On October 28, 2016, I was honored to attend the Interfaith Youth Core Luncheon: Diversity, Disagreement, and Democracy. On the panel, two of my heroes – Krista Tippett and Eboo Patel – explored faith and politics in an election year. As an alumna of IFYC programming, I was asked to give the introduction and share my story. Here’s a bit of the text, and here is the video of the entire panel.
It is my pleasure to be here today to celebrate Interfaith Youth Core and participate in this important conversation with the panelists and all of you.
I am Katie Gordon, and I’m an IFYC alumna currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Working for the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University, I see enormous opportunities for campuses and the broader community to come together to address our shared challenges. In my free time, hosting a public affairs radio program for the Grand Rapids Community Media Center, I see the potential for media to build community and promote social change. I live and work at this intersection of interfaith cooperation and media, and try to harness the power of both to secure a “more perfect union.”
Both of these things, for me, come down to one idea: the transformative power of sharing our stories.
To back up a little bit, I first heard the word “interfaith” when I was sitting in a professor’s office, trying to make sense of the time that I had just spent in northern India. It was the fall of my sophomore year, and he very wisely distilled my hours of rambling into two insights.
He told me, “Katie, what I’m hearing is that you are passionate about two things: learning about religious traditions, and hearing people’s stories.” He suggested I look into something called “interfaith.”
Fast forward six years, and here I am, still being fed off of the stories I’ve heard as a part of the interfaith movement, stories that often don’t make the headlines.
There is a thread that connects that conversation with my professor to me, standing here today. The thread runs through an Interfaith Leadership Institute — the flagship IFYC gathering that catalyzed my interfaith leadership — and through hours of the On Being podcast, which sparked my interest in media as a tool to advance meaningful dialogue across difference.
Through my involvement with IFYC and On Being, I have come to better understand the richness and diversity within and between traditions, the complexity and variety of the human experience, and most of all, the strength of a united community. At a time when the fabric of our society seems as torn as it has ever been, I take heart in how my thread can help stitch my own community back together. I am inspired to see my fellow IFYC alumni — clergy and medical professionals, educators and policy wonks — build communities that value diversity as well as similarity, and dialogue as well as debate.
This work has also allowed me to remain hopeful – hopeful despite a polarizing climate where difference is engaged not as a way to build relationship and understanding, but as a position from which to battle. Interfaith Youth Core and On Being have provided participants and listeners like me a set of values to uphold, a method of deep listening that humanizes the other, and a set of questions to live into. IFYC and On Being continuously reveal how strong our communities and democracy can become, and how the seemingly hopeless problems of our time are nothing in the face of a growing group of committed interfaith leaders.
In that spirit, today we will hear from our esteemed panelists about how we can move forward in the midst of this divisive moment.