Author Archives: Cameron Nations

Reflecting on Faith Line Protestants

Over a year ago now, Greg Damhorst and I met in a coffee shop on campus to talk about how few Christians (esp. evangelical Christians) seemed interested in interfaith cooperation. What came out of that conversation was Faith Line Protestants, and the hope that we could use it to grow a platform. We set our goals high, and with a post on the Washington Post’s “On Faith,” we launched just after New Year’s Day, 2011. Since then, we’ve written hundreds of posts, been involved in our first (and only) blog spat to date, and led a few discussions on college campuses about interfaith cooperation from a Christian perspective.

We’ve both been– and continue to be– rather busy. (Read Greg’s “State of FLP” address from last month here.)

I must admit my relationship with the interfaith movement has shifted over time, and I am not the same person I was when I first started writing posts for FLP. The sheen of idealism has faded a bit as I continue to shape my own theological persuasion and carve my own niche in the denomination which I recently aligned (the Episcopal Church). And as I step further and further along the path toward ordination, I begin to conceptualize interfaith cooperation in different ways through the lens of a minister. This process has changed in some ways the dynamics of the movement for me.

I still believe in the movement, and still believe it is important that the Christian community learn how to live alongside other religious groups without adopting the all-too-common “shore up our defenses and fight” mentality that has cropped up at various points throughout history. Yet I’ve also found that one has to be quite careful, or discussions of “shared values” can quickly degenerate into “shared theologies.” Or, on the opposite end, I’ve found many persons with sensibilities that find sharing your faith– in any capacity, no matter how gracefully or non-confrontational– as invasive and effrontery behavior, even at the interfaith table. I’ve found non-religious persons interested in the movement that still regard religion as ridiculous, marring many of the efforts with a mud of insincerity as they wink to their comrades in online circles, while treating faith with deference in public.

And most distressingly of all, I’ve found fellow self-proclaimed Christians who seem interested in fostering peace because, to them, the gospels present us with nothing more than good stories worth emulating, but not a real Christ worth following. Unfortunately, I think Greg and I get associated with this last camp, and it ends up hindering our efforts to reach more mainstream Christians.

Additionally, we’ve seen an explosion of discourse surrounding faith and its place in public life over the past year. Whether it be the cadre of GOP candidates winnowing down as we get closer to the 2012 election, or high-profile sports figures who wear their faith publicly with their success like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, it’s clear that interfaith discussions will continue to be important and that we still haven’t worked all the kinks out yet.

Despite these frustrations, however, we’ve seen some encouraging signs. More people than ever seem interested in interfaith cooperation and what it has to offer society. Even some members of Christian groups on campus– previously difficult for Greg and I to reach– have gotten involved of their own volition. We’re starting to see evangelical groups on campus expressing a genuine interest in and desire for interfaith cooperation, collaboration, and education.

As Greg and I look toward this next year, some big things lie ahead of us. There’s the ICIC (if you want to know what that means, click here), which will bring Eboo Patel, Jim Wallis, and our friend Chris Steadman to campus, and will provide an excellent opportunity for Greg and I to get campus Christian organizations even more interested in interfaith service and cooperation.

This year promises to be a good one.

We hope to refine our vision, to edit our pages, to expand our contributors, and provide more content more often. Join us as we look forward to another year!

Share Button

Testing, Testing…

Well, it’s late Thanksgiving night, and I’m laying in bed at my grandparents’ house, still recovering from the self-induced food coma from earlier in the day. In this downtime, I thought I’d try out updating FLP from my phone. Hopefully it works!

I know it has been awhile since you’ve heard anything from me. Greg has been carrying the weight for the most part over here while I’ve been busy with thesis research, exams, papers, work, and ordination stuff. I hope to get a few posts up soon, especially as it nears the end if the year and we begin to reflect on (and celebrate) one year of FLP. In the meantime, I just think it is cool I can do this from my phone while lying in bed.

– C.

Share Button

Atheists and Evangelicals in Dialogue, Garden Plots, and Things to Come…

Okay, I know I said there would be some reading material over here, and I’ll admit that Greg and I have not been the most diligent about making that a reality. And for that, I apologize. (Sound familiar? Guess that’s what happens once the semester starts up and you have two students running a blog.) Anyway, I’m here now to provide an update on some of the things Greg and I have been doing.

First, I would like to say that the lunchtime discussion addressing relations between atheists and evangelicals went rather well. Held in the Women’s Resource Center at the U of I, attendees were treated with free lunch, which probably helped the 35 or so people in the room stand Greg’s explanation of interfaith and evangelical identity (just kidding, Greg). Adam Garner and Emily Ansusinha, our fellow Interfaith in Action exec. board members rounded out the panel, and provided some friendly back-and-forth about the atheist/agnostic experience with the evangelical community.

