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Just at the time when America needs faith, hope and love the most, society is becoming increasingly less tolerant of expressing religious beliefs that offer such comfort. As the president of a Christian college, I am fortunate to be able to freely and openly express my faith daily in both my personal and professional lives. But others, from all walks of life and all faiths, across many professions and neighborhoods, do not share the same privilege.

The constitution protects our right to religious freedom, yet we are pressured more every day to hold our faith close to our chest — to keep it quiet, so as to not offend others. This, my friends, is the opposite of what our world needs. In the face of rising terror threats, deepening political discord and a social media society that pounces on the slightest misstep, we are in desperate need of the very best that faith provides: love, forgiveness and the steady light of hope.

I have friends of various Christian denominations, of other religions, and some whose strongest faith is in the good of his fellow man. There is too much pressure to focus on what separates us, on how we are different, and on staying out of each other’s way. That makes for a lonely existence. If you come from a large and boisterous extended family like mine you know that when love runs the deepest you’ll be sharing a pew come Sunday morning, regardless of what happened Saturday night. Awkward sometimes? Yes. We don’t always want to scoot down and make room for someone who’s offended us. But we do it, because at the end of the day, we’re in this together.

Why would we want it any other way? Why, in the name of being polite, would you want to miss out on the authentic, messy, beautiful experience of treating everyone like family? We are always stronger, as a family, as a nation, when we stick together. Our faith is more than ritual or ceremony. It’s about the way we live our lives. It’s about the way we treat each other.

So throughout the year, lead with your faith, whatever that may be. Allow the world to see you for who you really are. Allow goodwill to flow from your heart to your neighbor’s. And welcome his expression just the same.

If you don’t believe, do not be offended by the expression of another’s faith. Embrace it. Do not try to silence it. Allow yourself to accept words of faith as an expression of love that can help the bonds between us grow stronger.

What does this look like on the ground? Allowing students to use floating days off to observe their religious holidays? Welcoming discussion about the birth of Jesus on the carpet in a public elementary school? The answer will be found only in open minds and willing hearts.

We won’t always get it right. Let’s learn to forgive each other and press forward, together. And this Christmas season, remember the baby boy who was born in a manger and changed the world forever.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

Merry Christmas,

John Tyson is president of Rochester College.

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