Author Archives: Faith Line Protestants

The Christian and Muslim divide

Here’s one of those things I was referring to: a thought-provoking discussion between Gabe Lyons of Q Ideas and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”

http://www.qideas.org/video/the-christian-and-muslim-divide.aspx

I really resonate with Gabe’s description of the potential of interfaith relationships the precedes the interview. Definitely worth a listen…

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Communicating True Christianity

Sarah Stef is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Sarah has taken a unique approach to presenting her faith on campus and we were quite impressed with her desire to communicate the truth about Christianity without making assumptions or placing judgment. We thought that Faith Line Protestants readers would enjoy hearing about why and how she has created this workshop. We hope Sarah gets even more support on campus for her great work!

At the end of my junior year at the University of Illinois, I began to contemplate what my last semester of college would look like (since I am student teaching in the spring, I have to pack all my senior experiences into half the time). What would my goals be? How would I accomplish them? More importantly, have I made a difference in my time at the university? I struggled with these questions and more as I tried to plan the blank expanse that is my future.

In a meeting with several other leaders of the Christian ministry that I attend, I took to heart a comment that seemed to outline a need on our campus: Why can’t we create an environment in which we present our faith without making any assumptions about our audience’s faith, prior knowledge, or intentions? Even the most basic Bible study usually assumes that the members have a Bible at home that they can read between meetings. I got excited, because I felt that I had found my purpose for my last semester—I would organize some sort of weekly workshop that could outline Christianity for anyone who was interested, regardless of religious belief. In fact, I encouraged people to invite their non-Christian friends, because it would be most beneficial to those who may not have heard some of it before.

Wait, let me back up… what do I mean by “it” in that last sentence? Well, having grown up in the church my head is packed full of all these random facts about Christianity; what it is, and what the implications are. My weekly workshop is a semi-successful attempt at organizing basic biblical doctrine into different topical explorations of meaning. But I didn’t stop there! Since I wanted to design this workshop to be beneficial to people who may not know very much about what Christians believe in, I decided to add another layer into my discussions—how can I address common questions and misconceptions that people have about the Christian faith?

We all hate clichés and stereotypes for the same reason—because we don’t like to be misrepresented. Christians aren’t any different. It bothers me that the image of Christianity presented by the media, and a few small fringe groups with loud voices, is a garbled caricature of what Christianity really is. A lot of people are put off by Christianity because what they see is only a distortion, and so I am using my workshop to try to clear up those confusions. This is why I named my workshop True Christianity, because there are so many false Christian ideas out there.

Right now I am at the halfway point in my workshop series, and what surprised me was the response to it. My expectations were that Christians would use it as a way to invite their non-Christian friends into non-judgmental discussions about Christian beliefs. It was very disheartening when I finally realized that my Christian friends had little interest in the workshop, probably because they didn’t think it would be useful to them (which is not necessarily true, I myself have learned a lot through my research for this workshop). But on the flip side, I’ve been getting a lot of positive interest from the non-Christian community itself. People actually want to learn about Christianity! Several groups on campus have supported my work, recognizing the need for educating people about Christianity. I think it’s been awesome how my workshop has allowed me to connect with people on campus with common goals that I would not otherwise have had a chance to work with.

As the end of my workshop approaches, I am once again faced with contemplating the future—what do I want to do with everything I’ve learned and done through this experience? I hate the idea that this was just a one-time deal, and will soon be nothing more than a memory. In fact, I refuse to leave it that way, because the need for this workshop will not end when I leave. That’s why I’ve put all of my notes on my website, truechristianityuiuc.weebly.com, because I want everyone to have access to the information regardless of whether or not they have attended my workshops. Besides, I think this small workshop is something that I would like to refine and re-implement wherever I end up in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll write a book… someday. And wouldn’t it be really cool if some underclassman came up to me today and asked if they could keep the workshop running on campus after I’m gone…

About Sarah (from her website): My name is Sarah Stef.  I am a senior at the University of Illinois studying Math Secondary Education.  I hope that a year from now I will be teaching Middle School math somewhere in Indiana, although I’ll take whatever teaching job I can get.

I have been a Christian since I was a young child.  My parents, who fled Communism in Romania in order to worship God freely in America, have given me an appreciation for my faith that goes beyond Sundays.  I am passionately in love with God, and my walk with Him has led me to be involved with Axiom, a Christian campus ministry that loves to love God and love people by serving them.

I decided to create this workshop because it frustrates me that the world’s perception of Christianity is so false.  It is based on lies and misconceptions, and I would like to put the record straight.

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Flavored Salt

(Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/519605)

 

(What follows is a guest post written by Rev. Tim Baranoski, who hails from Cameron’s hometown. We came across Rev. Tim because of a post he wrote over at Non-Prophet Status, and are delighted to have him here at FLP. Please see his bio at the end of the this post for links to his own blog and Twitter. The second part of Cameron’s “What does it mean to be evangelical?” will be posted later this week, as will the end to Greg’s “Kingdom” series. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy FLP’s first guest blog!)