My personal takeaway from the talk was this: I discovered that I still can’t really wrap up a statement well, and could stand to do better than simply trailing off and saying, “But yeah, anyway…” before looking at my fellow panel members to take over. Again, I mentioned we had free lunch, right?

My (sometimes poor) panel-discussion skills aside, Greg and I enjoyed ourselves, and afterward had a few audience members come up to us and ask questions.

The following weekend, I served with Adam (mentioned above) and a few other members of Interfaith in Action to build community garden plots for the Champaign Health District as part of the Illinois Interfaith and Community Service Challenge in remembrance of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. After the service project, we were able to have a dialogue with those who worked on the project, discussing how one’s faith can influence and inspire service. Our discussion and reflections proved a powerful reminder that religio-cultural difference does not have to cause the violence and strife of the events we remembered that day, but can instead act as a catalyst for tremendous good.

This evening (Thursday, 22 September), I will host an Interfaith in Action “Speedfaithing” event at the University YMCA, where anyone interested can come and learn about the basic beliefs of the Hindu tradition. Dharma, the University of Illinois student Hindu group, is helping us with the event. If you’re on the U of I campus, don’t miss it!

Look for Greg’s Gabe Lyons’ posts to appear here soon, as well as more information on our upcoming “Evangelical Identity and Interfaith Cooperation” First Tuesday Talk given at the University YMCA on October 4th. We are also in the process of developing that media content we promised, which should also make its debut in the near future. Until then…

Share Button

The Anglican Church Goes After the New Atheists

Archbishop John Sentamu (Left) w/ Archbishop Rowan Williams (Right) Photo courtesy the Telegraph UK (http://tgr.ph/pAPSCB)

This post comes out of this article from the Telegraph, which discusses a new report endorsed by both the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu that encourages clergy in the Church of England to “to be more vocal in countering the arguments put forward by a more hard-line group of atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have campaigned for a less tolerant attitude towards religion.”

So, some of you may be asking, why should we care? After all, we don’t live in Britain, nor are we Anglican. (Well, I am. But I’d expect many of our readers aren’t.)

One should care, I think, because at the root of this article lies a much more fundamental question regarding the relationship between the religious and non-religious in modern society. What I find most interesting is that the CofE’s report seems to locate the issue not only between Christians and atheists, but between all religious groups and atheists. The author writes:

“One of the paradoxes of recent times has been the increasing secularisation of society and attempts to marginalise religion alongside an increasing interest in spiritual issues and in the social and cultural implications of religious faith,” says the report, called Challenges for the New Quinquennium.

The Church must be “explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem,” it says.

[…]

The Church is keen to address the rise of new atheism, which has grown over recent years with the publication of bestselling books arguing against religion.

However, the document says that this intolerance is becoming more widespread and can be seen in public bodies, which it says must be challenged over attitudes of “suspicion or hostility towards churches and other faith groups”.

In recent years, a number of Christians have taken legal action against local councils and hospital trusts after being disciplined for expressing their faith by wearing crosses or refusing to act against their orthodox beliefs.

“There is still work to be done to counter the prevailing tendency of treating faith as a private matter which should not impact on what happens in the public realm.

“This is a challenge for all churches and faiths, but especially for the Church of England.”

As the report frames it, this isn’t just about Christianity– it’s “for all churches and faiths“. While things are a bit different here in the States– religion, for instance, is not marginalized as the author claims for Britain, and I find many claims made by Christians warning of impending threats of secularization dubious– I still find this deliberate “calling out” of one group worthy of watching.

If I’m not mistaken, the Vatican issued a similar exhortation to engage with secular society earlier this year (or a bit before), that sought to host dialogues and educational events in prominent cathedrals (I believe the article I read specifically named churches in Paris) between atheists and Christians. Such formal imperatives to get involved in the predominantly secular cultures in Europe could speak rather loudly as a bold step to save face, or it could represent a genuine attempt at peace and understanding divorced from mere proselytizing.

I’m all for engaging with atheists on notions of faith in public life– I’m even happy to debate theological/ethical/philosophical issues with the non-religious community; I believe a healthy debate is good, and can build bridges of mutual understanding if done well. However, what I hope does not happen is that the engagement turns into argument, rendering as lost any hope for understanding. Already many in the New Atheist movement have fervently spoken out against religion, calling it force for evil in the world and a gross suspension of reason. And here in the States, many in the more fundamentalist sects of the Christian faith refuse to deal with atheists, dismissing them all as immoral heathens bound for an eternity in hell. Painting in such broad strokes doesn’t strike me as productive, and so I hope that the CofE does a good job in countering New Atheism’s barbed critiques by promoting peace and a reasonable approach to faith.

