A week before the Paris attacks, Steve hosted a town hall in the Ashesi main courtyard on the topic of Faith and Religion. It has been a discussion with leaders of Christian clubs on campus for months, and now it was time to open up the conversation. We had expected mostly Christian students but a significant number of Muslim students along with students of no religion showed resulting in a much richer conversation.
[The town hall was titled: “What is your Operator?”]
What is the relationship between Faith and Religion? In Ghana the words Faith and Religion are synonymous, ask someone their faith and they will answer with their religious affiliation. But what if Faith and Religion were not the same?
Faith is given by the creator
Religion was created by humans to express their faith
[what is your operator, after dark]
And we are a community that encourages critical thinking and higher reasoning; so let’s dialog on the relationship between Faith and Religion.
Steve’s Rules for Dialog:
This is a dialog – be open to having your mind changed.
Speak from your understanding – saying “this I believe” and let others speak about what they believe.
From this day going forward – not a debate over what might have happened in the past.
We asked students to “go to their corners” meaning they would go to one of four corners, depending on what they believed about their relationship.
These were the choices, based on their operator:
Faith = Religion
Faith > Religion
Faith < Religion
Faith != Religion (not equal)
We asked the students to find someone who believed differently from then, and then dialog.
[Students in their corners]
From groups of two, we asked them to find another two and then dialog about what they had discovered. Then from groups of four find another four to share what they discovered.
What the Students Shared with Us
· Faith is God given, religion is earth bound. Whatever comes after this life, it will not be a religious place.
· Before tonight, I thought that Christians were the only ones who had Faith, I now understand that all religions have Faith.
· We came to faith by religion.
· Religion can exist without Faith. (I am sure this was a critique of something)
· Faith cannot be expressed without Religion.
· What if we all share a common faith at our core, but express it differently?
· Religion comes from the culture; different cultures express their faith differently.
After the town hall had concluded, one of the Muslim students came up to me and said “Reverend, we were expecting to hear a lot more from you tonight. We want to know what you believe.”
“There was nothing I could add to what I heard you all tell us.” I said. “It is one of the things that I love about Ashesi students; give them a few definitions and time to figure it out, and they teach themselves more effectively that I ever could.”
Later I learned this had also been a topic of discussion in the Muslim community, and I was thankful for the relationship I have with their community.
[Steve helping with preparations for the Muslim Celebration of Eid, a few weeks earlier]
Suzanne and I sometimes wonder if what Ashesi is really doing is larger than educating “a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa;” but giving the young people of Africa a place to work out their differences peacefully, as an example to the world. As our students learned, at least in part that evening, that what unites us is much larger than what divides us .
[Steve thanks everyone for being there]