BYU has a student body where over 98 percent of the population are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Non-Latter-day Saint students started the BYU Interfaith Club to give minority students a voice and foster understanding between Latter-day Saint students and students from other religious backgrounds.
The BYU Interfaith Club hosted a panel discussion on Sept. 19 in the Wilkinson Student Center to answer questions about their experiences going to BYU as members of other faiths.
Club Co-President Arianna Davidson, who dubbed herself a “BYJew,” read questions submitted by the audience, which were then answered by five club members of different religious and cultural backgrounds. There was a wide range of cultures represented, some panelists came from within the United States, while others were international students from Jordan and India. The religious beliefs represented were equally diverse, from other forms of Christianity, to agnostic, to Sikhism.
The panelists said they came to BYU because of their respect and admiration for BYU’s academic and sports programs and their desire to follow the Honor Code. They expressed a love for BYU but also a desire for an overall improvement in relationships, culture and interfaith understanding.
Evelyn Camat-Crisostomo, who identifies as a non-denominational Christian, said, “Regardless of whether you’re Latter-day Saint or anything else, it’s really important to listen to each other and share your hearts with each other.”
She called for a greater amount of understanding and appreciation for religious diversity from BYU students.
“I really think that the need to fit in is something that everybody feels regardless of what they believe or what you know, where they’re from, their heritage, the color of their skin.” Camat-Cristomo said when asked if fitting in at BYU is difficult for non-Latter-day Saint students.
“Dating. It doesn’t really exist if you’re not LDS,” another non-denominational Christian, Sam Aden said. He encouraged all students to build friendships rather than focus only on dating.
Multiple panelists expressed their irritation with BYU’s dating culture. Muslim student Laith Habahbeh rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t want to talk about it,” when the question of dating came up.
Attending BYU as a member of a different faith has helped the panelists grow in their own beliefs, despite frequent efforts by Latter-day Saint students to convert them, Habahbeh said.
“Is there an ulterior motive behind the friendships and relationships? It’s something you have to have in the back of your mind,” Aden said. “Do you really want to know me or do you actually just want me to come to church?”
Jack Bohm, an agnostic student, said what changed everything for him was realizing people were trying to convert him out of love.
“I think what’s really important is to get as much diversity of belief in your life as possible because that’ll lead to the richest life. And I think ultimately it will bring you the most happiness,” Bohm said. “The time you have here is only a mistake if you don’t learn anything from it.”
Bohm said attending BYU opened his mind, and he said he has learned much in his time here about faith and belief.
He said his own beliefs empower him to question everything and to be comfortable with not knowing while still remaining open to possibilities.
UVU chaplain Linda Walton and BYU chaplain James Slaughter attended. Walton said they hope to start an intercollegiate interfaith club composed of students from Utah County colleges. She encouraged those interested to visit the Utah Valley Interfaith website.
Walton plans to host interfaith service activities because she’s seen, despite differences in faith, people tend to share the belief that service is key to being a good person.
“We’ve found the one thing we can all agree upon is charity,” Walton said.