Faith and Spirituality at Swarthmore: Joy Martinez ’16 Discusses Christianity and Conflict

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In this, the second installment of the weekly series, “Faith and Spirituality at Swarthmore,” Joy Martinez ’16 discusses the nature of her faith and her experiences with religion on campus. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Martinez has moved frequently around the country with her family. Since coming to Swarthmore, Martinez enjoys the freedom of being able to fulfill a different role within a religious community.

Growing up, Martinez’s parents encouraged her to ask questions about her faith. It was an experience she feels lucky to have had and one that continues to shape her religious identity. Martinez tries to foster a similar spirit of inquiry at Swarthmore. In the Swarthmore Christian Fellowship (SCF), Martinez co-leads a small group discussion for freshmen. She enjoys helping fellow students grapple with ideas they don’t feel comfortable discussing at home. Martinez recounted a conversation she had with a fellow student who was curious about Martinez’s use of faith as a source of strength. “That person shared with me […] how they really valued how I view my faith, which was really encouraging,” she said.

Martinez stressed the accepting nature of SCF, noting that it is open to people of all faiths. She emphasized SCF’s dedication to exploring other points of view through interfaith events. Martinez was particularly moved by last year’s interfaith Shabbat, which she found to be poetic and reverent. In addition to interfaith work, Martinez mentioned SCF’s commitment to existing on campus in a form that is not solely religious. “We try to […] have a presence on campus that’s strictly of friendship and getting to know people,” Martinez said.

She also has had many conversations with people whose religious beliefs differ from her own. “We find that we usually agree on a lot of things outside of religion,” she said.

Occasionally, Martinez will encounter people who are less accepting of her faith. “Every so often you run into people who really think that faith is stupid and they’ll let you know,” she said. Although it can be disheartening, Martinez sees their preconceived notions as a challenge. “I try to show through the way that I act and the things that I do that […] [I’m] rational and I love learning,” Martinez said. When facing opposition, Martinez strives to demonstrate the tenants of her faith that she finds most central. “I think the biggest thing for me in being a Christian is acting like Christ: being loving toward and kind toward people, especially the people who disagree with you,” Martinez said.

Although Martinez has received criticism of her religion from people who dismiss it as unintellectual, she is more concerned with addressing people who feel threatened by her religion. “Last year, in the middle of all the turmoil and pain that was being expressed, there was an expression of someone saying that they felt the word of God had been used as an instrument of pain,” Martinez said. “That was really painful to hear because that’s not how […] I want to convey my faith.”

Martinez’s pain stemmed not from the indirect accusation itself, but from the possibility that her religion might be harming someone else. “I just feel like that’s wrong,” she said. “I try to realize that people aren’t necessarily attacking me even if they disagree, or if people feel oppressed by my religion [I try] to show them that it’s not a religion of hate.”

Martinez expressed disapproval of harmful things that have been done in the name of Christianity. “[I’m] sorry that Christianity can be used as something negative, or the label of Christianity, not necessarily Christianity as living it out,” Martinez said. “People can identify as Christian without any accountability.”

Martinez strives to counter these views of Christianity. “There’s a way to approach these obstacles with a more optimistic light […] Just continue to live your life, try to love people and see where they are and show that you don’t have hate towards them,” she said.

Photo by Elena Ruyter/The Daily Gazette



  1. Cheers, Joy! As the son of a Presbyterian minister myself, I read news of your faith experience at Swarthnmore with interest! Swarthmore is THE place to consider the place of one’s faith in the world! Best wishes in years to come!

  2. Wonderful piece! As a former SCFer, I can’t say how much that space meant to me especially given how hostile and ignored faith life is at Swarthmore.

    I also can’t think of a better ambassador of God’s love and word than Joy either 🙂

    I hope the DG and Phoenix continue to explore, interrogate and highlight faith at Swarthmore.

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