What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in our country? This is a question that is bound to elicit a variety of answers depending on whom you ask. Possible answers would include: the mass media, popular culture, materialism, bad government policies, other religions, etc. A missionary had the occasion to put this very question to the great Mahatma Gandhi, “What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?” His answer was swift and decisive: “Christians.” It is said that the world would be a more Christian place today were it not for the Christians. The Christians that constitute a hindrance to Christianity are not the real and committed ones, of course, but those who bear the name Christian but, judging from the way they talk and behave, no one would suspect they have anything to do with Christ.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” – Mark 9:50 (NIV)

I like to think of the numerous Christian denominations as simply flavored salt. We all have the same goal and the same basic beliefs – though we do tend to argue over minor nuances of things like baptism and the Eucharist. We are the same faith but then we are simply different flavors.

But then I have to wonder – are we really the salt of earth? Our theological differences lend themselves to exclusion from churches and public criticism of one another. It is no wonder Christians are criticized from those who the outside – if I was an outsider I am not sure I would want to be part of this group either.

Worse than how we treat each other is how we treat people in faith traditions. Of course, I am referring to Muslims especially. For reasons that stem from the events of September 11, we have lumped anyone who prescribes to the Islamic faith as a “terrorist”. We shun them, criticize them, and exclude them from as much as possible. We work hard to prevent Mosques from being built in our communities out of fear and ignorance. Is this what Jesus would want?

Now before you begin to stone me for being a heretic, I need to clarify that I am a Jesus-follower. I am an ordained minister in a Presbyterian denomination. I believe the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I will not waver in this belief. It is a conviction and the one according to which my life is lived.

However, that does not mean I need to hate non-Christians. Jesus went out of his way to reach out to sinners and non-Jews. He ate with them. He talked with them. He loved them. I can do the same as well. In my ministry, I have had the opportunity to share in Friday prayers at a local mosque. It was an incredible experience but I do not think for one moment that I compromised my beliefs. Instead, I believe I planted the seed that as a Christian, I am willing to engage in conversation and to learn from one another. I believe showing respect to other beliefs is important because it allows a dialogue to continue. If I am too busy hating people for what they believe then I cannot show the love of Jesus to them. Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you cannot love them.” We as Christians are too busy judging others rather than loving them.

It’s one thing to criticize and another to share solutions. I think there are many things we can do as Christians. I strive to live my life according to words that St. Francis of Assisi is purported to have spoken, “Preach Jesus always and when necessary use words.” As I said earlier, I have participated in Friday prayers at a local mosque on several occasions. I look forward to participating them in the future. The result of my participation? An open dialogue between myself and Muslims. I have learned more about the Islamic faith through these conversations then I ever knew. I appreciate their faith to the point that I have developed a new respect for their beliefs. Earlier, I stated clearly my beliefs but that doesn’t mean that I cannot respect another person’s beliefs either. Instead, I have a better understanding in which to engage in conversation.

It is the conversation that is the key to the whole issue. If we talk with one another, we begin to see as others see and we can no longer judge them in our ignorance. A remarkable thing happens – we understand them and we see that others, though they may believe differently, are really not that different from us.

The passage from Mark I quoted earlier comes in a larger periscope in which Jesus is teaching that it is okay if other people cast out demons in his name. After all, we are all salt just different flavors. What if we begin to see other faiths as yet another flavor of salt. I know there is only one way to God but there are many ways to Jesus.

In my mind interfaith relations are loving people – all people mind you – as Jesus did. It is through that love that we being to let the light of Jesus shine (the other part of the salt) and we begin to truly do the work of God in this world. Let’s not judge others but love others. Let our love shine as a light and let our salt of faith flavor all we do.

 

 

Timothy Baranoski is an ordained minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and a US Army Reserve Chaplain. He is happily married to Lisa with a 4 year old daughter. A lover of all things Starbucks, a history junkie and slightly irreverant, he blogs at thetimothyblog.wordpress.com and randomly tweets with @Timbski13.

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What Would Jesus Blog?

While we as Evangelical Christians discuss frequently on our site the importance of interfaith relationships – including relationships with those of a secular tradition – we are reminded that not everyone sees things the way we do.

Earlier this week, our friend Chris Stedman, a secular humanist and a leading voice for the involvement of the nonreligious in interfaith cooperation, was the target of an open letter written by Frank Turk, contributor to a Christian blog “PyroManiacs” (tagline: “Setting the world on fire…”). We wanted to respond – not because a response was invited, but because we are Evangelical Christians, we disagree with the approach to religious difference that particular Christians (“PyroManiacs” included) have taken, and because we are offended by the idea that someone representing Jesus Christ would make some of the statements that were made toward Chris.

