Bianca Briggs / Lantern photographer
Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee spoke about the importance of interfaith dialogue in understanding one’s own faith Tuesday night at the St. Thomas More Newman Center.
“You can’t understand your own faith until you understand what other people are doing,” Gee said.
OSU has the largest population of Catholics, Baptists and Jews than any university in the country, Gee said. This diversity creates an open forum for students to discuss their faith.
“What that means is that it’s a place that’s very safe for those of you who not only want to practice your religion but also to be engaged in the kind of community-building opportunities,” he said.
During a question-and-answer session, Gee showed a moment of vulnerability, admitting some regrets.
“I think out of all of the mistakes that I have made, perhaps the biggest mistake is to believe that my work is more important than my family or my faith,” Gee said. “I’m 65, 66 years old. I need to get over that. That’s not the life I want to lead.”
Even so, Gee said his faith still defines him.
“I don’t always practice my faith the way I would like to, but it has always been a part of who I am,” he said.
But Gee said students shouldn’t isolate themselves to their own beliefs.
“Some of our religious communities draw a circle around themselves and say, ‘We’re right and everyone else is wrong.’ We can’t allow that to happen,” Gee said.
Joe Ciccone, director of the center, said interfaith dialogue is a two-way street.
“It shouldn’t be a threat,” Ciccone said. “It should be an enhancement. We’re always in dialogue with the rest of the world.”
Austin Schafer, pastoral associate for Campus Ministry at the center, echoed Gee’s statements before the speech.
“Catholics believe ecumenical and interfaith dialogue is part of our mission,” Schafer said. “The purpose is not to convert, it’s to learn. We have the opportunity to be a pioneer to show how interfaith dialogue should be done.”
Gee also said the under-30 generation has a much more optimistic outlook on life than his generation, and this generation should not let tradition hold it back.
“I think that tradition is very important, but also that tradition is a heavy hand,” Gee said. “We cannot think anew, we cannot think differently of the world. That kind of faith can be kind of debilitating.”
Gee said faith can be part of the solution, too.
“I think the importance of faith and really anything we do is really realizing that we will be the architects of change or we will be victimized by it,” he said.
As the president of a public university, Gee said it’s important to show people that he does have religious beliefs, but that he is welcoming to all religious beliefs.
“I think you practice your faith in private,” Gee said. “I happen to be a Mormon, but my responsibility is to make it clear that this university is going to protect everyone in terms of their religious beliefs and other kinds of issues.”
David Bethel, a second-year in environmental science, said he was happy that Gee stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue.
“Because Judaism, Islam and Christianity are based on the same principles, it’s important that we’re able to talk about our faith constructively,” Bethel said.
Caroline Waidelich, a second-year in education, runs the Holy Grounds program at the center, and she agreed that interfaith dialogue has strengthened her own faith.
“Hearing and talking about what other people feel helps you strengthen your faith,” Waidelich said.