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Heritage Fellows Publish “Keeping the Faith While Making Interfaith Relationships”


Three Virginia Baptist college students were challenged to intentionally get to know fellow students on their campus who practice another faith and hopefully to make a friendship. Emma Tilley and her sister, Virginia Tilley, students at the College of William & Mary, and Andrew Cook, a student at Virginia Tech, were appointed as the class of Heritage Fellows 2016-17, a program sponsored by the Center for Baptist Heritage & Studies at the University of Richmond.

Their assignment was to become more grounded in their own knowledge of Baptist distinctives and principles while purposely reaching out to persons of other faiths.  In a world where religious faiths are in conflict and even in the contemporary scene in America with “fear of the other,” these young Baptists were encouraged to practice the same openness of early Virginia Baptists who struggled to help secure religious liberty for persons of all faiths and even no faith.

The Heritage Fellows’ experiences were documented in a new book entitled Keeping the Faith While Making Interfaith Relationships. It gives their analysis of Baptist principles, their own testimonies of why they chose to be “a Baptist Christian,” and the accounts of the relationships which they initiated with fellow students of other faiths.

Emma Tilley wrote about students who are Muslim, Hindu and Jewish and what they appreciated about one another once they became friends. She reflected:  “I had no idea of the implications of this writing project when I signed on. I questioned the need to explain religious freedom because I thought America prided itself in the freedoms it offered to all. Yet I came across people who had experienced prejudice because of their religion. It wasn’t until I began looking out for the ways I interacted with other religions, that I began to realize the importance of how we relate to others. With each added day, the younger generation speaks louder and louder against injustice.”

Andrew Cook learned about the Muslim Student Association on his campus and attended one of their meetings. He wrote about his friendship with a Muslim student:  “His devotion to his faith and constant kindness and sincerity with others has inspired me. Because of his own devotion to the memorization of the Muslim religious text, the Qur’an, I have been challenged to memorize the Bible with the same dedication he has shown.”

“While most Muslims whom I have met so far hesitate to talk about Muslim terrorism or Jihadism, he addresses the topic and strives to point towards the faith he calls his own which has nothing to do with terrorism.”

Virginia Tilley made a friend of a Hindu who was struggling with Atheism.  The Heritage Fellow observed “the importance of fostering a mutual respect between religious groups, cultures and nationalities.”  “No religious group, even Christianity, should try to force its views upon others by use of government.  God alone is ‘Lord of the conscience,’ giving each person free will to think and act for themselves.”

Fred Anderson, executive director emeritus of the Heritage Center, explained the purpose of the project:  “It is hoped that Baptist young people who read these accounts will be moved to reach out beyond their own circle and form friendships with those who represent ‘the other’ within their community. It is further hoped that this project and the book which tells the accounts will serve in some way to help foster an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance in the land which birthed religious liberty for all.”

The Heritage Fellows program receives each January applications from Virginia Baptist college sophomores and juniors. Full qualifications and requirements are posted on the Heritage Center’s website wwwbaptistheritage.org. Each year the nature of the Heritage Fellows’ project changes so that there are presented a variety of issues of current interest to Baptists.

Copies of Keeping the Faith can be ordered for $7 each plus $3 for shipping and handling.  Send orders to Center for Baptist Heritage & Studies, P.O. Box 34, University of Richmond, VA 23173.