Turk’s “Open letter” centers on a tweet posted earlier this month that read: “Exciting to hear about how @ChrisDStedman is reshaping the conversation between religious and nonreligious.” While Turk seemingly attempts to belittle Chris’s work by calling out his sexuality and tattoos, we are reminded of the very need for reshaping just such a conversation. Turk asks “Is that really ‘reshaping’ anything?”—in other words, is Chris really making a difference? And later implies that dialogue won’t change humanity’s propensity to, as he calls it, “err,” calling into question the very efficacy of the interfaith endeavor. We contend that Chris Stedman is in fact reshaping the conversation, and that constructive dialogue is playing a great part in this.

The conversation “between religious and nonreligious” as mentioned in the tweet is not a two-way discussion between Christians and atheists; rather, Christians and atheists are simply two pieces of a much broader discourse among peoples of all different faith traditions, worldviews, philosophies, and perspectives. Whether it is a church being bombed in Egypt, a pastor threatening to burn the Qur’an, or the recent protests of a Muslim community fundraiser in California, we would say that conversations around religious differences still need some major remodeling. And in the arena of atheists’ relationship to religion in particular, Chris is doing phenomenal work to show that being a non-religious person does not mean one has to be aggressively anti-religious. As a religious man himself, Turk should at least grant this much in Stedman’s favor.

We believe that interfaith cooperation efforts—and atheists/humanists’ involvement in them— are relevant, timely, and crucial in today’s global society, and that they stand in line with the values espoused by Christ to love one’s neighbor and bring peace to the world. Chris Stedman has contributed greatly to the cause of interfaith cooperation, making it a visible and vibrant part of the discussion happening on university campuses all across the country.

Because the model for interfaith cooperation to which we adhere depends upon mutual respect, value judgments on the morality of human sexuality or concern with one’s personal choices lie largely beyond the purview of the discussion. We, like Chris, simply advance the message of peace and sociological pluralism. Our concern is not with individual religious practice or belief or widespread social concerns except where they intersect with violence, strife, and bigotry. Our own Christian religious identity informs our desire to build bridges of cooperation with those of other traditions and worldviews, but does not in any way muddy our own values or compel us to entreat them on others.

Dialogue, though discounted in Turk’s letter, has the power to produce empathy through understanding. Part of the goal of interfaith cooperation is not simply an end to something (i.e. violence), but is actually a positive, proactive movement built around service that aims to improve our world and address the problems we face. (See Greg’s post on the Million Meals for Haiti even at UIUC for an example of this.)

As devout Christians, we understand the desire and imperative to point to Christ as the answer to any perceived iniquity; we want our friends to know Christ and his saving grace. Yet we often struggle with the way the church presents these messages of salvation to the world, having been frustrated by our own past experiences.

Chris Stedman, once a church-going Christian himself, doesn’t need a lesson on the teachings of Christ or what the Christian church believes about salvation; doubtless he has picked up on these things through his years as a member of the church and as a student in religious studies programs both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We, like Turk, desire for Chris to know Jesus as his savior—Chris knows that full well.  But to see the gospel tacked on the end of a Bible-brandishing diatribe in which the author takes jabs at both Chris’s sexuality and his body art comes across as condescending.

The Bible states in 1 Peter 3:15:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

We’d like to suggest that the conversation of interfaith cooperation – the precise conversation that Chris Stedman indeed does work to shape – presents a better opportunity for giving that answer mentioned in 1 Peter than the method observed in Turk’s “open letter.”  Ironically, this verse can be found on one of the “Pyromaniacs” logos plastered all over their site. Yet it seems they’ve forgotten this respect in their determination to criticize our friend and wave the gospel in his face.

Jesus’ ministry placed a heavy emphasis on relationships. He beckoned Zacchaeus down from the tree in order to have dinner with him. When at Mary and Martha’s house, he praised Mary for sitting and talking to him. One of the central sacraments of the church—the Eucharist—is in celebration and remembrance of a meal he had with his disciples. Indeed, relationships undergird the very reason Jesus had disciples, and God’s desire for relationships with all of us is in some sense the reason Jesus died for our sins.

Dialogue—or conversation— is implicit in relationships. In some sense conversing with God is what we do when we pray. What then does Turk mean when he asserts in his closing paragraph that Jesus isn’t “looking for a dialog?” Such a claim seems rather spurious. Also spurious is when Turk posits that leading an ethical life without God is not possible. Though a difficult, complex issue in its own right—one that we could write about at great length—looking at Chris’ work and Turk’s letter makes it seem clear that a belief in God, or lack thereof, doesn’t necessarily correlate with ethical behavior.

When reading Turk’s letter, we would ask: Does it work to build a strong relationship with Chris (or anyone, for that matter), or does it operate sans any personal ties? Does it do anything constructive, or does it attempt to deconstruct? Does it display a level of respect, or does it assume a moral high ground? Most importantly, for a Christian: does it seem to emulate Jesus?

Which of these approaches to dialogue—Chris’ or Turk’s—seems to embody Jesus’ compassion, vision for service, and emphasis on personal relationships? To us, it’s obvious.

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