Originally published Oct. 17, 2011

Although the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding will not officially begin for three months, events aimed toward achieving interfaith harmony and religious tolerance have already started in West Michigan.

Grand Valley State University and eight other colleges around the Grand Rapids area are collaborating with Mayor George Heartwell’s office and the Grand Rapids Press to offer students a range of opportunities to explore different faiths. Aquinas College, Hope College, Calvin College and other private schools have scheduled religious speakers to present on their campuses and have opened admission to the public. GVSU is the only public institution participating.

The Year of Interfaith Understanding was conceived by GVSU’s Kaufman Interfaith Institute, which works to promote appreciation of and peace between people of different religions.

“We do this by dialogue, by relationships, by getting to know and respect people who may not look like us, think like us, or worship like us,” said Doug Kindschi, director of the Kaufman Institute. “We seek not only areas where we agree but also to understand our differences and learn to accept those differences without prejudice and discrimination.”

Kindschi and the institute have orchestrated a number of events and guest speakers to prompt religious conversations at GVSU, while many congregations, organizations and study groups in the Grand Rapids community are planning to sponsor events and offer tours of different worship centers.

“I think participation in the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding is important because we have no other choice but to learn to live together in a society that mutually understands, accepts and respects our neighbors who may not look like the image of God to us,” said Whitney Belprez, project manager of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. “The only other alternative is to become a community that self-destructs because we cannot learn about those around us, and thus cannot peacefully live with them.”

The Kaufman Institute was founded in 2006 during GVSU’s sponsorship of the Interfaith Dialogue, a triennial event started by the Kaufman family in Muskegon more than 20 years ago. The institute is devoted to inspiring understanding among religions, which Kindschi said is an essential step toward establishing peace among nations. The Year of Interfaith Understanding is intended to expand the efforts of the Kaufman Institute and increase such understanding within the greater community.

While the Kaufman Institute looks to strengthen the relationship between people of different faiths, it does not intend for anyone to surrender personal beliefs for the sake of unity.

“The biggest misconception about engaging in any kind of interfaith work is that we have to compromise the faith we hold to be true and accept that all religions are really the same,” Belprez said. “That’s not what the Kaufman Interfaith Institute is about, and it’s definitely not what the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding is about. The goal is to learn about another religion from an adherent of that religion.”

The 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding will culminate with the Interfaith Dialogue, which will host representatives of different religions discussing their different and similar beliefs.

“We hope that this year-long discussion and dialogue will make our community a better place to live, work and study,” Kindschi said. “Understanding and respect will bring about a healthier, accepting society.”

For more information on the schedule of events, visit the website at http://www.interfaith-mi.org.


Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2011/10/gvsu_to_participate_in_2012_year_of_interfaith_understanding