Josh Daneshforooz introduces the Loving Our Religious Neighbors campaign here:
Looking forward to learning more about the curriculum being developed!
“It was religious institutions whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu, or Jewish in the context of our country, they are the people who bought land, who built schools, who equipped them, who employed teachers, and paid them. Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today.” – Nelson Mandela
Some reflections on the life of the great South African Leader here:
Some reactions to the document issued by Pope Francis this week:
What are your thoughts on the tone he has set for his papacy?
I usually sit down to write for this blog with a specific message to communicate, but today I have a few questions.
In a recent meeting with other interfaith organizers on campus, a progressive Christian minister – for whom I have great respect – questioned whether inviting an evangelical Christian speaker would be appropriate for our annual interfaith conference. “After all,” he pointed out, “when I think of evangelicals…”
You can probably complete the sentence.
My first thought was to defend the individual we had been discussing, an evangelical who has had a significant impact on me as an interfaith organizer. Without realizing it, I tried to explain that this particular individual was an exception: cooperative, respectful…
But as I’ve thought more about this encounter, some further questions have resurfaced regarding the way the world perceives evangelicals. Is a respectful evangelical really a misnomer? Or is it just blowhard public figures who have perpetuated this idea that evangelicals aren’t interested in being your friend (unless if you convert)? Running parallel with this same train of thought is a question of my own identity: do I want to identify as an evangelical?
It will always be true that I grew up an evangelical – albeit my church community could hardly be characterized as aggressive or charismatic. And I’ve continued to call myself an evangelical despite – like many in my generation – growing disenchanted with many habits of the evangelical church. I’ve also learned (largely thanks to Facebook) that the members of my childhood congregation represented the full spectrum of political and social opinions, though rarely did controversial topics come up in church activities. On the other hand, I’ve been through evangelism trainings, been told to keep a list of friends I want to convert, and been challenged to do cold-turkey evangelism.
So my experience with what it means to be an evangelical has included a broad range of people with varying political views, spiritual practices, and methods for communicating the gospel. And I continue to call myself an evangelical because of the way I view my faith, and because of how I interpret the gospel regarding the way I should live my life: that there is good news to be shared. This is a theme that has been at the core of many of the things I’ve written on this site and will continue to be so. Furthermore, I’ve been interested in involving other evangelicals in these dialogues with people from other religious and non-religious traditions because, among several reasons, I believe the idea that is at the core of evangelicalism – communicating the gospel – is best accomplished in these settings.
So when I find myself in a conversation where one’s compatibility with interfaith cooperation is questioned because they are an evangelical, how should I react? Should the image of evangelical Christians be defended by pointing out that there are – and presumably always have been – “nice” evangelicals? Or should we abandon the label altogether? Does the name “evangelical Christian” require some sort of makeover, how can that be accomplished, and who will lead it?
I’m not a sociologist or a theologian, and I can’t cite to you the way either scholar would define an evangelical Christian. But how many of the ¼ of Americans who call themselves evangelicals could?
This is something I hope to learn from my fellow contributors and readers of this blog: what do you consider to define an evangelical?
A friend once told me that religious institutions outnumber hospitals one thousand to one in some developing countries. While I don’t know where I’d begin to find verification of this statement, I don’t have a hard time believing it. And as an MD/PhD student interested in global health, it has me thinking.
Religious institutions can bring structure, leadership, and accountability to people and communities. They can also have a tremendous influence on congregants or followers. For a negative example, consider the Texas megachurch which appears to be at the center of a recent measles outbreak, and the role of the congregation’s culture may have played in discouraging immunization. One might imagine the potential impact on health if the cultures promoted by religious institutions worldwide encouraged healthy lifestyles or even provided the infrastructure for prevention, screening, diagnosis or treatment of certain diseases.
As activists on my campus turn to emphasize a related issue this month – food insecurity – the same thought experiment applies. September has been deemed Hunger Action Month by Feeding America in order to promote awareness and action around hunger issues in the United States, and it has me thinking about how religious institutions have been engaging this problem in my own community.
For example, Sola Gratia Farm is a community-supported agriculture initiative of the St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Urbana, IL which donates at least ten percent of its crops to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and promotes healthy lifestyles through community programs. Or take for example the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign, IL, which is opening a food pantry this fall to address largely overlooked food insecurity among college students. Or the Wesley Evening Food Pantry, operating out of the Wesley United Methodist Church and Foundation on my campus, which engages people from all walks of life, including the Unitarian Universalist Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to serve more than 1,000 individuals who are struggling to make ends meet at the end of each month when SNAP benefits are running low.
Perhaps the most compelling are these examples of the way that religious institutions have turned to interfaith collaboration to address food insecurity in our community. The First Mennonite Church and Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center, situated on opposite sides of one of Urbana’s busiest streets, took advantage of their proximity to collaborate on a community garden, donating produce to a local women’s shelter. Meanwhile, student organizations like the Muslim Students Association, Jain Students Association, Dharma (a Hindu students organization), Interfaith in Action, and others across campus have collaborated to hold fundraising fast-a-thons or to package food to send to local food banks and pantries.
I won’t pretend that I know the solution to hunger in any context. But I do believe that religious institutions and interfaith collaborations in Champaign-Urbana are demonstrating an approach worth considering. And as a Christian, I view this less as an opportunity and more as a responsibility. Yet I fear that there are still too many churches sitting on the sidelines and watching.
What if religious institutions like the First Mennonite Church or the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center were the norm instead of the exception? What if hunger action was something that religious communities saw as a necessary part of their role in the broader community? What if we all expected our institutions to invest in efforts with both religious and non-religious collaborators? What if all Jesus followers fully embraced the Christian call to feed the hungry and were willing to do it alongside people of other traditions?
I believe religious institutions possess the capacity to make a difference in our society, and that interfaith collaborations can motivate fundamental change. I also believe we can all agree that no one should go hungry. So what will you do this month to help realize this potential we collectively bear?
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/foodbankcenc/ available under Creative Commons.
Not long after launching Faith Line Protestants I hung a bulletin board in my bedroom and outlined spaces for the major projects on which I was working. I then hung post-it notes with short-term and long-term goals for each project.
We’ve recently realized one of my long-term goals that has been hanging for more than two years in the “Faith Line Protestants” section of that board. That’s just one of the reasons I’m excited that Anthony Fatta is joining our contributor rotation on Faith Line Protestants. He’s our fourth new contributor since the re-launch last month, and offers an exciting perspective as an alum of Interfaith Youth Core programs and current Associate Pastor at a United Methodist Church in California.
Take a minute to check out Anthony’s first post to FLP, Mission Trip Potential.
Richard Stearns writes:
I’ve seen Christians earn a fresh hearing for the gospel as they worked alongside Muslims and Buddhists providing a day care for the children of prostitutes. In Africa I’ve seen Christians and Muslims learn to respect each other’s faith as they work to stop the AIDS crisis. I have seen Christians working on behalf of the poor but doing so alongside governments accused of human rights abuses. What I get to see in the arena of international development, the church must also do in the arenas of culture, politics, business, art, science and entertainment.
It’s encouraging to see that Stearns’ vision for a new strategy for the church includes interfaith engagement. Read the piece at http://www.qideas.org/blog/its-time-for-a-new-strategy.aspx.