Though sympathetic to the atheist’s position– and seeing it as a perfectly valid one– I personally  don’t appreciate the so-called New Atheist movement. I find it rather counterproductive and often results in the two sides (religious and non-religious) talking past each other. If the CofE can improve the public discourse surrounding the religious/non-religious divide, then I support the Archbishops’ effort; if this becomes another dialogic train wreck, however, I won’t think so highly of it. Much of this depends on how their initiative manifests itself in church life: will this be simply an increase in polemical apologetics, or a genuine attempt at providing quality lay-education programs on the subjects in question? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, the announcement of this report comes just before Greg and I are set to participate in a lunch-time panel discussion on Friday (tomorrow!) about Evangelicals and their (rarely peaceful) relationship to the atheist community. We will post more information on this event later.

We want to hear your thoughts. Do you think the church should engage so specifically with the so-called “New Atheists” and their criticisms?

Share Button

Interfaith at U of I: A Brief Look at Upcoming Interfaith Events and Initiatives

Illinois Interfaith and Community Service Logo

 

We said we’d keep you updated, so here’s attempt number one. In addition to planning new things for FLP, this is how Greg and I spend our free time…

This year is an exciting year for interfaith service work at the University of Illinois. With our campus interfaith organization, Interfaith in Action, working with and alongside university administration to implement the President’s Challenge (mentioned in Greg’s earlier post here), interfaith programming has easily tripled over previous years; not only are we reaching out to other campus organizations, but our community presence has increased as well.

For the President’s Challenge, Greg has been fulfilling his duties as co-leader of the Communication Committee, while I have served as part of the Education Committee working to plan a steady schedule of events focused on religious literacy and understanding. Our first event–  a panel discussion for part of our unofficially dubbed “First Tuesday Talks” series– happens just next week.  I will be on the panel as a Christian representative answering the question, “Why do you serve?”along with four others from different backgrounds and traditions.

For Interfaith in Action, Greg continues his work as Treasurer, finding ways to raise funds and launch various service initiatives. Meanwhile, as Religious Literacy Chair, I do basically the same things as I do for the Illinois Interfaith and Community Service initiative– planning educational events that promote religious literacy. Earlier this week, I gave a brief talk about the importance of interfaith cooperation, explaining the function of Interfaith in Action to a small but interested group of new (for us) students.

All of this activity is drumming up more support and exposure for our programs, and presents Greg and I with a plethora of opportunities to represent Christ to those who may know very little about the Christian faith.

In fact, next month’s First Tuesday Talk (Oct. 4th) will be on the subject of evangelicals and interfaith cooperation, and will be hosted by Greg and me. But we’ll share more about that– and about our upcoming September 11th service projects– later on! For now, check out both Interfaith in Action’s website and the site for the Illinois Interfaith and Community Service Challenge. Like them (and us!) on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter for more updates!

 

Share Button

FLP- The Vision of Things to Come

As the new school year kicks off, Greg and I have finally been able to meet physically (no more Skype!) and discuss plans for the future of FLP. Out of these conversations have come many exciting ideas, and I will share a few of them with you now!

In attempt to provide quality content, Greg and I often spend a few hours per post, shooting each one back and forth at least once or twice for proofreading before formatting it and queuing it up to go on the site. This makes publishing new content a rather lengthy process, and thus whenever either of our schedules become even the least bit hectic, things fall silent around here.

To combat this, Greg and I have agreed to operate this a bit more like a conventional blog, posting shorter, less formal pieces while continuing to post the more in-depth pieces we have been posting since day one.

Greg and I maintain active leadership roles in the University of Illinois’ student interfaith group, Interfaith in Action, where we both serve as executive board members, as well as serve on the leadership team charged with implementing the President’s Interfaith Service Challenge issued earlier this year. All this, in addition to being full-time students, leaves us at times with precious little in the way of free time. Despite this, our passion for, and devotion to, the mission of FLP remains strong and steadfast; we just have to get better at balancing this blog with our day-to-day lives.

We will update ya’ll with news about our activities, both in Interfaith in Action and in our work implementing the President’s Challenge. After all, this blog is about Christians engaging in interfaith work, and that means practicing what we preach!

