FLP is excited to feature a guest blog by Josh Daneshforooz. Josh is an author and international speaker on leadership, peacemaking and personal development. Author of the Loving Our Religious Neighbors curriculum, he spearheads social change campaigns between disparate religious communities. Josh is also founding partner at East Africa Property Partners and founder of All Nations Education, an organization that empowers young adults through mentorship and higher education in developing countries.
“Evangelicals are consistently the most difficult community with whom we attempt to collaborate,” an executive of a well-respected interfaith organization recently told me on a phone call.
As I’ve become increasingly engaged in the movement for peace among different faith communities, I’ve noticed there’s one regularly absent Christian community: evangelicals.
Most people who attend the big interfaith conferences such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions, who co-organize local community service projects and who participate in dialogue sessions are of a liberal persuasion—both Christian and non-Christian alike.
But what about the more conservative types, like me? More specifically, and more relevant for this post, what about the 100 million evangelicals in the US and the other 400 million around the world? Why has our seat at the table remained empty for so long?
With an American evangelical mother and an Iranian Muslim father, I grew up straddling two worlds. Though I was shaped in certain ways by both sides, the main spiritual community that shaped my values and beliefs was a large evangelical church in Las Vegas.
As a child I developed a subconscious fear that intentionally building relationships of mutual respect and learning across religious boundaries was somehow not consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Throughout the past ten years, I’ve attempted to understand this fear. Along the way, I’ve met many other evangelicals who share my concerns.
After learning to overcome my own fears, I created the Loving Our Religious Neighbors (LORN) curriculum as a resource to enable others to overcome theirs too. Today LORN empowers evangelical communities to build lasting relationships of conviction and respect with non-Christian religious communities as they work together to serve the poor and tackle social problems.
Leading LORN campaigns throughout the United States has taught me that evangelicals typically don’t do interfaith work for three reasons. In response to these three concerns, I’ve developed approaches in LORN for equipping evangelicals to take their place at the table of peace.
1. Don’t Want to Compromise the Teachings of Jesus
“When you hear the phrase ‘interfaith’ or ‘interreligious dialogue’, what usually comes to mind?” This is the question I ask at the beginning of every LORN campaign.
Krista, a member at a church in Boston, responded, “The first thing that comes to mind when I hear those phrases is that all religions lead to the same mountaintop. All religions are the same. Mixing theologies. But I just don’t believe that. So I don’t usually get involved in interfaith initiatives. I don’t want to compromise my faith.”
Evangelicals often equate interfaith work with theological relativism, and as a result, those who do participate are frequently faced with judgment from their own community.
The essence of evangelicalism teaches that faith is life and life is faith. Asking an evangelical to put her faith, her life, aside in the name of dialogue is like asking the body to remove the heart and continue to circulate blood.
How Do We Overcome This Concern?
Establish a biblical foundation. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In LORN campaigns, we are empowering evangelicals not to water down their faith but to put it into practice as peacemakers as we take ownership of our title as “children of God.” The LORN curriculum also lays a biblical foundation in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
2. Don’t Want To Abandon Sharing the Good News
Evangelism, or sharing the Good News of the Gospel, is a pillar of the message of Jesus: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Pastors and leaders are constantly strategizing new ways of inviting people into authentic community, growing the Church and ultimately spreading the news that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 10:7).
This message is the foundation of the evangelical growth paradigm and, I hope and pray, the major motivation for expansion. Today many megachurches have multiple campuses. Central Christian Church where I grew up, for example, has grown from one thousand members and one campus when I was 10 years old to 15 thousand weekly attendees and 10 campuses not only in the Las Vegas valley but also across the U.S. and around the world.
The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word meaning “good news.” Asking an evangelical to put aside sharing the Gospel in the name of dialogue is like asking an Olympian to stop competing in the middle of the Olympics. Sharing the good news is just what we do—because Jesus teaches us to.
How Do We Overcome This Concern?
Imagine new ways of sharing the Gospel. Instead of using older forms of evangelism, LORN, among other things, equips Christians to share their “Public Testimonies.” I define public testimony in LORN as the “skill of communicating your faith with conviction and respect (1 Pet. 3:15) in a multi-religious society.”
3. Fear of Violence
Sam is an active member at an evangelical church in Texas. After hearing his senior pastor talk about the importance of building respectful relationships with local Muslims, Sam became fearful and asked, “Why would I become friends with them? They blew us up. I’m not going to let them anywhere near my family.”
Many evangelicals like Sam have never met a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Sikh or even a Catholic or liberal Protestant. The only Muslims they know are the suicide bombers whom they see in the media daily. So they make generalizations such as, “They blew us up.”
Our ignorance often breeds fear, and our fear can cause us to express violent attitudes and use violent speech. This is often true of human beings in general, conservative Christians not being an exception. Some evangelicals fear violent and forceful Muslims, yet they project violent and forceful attitudes out of fear.
How Do We Overcome This Concern?
Meet your religious neighbors. I’ve learned that the single most powerful way to overcome misunderstanding and prejudice is to develop lasting friendships.
After Sam met Muslim families in his suburb, he said, “I get it. These people are normal, just like my family. They’re not violent. Now I’m on board with what our pastor is teaching: We can remain committed Christians while being friends with our neighbors who come from all over the world.” This is precisely why LORN is not simply a book; it’s a curriculum that’s used in a 5-week campaign that culminates in a day of multi-faith community service and relationship building with our religious neighbors.
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” If we respond out of fear to our religious neighbors, we are not responding out of our faith. Instead we are reacting out of our fallen humanity because we have not been perfected in love. When the waves of fear come crashing down on the seashore of multi-faith engagement, let us stand on the rock of the One who casts out all fear.
Will You Join Us?
Start A Loving Our Religious Neighbors Campaign Today
LORN is now available! We are in the process of launching in evangelical churches and on college campuses across the United States. Go to the following link for the 3 Steps to Start a LORN Campaign.
Also, click here for a video on “How to Launch and Sustain a LORN College Campus Team.”
And click here for a video on “How to Launch LORN at a Church or in a Christian Organization.”
Or email me directly to get involved: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.LORNeighbors.com to get a copy of the curriculum.