As we discuss the barriers that keep Evangelical Christians out of interfaith work, we must address the simplest barrier of all: why should we care?
To many of our readers, there are obvious answers to this question. But in my experience, my religious upbringing didn’t prepare me much for a world of religious diversity. To be honest, I knew more about the mythology of the ancient cultures I studied in school than I knew about the faith traditions of my peers, even though one in five Americans identifies as something other than Christian and I undoubtedly had friends who found their identities in other faiths.
Yet I didn’t grow up in a place where I was exposed to different religious traditions. My Muslim and Buddhist classmates didn’t talk about faith. And for most of my childhood, the society in which I grew up didn’t present any tension between my faith and the world around me. I got the day off of school on Good Friday, I gave my teachers nativity scenes as holiday gifts, and I received compliments on the cross ring I wore throughout high school. As an adolescent, my world was free of exposure to religious difference and I was oblivious to the need to talk about cooperation across faith lines.
That perspective changed, of course, when I went to college and began to meet people of other faiths. Even so, I could have found my niche in the Christian sub-culture on campus and tried to live a life ignoring the religious diversity around me. But as Christians, we must not succumb to the illusion that living without relationships with people of other faiths is an acceptable way to live.
There is both benefit and necessity in building relationships across faith boundaries. And while I’ve met many Christians who find value in religious literacy (one aspect of interfaith work) because it equips them for apologetics – the practice of defending the Bible using reason – I think there’s a richer reward to making an effort to build understanding across faith lines.
Part of that reward is being equipped with the ability to respect the individuals with whom we interact on a daily basis: at school, work, the store, or the gym. Whether it means ensuring there are halal and kosher options at your community picnic or respecting your classmate or co-worker’s daily prayer observances. Christians have a responsibility to understand how to respect others, and it is rooted in the Biblical mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
But treating our neighbors respectfully is just scratching the surface of why interfaith work is important. Achieving pluralism is about more than just respect and religious literacy – it’s about relationships. My hope is that the reasons why these relationships are valuable will expound themselves in the posts to come as we follow the current series on the barriers keeping Christians out of interfaith work with a series on the reasons why interfaith work is important (particularly for Evangelicals).
So I’ll leave you with the suspense that deeper discussion is coming. For now, however, take a look at the conversation about religion in our world today: what do you see? How is religion – and religious diversity – influencing our world? What are you doing to ensure that tomorrow’s headlines will be about people working together to do good instead of letting conflict tear us apart?
I hope that we all will see in our world the need for cooperation and the need for friendship. And as representatives of Jesus, it’s my prayer that Christians are at the forefront of making those relationships happen.