So, here’s what you can expect:

  • More Tweets! Messages from myself will be signed “-C.” and messages from Greg will be signed “-G.”
  • Frequent updates to the blog, including less ‘formal’ posts
  • More guest posts (hopefully expanding to a rotation of other regular contributors)
  • New media content, such as videos, talks, etc.

In the meantime, look for Greg’s posts on Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians.

Please follow us on Twitter, “like” us on Facebook, tell your friends, and continue to check back regularly for new content! We look forward to stepping into the future of FLP with all of you!

Share Button

Exploring the [non] Religious Landscape: Thoughts on CNN Belief’s 1st Birthday

Photo courtesy of CNNBelief blog (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/08/10-things-the-belief-blog-learned-in-its-first-year/)

 

Being a young blog, FLP still has more than a few lessons to learn. Thus it caught my eye when I came across a post on CNNBelief by CNN.com Religion Editor Dan Gilgoff entitled, “10 things the Belief Blog learned in its first year.” When an established news site throws around any kind of advice, it’s perhaps best to take it, so I clicked.

Though some of Gilgoff’s observations didn’t surprise me, I found many of them rather compelling for their relation to interfaith concerns. (See specifically numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7.)

And as Religious Literacy Chair of Interfaith in Action (the student interfaith organization at University of Illinois of which Greg and I are a part), I was personally quite interested in numbers 3, 4, and 5 of Gilgoff’s list, which were not all that encouraging to someone who makes it a goal to promote religious understanding.

Yet the points I thought most noteworthy for FLP, and the ones I will focus on in this post, are the following (along with my commentary):

1. Every big news story has a faith angle.

I love that this is number one. Why? Because one’s faith (or lack thereof) is perhaps the single most significant aspect to shaping how one views the world. “Faith angle[s]” are part of every news story because they are part of every person’s story. It is this use of story that underpins much of interfaith cooperation and understanding.

2. Atheists are the most fervent commenters on matters religious.

Why is this one pertinent for the mission of FLP? Because the non-religious as well as the religious should—and can—participate in interfaith cooperation based around shared values of service. Our friend Chris Stedman is working tirelessly to inject interfaith cooperation into the conversations taking place in the atheist community. (Check him out at Non-Prophet Status, in our “Friends” bar at the top of the page.)

4.   Most Americans are religiously illiterate.

The first step to cooperation is understanding. Ignorance breeds ill-will, and I can’t express how difficult it can be to achieve any level of understanding if one has no context from which to work. Can you understand Christianity without understanding where it derives its ethic? Without understanding Christ and his teachings? I would say “no.”

Through sharing personal stories, the IFYC’s model for interfaith service projects seeks to build religious literacy while also building relationships. Until one has an intellectual framework to build upon (made from stories of individuals or from the pages of a textbook), it is foolish to expect any sort of peaceful coexistence or cooperation among those of different beliefs.

5. It’s impossible to understand much of the news without knowing something about religion.

This one links closely with the number preceding it. Misunderstanding the teachings and beliefs of those in other countries (and even at home) contributes to the “othering” and alienation of those different from us. To fully understand things like the Arab Spring, for instance, one must know a few things about Islam. (Which, clearly, we don’t. See no. 4 above and no. 7 below.)

6.  Regardless of where they fit on the spectrum, people want others to understand what they believe. That goes for pagans, fundamentalist Mormons, Native Americans, atheists – everyone.

I would say that this acts as a kind of proof or confirmation of my assertion above that to not understand someone is to make them more alien. I think that people desire to be heard because they desire to be taken seriously—no one enjoys feeling misunderstood, and thus looked down upon, because of their difference from others.

7. Americans still have an uneasy relationship with Islam.

This is perhaps the most obvious one to discuss on a blog that promotes interfaith cooperation, and sadly makes even more sense on a blog that focuses on the Christian community’s involvement in interfaith cooperation more specifically. I know that many in the Christian community don’t have any problem at all with their Muslim neighbors; however, this sentiment is by no means a general rule. Prominent public figures continue to make disparaging and uninformed statements about the Islamic community that only further strife and division, even going so far as to place Islam on trial. (For more on this, see my recent post on Herman Cain.) Hate crimes continue to occur at mosques all across the nation. Clearly, we have still not come to understand that those who attacked us in September of 2001 were not Muslims, but extremists.

So what does one take away from this list?

I believe this list gives numerous reasons for reflection, but the one that sticks out most is this: there is much work to be done. We seem more hateful, more religiously illiterate, and quicker to judge than we should be. What do you think? Do you agree with this assessment? What do you make of the list featured in the article?

