or deny their points of very real tension or disagreement. But our programs and initiatives help build communities that can hold the tensions that invariably arises between us, because  the humanity that binds us to each other regardless is what we lift up, and what we celebrate, and what we insist on proclaiming to the world.

Our Face to Face/Faith to Faith program is one example of this. Co-founded by Auburn’s president, the Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, this multifaith youth program brings together young people from conflict regions the world over. They gather for a year-long program that includes service, conflict resolution work and most significantly an intensive experience early in the program cycle that invites participants to struggle together. Auburn creates a holding environment where these kids can be honest, can share painful experiences and then go out into the world equipped with the boldness and the resilience that comes from an authentic and mutually validating encounter with the other.

Another example is to be found in our Women’s Multifaith Program. There are a lot of pieces that fall under that general category, but most recently Auburn convened a panel discussion, entitled Women, God and Money. The panel included women representatives from the three Abrahamic faiths -- powerful women who reflected on how their faith and their feminism informed their conviction that absent a strong and sustained commitment to economic empowerment any hope women may have for full equality will always fall short. The words of the young Jewish woman on the panel are especially significant in this context. Fifteen year old Emma reflected on the fact that too often women simply do not know how to ask for the resources we need in order to make a difference for ourselves, and by extension for everyone who falls into the orbit of our caring in the world. She then reflected on how her Judaism enables her to not only ask for, but to demand the best for all women, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Now as a Christian, I will admit that I was not brought up for this kind of thing. I know this is ‘old school,’ but I came to the church through a fundamentalist door, which means I grew up believing that the only reason God might have made people something ‘other than Christian’ was so that Christians would have something to do – namely to bring everybody to Jesus. But I am here to tell you in no uncertain terms  this is wrong. I believe this is SO wrong, because -- and this is where the theologian in me connects with everything I have been saying -- God is the lover of Her people, plain and simple. And so what that means is that the beauty that we might not behold in the face of the other is always at the center of God’s eye. 

Our job, therefore, our calling is to figure out how to act on this assumption.

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