Chris Stedman speaks on building bridges between atheists and believers

by Chris Murphree
Staff Writer

On April 4, at St. Luke’s Chapel, Chris Stedman chronicled his religious experience of conversions, exclusion and cooperation. Stedman serves as assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University and his book Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious was recently published in November 2012. Sponsored by Sewanee Interfaith, All Saints Chapel, Spectrum, the School of Theology, and the Department of Religion, Stedman’s lecture called for cooperation among people of all religious backgrounds in order to promote the common good.

Stedman grew up in a dominantly secular home as his parents rarely attended church. As Stedman grew older, he took up an interest in social justice for all peoples, after reading books such as The Diary of Anne Frank. Looking for a community that also sought out these values, Stedman was attracted to his local evangelical church, which lead to him to becoming a born again Christian.

Stedman found the community he had been looking for in his local church, yet his position in the community in the church became problematic when he realized that he was gay. With his church actively speaking out against homosexuality, Stedman was deflated at the prospects of not having anyone to turn to. His mother directed him to a priest at another church, and Stedman found his way back into the Christian community. While studying religion in college, Stedman came to the realization that he did not believe in the foundations of Christianity, and began classifying himself as atheist. However, Stedman was uneasy in the atheist community, as many prominent leaders promoted disdain for the religious and derogatorily labeling Stedman as a faitheist for being to accommodating to the religious.

Stedman’s work combats such a view, reclaiming the term faitheist as a desire to bridge atheists and believers together. Working passionately in the Harvard interfaith community, Stedman and his collogues were able to package over 125,000 meals for hungry people throughout Massachusetts. Stedman emphasizes that such work could not have been possible without the cooperation of religious communities with different beliefs coming together.

Stedman’s experience encourages us to think about not only our own religious beliefs, but also how we can use our common and uncommon beliefs with others to build together a common society. Co-President of Sewanee Interfaith Kiela Crabtree (C’16) encourages all students to continue the discussion and promote the values of interfaith that Stedman brings by participating in the Day of Silence Healing Service on April 11 and the Sons and Daughters of Abraham Project at the end of the month.