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Young adults’ parents, social media influence faith

The InterFaith Council of Spokane recently gathered six young adults to share their faith experiences in a panel discussion at Gonzaga University. 

Interfaith panel 2

Sr. Joy Milos, Mariah McKay and Paige Holy


Facilitators were Emily Geddes, a blogger with the Spokane FAVs religion news website and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Joy Milos of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet.




Interfaith panel
Sam Cutler, Conner House, Layne Pavey, Jenna Hatem and Emily Geddes

The panelists were:

Mariah McKay, who grew up in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, is a campaign organizer for social, racial and environmental justice. 

Paige Holy from Calgary is a law student at Gonzaga and life-long Catholic.

Sam Cutler is a GU computer and engineering student with a Jewish background.

Conner House, in international studies and political science, started Young Life on Gonzaga University’s campus and attends New Community Church.

Layne Pavey, who is at Eastern Washington University studying social work and community mental health, attends Unity Spiritual Center.

Jenna Hatem, a senior, studying biology and fisheries at Eastern Washington University, is Muslim.


Paige’s mother, a Lutheran, converted to Catholicism, when she married Paige’s father, who  was Catholic.  Her mother attends Mass every day.  They pray at home.  Her father would challenge her, saying that the Catholic Church teaches X, but he believed Y. 

“We had to wrestle with our faith.  That helped me make the Catholic faith my own.  My brother, 22, is studying to be a priest,” said Paige. “My parents are in a Catholic bubble.  I’m not.  In law school, most are not Catholic or of any belief.  I’m in the world.”

Conner’s maternal grandfather was Presbyterian and went to church every Sunday.  His parents let him know that Jesus loves him but, while their faith is important, they like to sleep in on weekends.

He appreciates that Gonzaga’s Jesuit heritage invites him into a relationship with God and Jesus.

“I don’t have it all together, but my purpose is to love people,” he said. “I try to go to church every Sunday and I’m in church groups.  I’m in the world and out.”

Mariah’s great-grandfather was Irish-Scottish Catholic and logger.  Disgusted by corruption and hypocrisy he found in the Catholic Church, he became a secular humanist.  He went on to become an organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World.   Her grandfather and father were also atheist-leaning, she said. 

When her parents met, her mother was in the Unitarian Universalist Church, but had grown up Presbyterian in a tiny town in Northeast Montana.

“Because she learned shame and guilt, it took years of therapy for her to sort out her faith and gain self-esteem,” said Mariah. “I benefited from her experience.”

While she has many friends who were born into a faith and have rejected it, she remains involved in her church because it encourages her to question.   She believes in community and the dignity of all human beings. As a community organizer, she promotes the democratic process.

Layne’s parents were not in organized religion because of a “bitter taste” from their experiences. Her mother believed Jesus would let anyone in heaven.  Her father focused on intellectual pursuits and “the church of baseball.” 

“Then suffering hit us and led us to wonder about the ‘God thing’,” she said.  “My family came full circle back to values we find in Unity Church.  We are in agreement in our spiritual quest.”

Layne started going to church as an intellectual, religious and political journey, but then connected with “the divine.” She sees similarities in religions reinforcing God’s loves and forgiveness. 

“Unity values all faiths for giving hope, love and joy.  I walked into Unity and stayed,” she said.

Sam, whose parents converted him to Judaism when he was five and attends Temple Beth Shalom, said his mother, who is Catholic, connects faith to life.  His father’s side is Jewish. They went through the motions of Jewish celebrations to keep tradition alive. 

“When I was younger, I was more atheist,” he said.  “From classes, I realize there are ways to apply religion in my life. Jesuits educate the whole person.  Classes on Christian Scripture push me to understand my background and develop my own spirituality.”

Jenna is a second generation American.  Her Lebanese parents divorced when she was young. Jenna grew up in North Spokane with her mother.  Most of her friends were Christian. 

“We were a religious household,” she said.  “My mother taught me morals. 

“I wear a head scarf, but am still struggling with my religious obligations,” said Jenna, who meets people of other faiths in Eastern Washington University’s Compassionate Interfaith Society.  “I see many people of different backgrounds and faiths, conservative to liberal.  I’m more tolerant and humanitarian.

“My mother believes Muslims are closer to God and have the book that teaches the truth,” she said.  “I believe other religions are as valid as mine.”


Jenna:  Technology makes my faith better, opening me to possibilities I feared before.

Layne:  I often send memes on Facebook with an inspirational Buddhist or Christian quote of the day.  People open up to me.  In my studies, I learn that ‘being there’ spiritually is important in healing, but many in the program are not interested in spirituality.  As I engage with my generation, I find people willing to talk openly about God.

Conner:  Sometimes people who represent themselves as religious post things online that are contrary to their faith.”

Mariah: In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, what I do matters, not just what I believe.  For me, it’s about making change. 

Digital media are a way to make people aware.  For three years, I wrote a civics and culture blog, The Spovangelist, to help people understand the power of our community.  I try to help people to see the world through others’ eyes.  It’s a forum for thoughtful discussion with diverse perspectives.

As an organizer, I’m on the internet every day and  use social media to network for my cause.”