More importantly, how do we change it? How does our faith impact or inform Gilgoff’s observations? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Share Button

“This isn’t an innocent mosque”: Herman Cain and Anti-Islamic Rhetoric

Photo courtesy The Atlantic (http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/politics/herman%20cain%20full.jpg)

 

As the country gears up for another election year, candidates have started campaigning in full swing. And with so much to sort out, they’ve begun to push their stances on key issues like the economy, the environment, and foreign policy.

Oh, and also apparently… Islam.

Herman Cain, Tea Party/Republican hopeful and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, proclaimed Sunday that communities should “have the right” to ban mosques. From a legal perspective, this assertion is ridiculous, as you couldn’t ban mosques without violating a whole host of constitutionally protected rights. However, that didn’t stop Cain from making many other disparaging remarks toward Islam and its place in American life while referencing the strife surrounding the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Cain’s point of contention rests squarely on the issue of Sharia Law. He repeatedly denies expressing any discrimination against Islam, instead seeing Sharia as subverting and supplanting state and federal laws and thus extending beyond its status as a religious faith protected under the Bill of Rights.

But if that is the case, then what about Jewish law? The Halakha (which includes things like keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher) is very similar to Sharia law in terms of its scope and purpose, and yet you don’t see candidates talking about disbanding synagogues.

To that end, even Christians too have a kind of law hammered out over the centuries at various councils, though ours has either become so absorbed into the basic foundation of the Western ethos or fallen out of favor in the Protestant-saturated US that it has ceased to seem apart from or different than common jurisprudence. Remember excommunication? Defrocking? Even execution and dismemberment? These were (and some still are) all punishments for violating Christian church law, which includes offences like adultery, apostasy, murder, stealing, coveting (not the same thing), etc., and apes quite a bit from the Jewish law the preceded it.

Which makes me wonder: Does Herman Cain have any idea what he’s talking about, or is he just repeating a disappointingly pervasive prejudice? According to an article from FoxNews.com:

Cain again argued that residents were objecting to “the fact that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, Shariah law. That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions.”

Really? Are the other two Abrahamic faiths exempt from the category of “other traditional religions”?

In an article on HuffPost, Cain is quoted as saying in defense of his mosque-ban statements:

“I’m simply saying I owe it to the American people to be cautious because terrorists are trying to kill us… so yes I’m going to err on the side of caution rather than on the side of carelessness.”

I think that answers our question about prejudices.

All of this wouldn’t matter so much to me if it weren’t for the fact that Herman Cain is a Christian, and remains vocal about his faith on the campaign trail. Thus he represents a part of my own faith tradition, and I don’t think he wears it very well at all. Perhaps my feelings on the matter echo to a much lesser extent how Muslims feel about terrorists and other extremists—embarrassed that such figures are associated (however wrongly) with their faith tradition.

On a more personal note, Cain’s statements matter to me because the Murfreesboro mosque matters to me. I grew up in a suburb of Nashville, only about 30 minutes away from Murfreesboro, and many of my high school friends attend Middle Tennessee State (MTSU), a university of nearly 25,000 students, also in Murfreesboro. It saddens me that my home has come under such terrible scrutiny as a place of bigotry and hatred. The Murfreesboro mosque has spiraled into a full-blown religious conflict, complete with acts of arson and pastors justifying their hate speech by invoking God and Jesus Christ at rallies to protest the construction of the mosque and its adjoining community center.

In a sobering article written in the Nashville Scene, Stephen George writes:

That the mosque has gotten this far is in part a testament to a land whose laws are designed to apply equally to all. But the arson also lays bare a discomforting possibility: Even if the losers fail to stop the new Islamic Center from being built, they can still burn it down. If peaceful assembly and petition don’t achieve the desired outcome, an accelerant could work with surprising efficiency and haste — even if it razes America’s core principles in the process.

I urge the church to stand beside their Muslim neighbors and uphold the same freedom to worship that we as Christians enjoy. It is in situations like these that I am reminded of Christ’s words in Matthew: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Are words and actions like those spoken and done by Cain and local Murfreesboro pastors exemplifying this tenet of Christ’s teaching? Is the church damaging or enhancing its witness to the world in the way that it has approached situations like this one?

In closing, I leave you with the end of the Nashville Scene article:

Let the last word, for now, belong to the proposed mosque’s neighbor, Grace Baptist Church. On its website, pastor Russell M. Richardson has posted an unequivocal message telling how the matter stands between his Christian congregation and the Muslims next door.

“As a Conservative Christian I must make the following affirmation: Violence and Intimidation are not Christian Actions,” Richardson writes. “If God should need to be defended He will certainly provide the defense Himself. He is ABLE!”

Share Button