Vennly Leader Spotlight: Q&A with Frank Fredericks

Frank Fredericks is the founder of World Faith, a global nonprofit organization he started in 2008, to help end religious violence. Frank has been recognized as a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum and is the founder of Mean Communications, a digital marketing agency. He received his BM from NYU where he currently serves as an Interfaith Chaplain, and his MBA from the University of Oxford Said Business School.

Vennly: World Faith is committed to ending religious violence through local, youth based development projects. What inspired you to start World Faith?

Frank: I grew up in the rural Pacific Northwest, up in the mountains, in a very homogeneous community. After my parents divorce, I turned to religion, becoming very active in an evangelical congregation. When I moved to New York, I was struck by the incredible diversity, and it really challenged my sense of identify as a Christian. This eventually led me to conduct independent research on Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt. It was there that I became inspired to engage in interfaith work, and eventually founded World Faith as a result.

Vennly: What are some of your key learnings from working with religiously diverse youth in this endeavor?

Frank: There’s a ton of lessons that come out this work, some for myself, and some for everyone who works in this space, especially religious leaders.  Here’s a few:

  • Religious identity, religiosity, and religious conservatism are three very different things and can intersect in all sorts of surprising ways.
  • There’s a fear among religious leaders that when young people connect with people of different faiths, it will somehow weaken their own identity. I’ve seen as many cases of people becoming more clear and confident in their own identity as any other outcome.
  • Saying “the youth are the future” is fucking patronizing.  Stop it. Young adults are fully capable of creating dynamic social change, or mass destruction, this very day. We ought to treat them with the agency they have, right now.
  • I find myself repeating myself often saying this: Other people’s realities are not limited by your imagination. Whether it’s being moral without religion, attraction to the same gender, or choosing to wear traditional religious clothing, just because you “can’t imagine” doing it, doesn’t mean others are, or should be, limited from doing so.
  • Allow people to self-identify however they’d like. It’s not for us to saying what truly qualifies someone as a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhism, atheist, etc.

Vennly: Hate crimes and instances of mass religious violence are increasing in the United States. What have you learned from World Faith’s international work that can be applied to domestic religious violence?

Frank: The violence we’re addressing does have slight differences to hate crimes in the US.  Communal violence among those of perceived religious violence has the ability to spark contagion in a way we really don’t see in the US. I mean raw, communal violence, where strangers take to the streets to find “the other” and attack them.  Luckily for us, when hate crimes happen, they are one-offs, lone wolves, often outsiders. They are still terrifying, but I appreciate that our communities are more resilient against communal violence, which should be celebrated.

I’d say, though, that to weaken the pipeline toward such extreme acts of hate, Contact Theory could be helpful. Contact Theory is a sociological idea which suggest that positive interaction with someone from another community will likely improve how one sees the entire community (under certain conditions). We could use it better here in the US.

However, I feel like we’ll never fully address hate crimes, or our violence in the US at large, until we make significant changes to our policies toward guns, and mental health. I believe they are all deeply intertwined.

Vennly: In addition to your work at World Faith, you’re also an Interfaith Chaplain at NYU. What spiritual trends are you observing among college aged students?

Frank: Similar to what I said earlier, there are all sorts of new combinations between how people identify, their relative progressivism/conservatism, and their religiosity, in the sense of activity with their tradition. This is the first generation of young people who can both be out (in the LBGTQ sense), want to be a religious leader, and potentially see those two things as compatible.  It’s not there consistently among all traditions, but as religious and social institutions and leaders have lost moral authority, young people are answering with incredible moral imagination. I see this as a beautiful thing, but it will be hard for older generations of religious people, especially leaders, to accept.

Vennly: Prior to starting World Faith, you worked in the music industry managing artists such as Lady Gaga. Any good stories for us?

Frank: Probably not that I can share here, but I will say this: Stefani (Lady Gaga’s real name) is a courageously accepting person. When we met, I was still quite religious and conservative in my Christianity, and my politics. Many times as I met my fellow students and even staff and faculty, when issues came up in which my conservatism came up, I was treated pretty poorly. I was told off by people who had just met me, literally had people walk away from me mid-sentence. It was isolating, and I think it actually kept me from growing and learning about other people for a number of years.  

Stefani on the other hand knew my identity, my religion, my politics. She disagreed with virtually all of it, and at times she made that abundantly clear. But she was accepting, without hesitation. She just seems to embody the spirit of acceptance, because everyone is human, and damnit, we’re here to make some music. I valued our friendship immensely, as I believe she was one of the most Jesus-like people I know, even over the Christians I met on campus. It’s been amazing to see her thrive as an artist, though I’m not surprised at her success. I do miss her friendship though.

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