Paige:  Technology is powerful.  We can cause good and bad.  I try to present comments in a respectful way. I encourage open discussion.  Technology is a double-edged sword. 

Sam:  Internet is a huge part of my life.  It’s hard to separate my spiritual activity from technology.

When I see power in someone else’s words, I share quotes.  It’s great to have technology so we can have access to a broad spectrum of information.

Mariah: My denomination has a free app called, “Illuminations,” a place to go for inspirational words and an assortment of animated flaming chalices around which to center reflection.


Conner:  Even though Gonzaga is Catholic, I learn about other religions, too.  In a class on comparative politics of the Middle East, I learn about Islam.  In an East Asia class, I learn about Taoism and Buddhism.  In an interreligious dialogue class, I learn about different faiths.  We learn there is fundamentalism in all religions.  Our generation’s mindset is that we are all in it together.  

Layne:  If we do not know anything but the religion we grow up in, we are limited, but we experience different cultures and religions.  We have things in common as human beings dealing with life, issues, sorrow and social justice.  I become a humanitarian, entering the mix, meeting people and seeing the person.

Paige:  The more we learn about each other, we find there is little friction, and this is good.  It sharpens us to understand the world.  I’m strong in my beliefs, and others are strong in theirs.  We should work for peace and understanding, approaching each other through the eyes of love.  When religion causes conflict, we need to open our eyes and keep talking.

Jenna: Fearing differences and fearing someone may harm us keep us from getting to know each other.  Being outwardly Muslim, I meet fear with a smile.  Someone said he would rethink his ideas of Muslims.  One percent of Islam are extremists, but it’s presented as the religion. 

When I act like a human being, people ask if I’m Muslim.  “Yes,” I say.  “You’re different,” they say. “I was born and raised here,” I say.  “You believe in Mohammed?”  “Yes, he is a prophet like Jesus,” I say.

It’s interesting growing up knowing we are similar in beliefs and feeling the same, but being looked at as different.  We are the same, each on our own journey.

Sam: I see change happening in this time and in the church.  In World War II, when my grandfather was in the army, people thought he had horns under his helmet.  We have come a long way. 

In school, people are of many backgrounds.  A friend from the Midwest said I was the first Jew she had met. She said it was cool.  There is still conflict from things rooted back a thousand years.  People here are the same, but different.

Mariah: My church welcomes questions.  It seems easy to recognize our commonality as people of faith.  In politics, people take their gloves off and are less than civil to people on the other side of the spectrum.  How do we resolve faith with politics?

Layne:  In political science studies, I saw people tired of arguing.  We need acceptance when people do not agree.  It refines us when things go against our beliefs.  Unity believes in the oneness of all. There would not be light without dark. 

Conner:  In politics, I look at who loves people best.  It’s not Republican or Democrats.  In a summer leadership program in Zambia, I learned about empowering people.  Africa hurts because of handouts that made people dependent.  We donate clothes to Africa.  They are air dropped.  Africans who make clothes are out of jobs.  Tough love empowers people to stand on their own feet.  Fiscally, I’m Republican, but socially, I’m Democrat.

Paige:  I grew up in Canada, but I’m American by birth and I can vote here.  I consider myself politically moderate.  Sometimes Catholic bishops advise how we should vote.  Should I vote based on my religious beliefs, my education or my legal understanding?  It’s messy, because a vote is more than a legal or religious opinion.

Sam:  My beliefs and opinions are formed from the values I grew up with, not by my religious tradition.  My beliefs are pushed by spiritual development in studies.


Mariah:  I do not have a conflict.  I am challenged to integrate my spiritual beliefs into how I live in this world full of suffering.

Paige:  The Catholic Church has many admonitions.  It’s hard to live my faith and adhere to teachings.  I’m not perfect.  I pray for help to follow the teachings.

Conner:  I try to live the way of biblical perfection, but we are broken people.  I came to college to dive into faith and found God, but I’ve messed up, too.  I know I’ve been forgiven, because God knows I’m broken.”

Layne:  One meaning of ‘sin’ is from an archery term for missing the mark.  I believe we are separate from God in thoughts and desires of the flesh.  We forget how blissful a relationship with God is. 

Jenna:  This is my second attempt at wearing a head scarf.  I seek to be pious.   I still make daily choices and ask forgiveness. 

Sam:  The last three meals, I ate bacon.  Such rules may not be based on tradition, culture or religion. 


Conner:  I picture being in the room with Jesus, and we figure it out together, rather than him preaching at me.  At a Young Life retreat, we shared stories.   It was a place to be honest and pushed me to be accountable.

Mariah:  I would like more young people in church, no one homeless, income equality, more childcare, no borders, energy independence, affordable college education, and food security, to name a few things.

Paige:  My ideal community is to live with people of similar faith, because, as an attorney, I’ll be out there, pulled and pushed.

Layne:  I envision we are all together creating social justice, in which everyone is heard, accepted and loved—people of different colors and backgrounds.  I see all as the beloved creatures of God.

Sam:  We need to get rid of preconceptions of people of certain traditions, values and agendas.

For information, call 313-4262.

Copyright © November 2013 - The Fig Tree