Graphic courtesy of Caitlyn Cecchetto

Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

For many, the college experience is a time for immense personal growth and exploration.

There are new classes, new people and all sorts of ways in which students are cementing their ideas about themselves and others. For some students, this time of growth and questioning can also lead to an exploration of faith and religion.

For those looking to looking to explore a variety of faiths, the Free Thinkers Society, an Associated Students club, will be hosting “Ask Us Anything,” a discussion panel focusing on religious groups on Western’s campus and in the Bellingham community. The panel will be held March 3 at 7 p.m. in Fraser Hall 4. It is free and open to the public.

Representatives from The Inn Ministry, Redeemer Church, Chabad, Church of Latter-day Saints, Humanists of North Puget Sound, Newman Catholic Ministries and the pagan group P.A.S.T. will be speaking about the fundamentals of their religion or faith and answering audience questions.

“There is a big stigma against talking about religion because it’s supposed to be an untouchable subject,” said Caitlyn Cecchetto, public relations officer for the FTS. “We’re hoping discussions like this will open up dialogue and make people curious and get them to talk about their faiths.”

Cecchetto said that audience members will be invited to write questions beforehand, which will be read to panelists by a moderator. She said that the event is a chance for people to ask questions about specific religions, or about religion as a whole. She said that she hoped people would start to see similarities between religions and begin questioning the beliefs and practices they uphold.

“I hope that people would see so many different religions represented with pretty much the same story, and maybe start thinking about that and see that there is a commonality between them that is sort of specific to whatever culture they were designed in,” Cecchetto said.  “I hope the panel will pretty much plant the seed of skepticism, or at least just promote thinking instead of just accepting it.”

Cecchetto also attended a discussion held by the Campus Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational Christian student organization at Western. Throughout February, the CCF hosted a series of discussions called “Let’s Talk About It: Christians are too _________.” Each week, the group focused on a different perception of Christianity, including popular ideas such as Christians being too focused on salvation, too exclusive and too hypocritical.

“We recognize that a lot of these perceptions, that Christians are too hypocritical, too exclusive and too focused on salvation, are perceptions that are on our campus,” said Rachel Wilkowski, a CCF pastor. “We wanted to be able to provide a space to be able to discuss that and why that is and give students an opportunity to vent frustrations and not discount their feelings about how we as Christians may treat them sometimes.”

The Feb. 16 discussion focused on the notion that Christians are too exclusive. Wilkowski and pastor David Knebel, as well as students who attend The Inn Ministry, CCF and members from the FTS attended the discussion.
Knebel outlined some basic guidelines before the discussion began.

“Our goal is to have a conversation.  To share perceptions, feelings and what we’re thinking. One of my goals is to listen well, and try to understand where people are coming from,” he said. “I have a personal goal that those here who may not necessarily be believers to be able to say ‘I have had a pleasant, intelligent conversation with a Christian.’”

At the discussion, Knebel reiterated the need for respect when discussing any religious ideal, Christian or not. For those who attended the CCF discussions, or for those planning to attend the FTS panel, remember to approach all religions respectfully.

“Be honest, be sincere, be respectful; but that doesn’t mean we agree,” Knebel said. “I can disagree with ideas and have critical thoughts about ideas, but I don’t want to be critical towards a person.”