Author Archives: Greg Damhorst

A War That Builds Bridges, Not Bombs


Last month, Richard Proudfit stood before a black-tie crowd in Washington D.C. with a medal around his neck and announced that he was declaring war…

Read more at this article’s original location on Sojourners, or read the re-post at Huffington Post Religion.

 

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Creating Leaders in a Religiously Plural World

The church building that housed the faith community where I grew up sat immediately adjacent to my high school. Only the church’s parking lot separated the two, making it a convenient alternative to the busy main road traffic for many parents and carpools depositing students on weekday mornings.

On my first day of high school, however, the lot sat empty. Chains barricaded the driveway at the entrance. There were certain types of people, I learned, that a few members of our congregation didn’t want hanging out on “our private property.”

But not everyone was excluded. As we drove up to the church, a few men who had volunteered their time at 7:00 AM that Monday morning recognized us as church members and unhooked the chains that barricaded the parking lot entrance to let us through. Outsiders, however, were not welcome.

At a national gathering of college presidents, faculty, staff, campus ministers and students for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge this week in Washington D.C., my thoughts returned to that morning. Leaders from all over the country gathered at Howard University in the heart of our nation’s capital because of chains like those: barricades that keep one type of person in — and another type of person out.

The leaders who I met this week in D.C., however, don’t believe that those barricades have to exist.

I’m not talking about a group of folks who are interested in blurring the lines between theological and philosophical perspectives. Instead, we’re having a discussion about how our differences don’t have to keep us from relationships that will improve our communities, break down stereotypes, and even inspire us to be better people. These are government officials, college administrators and student activists, interfaith organizers from across the country who are not only passionate about the programs they will run or the projects they will complete but also the leaders they will create.

And that is what the movement is all about.

They are creating leaders who recognize the danger of barricades in church parking lots. They realize what happens when one group tries to keep for itself something that has the potential to benefit the common good. They know what can be accomplished when we refuse to let presumptions and stereotypes get in the way of relationships.

I am inspired by the progress of campuses like Bethel University and Messiah College, who — despite student bodies that largely profess the same core beliefs — believe it crucial to create a learning environment in which Christian leaders are trained to engage a diverse society. They and many of their peer campuses are demonstrating the impact of deliberate steps beyond campus boundaries to create partnerships with communities of different traditions at nearby schools and in neighboring congregations.

But they are not the only ones who deserve applause. I’ve heard the stories this week of colleges and universities that gather students from around the world but are realizing that the mere presence of diversity is not enough. They too see that tomorrow’s leaders must be champions of not just tolerance, but of collaborative action.

I saw this need to create interfaith leaders my first day of high school, when a well-intentioned effort to keep a church parking lot free of litter and loitering became a metaphor for my tradition, the evangelical church. But it has taken the better part of 10 years for me to realize its full meaning, illuminated now by the vision of tomorrow’s leaders.

For the American church, it’s a call to practice hospitality — to remember that Jesus was relationship-oriented, a storyteller, and a servant. And to realize what that means in the context of the most religiously diverse nation in history.

Someday I hope to return to that parking lot for an interfaith service project, where imams and rabbis join evangelical pastors, Sikhs, Buddhists, and religious and nonreligious folks from around the neighborhood in doing something that helps make our community a better place. During that project, we’ll dialogue about what motivates us to serve — a process that catalyzes relationships, creating long-term partnerships between communities once separated by barricades.

When it happens, it will be because of the Bethel Universities, the Messiah Colleges and the hundreds of campuses across the nation that recognized the need for interfaith engagement and created leaders to fill it.

This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post Religion.

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Headed to D.C. for President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge gathering

I’ll be representing the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with one other student and one staff member at the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge 2012 Summer Gathering this Monday and Tuesday in Washington D.C.

We’re excited to join over 300 college presidents, administrators, chaplains and students at this gathering which features special guests from the Department of Education, the Interfaith Youth Core and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

While we’re there to network and talk about our work at Illinois (namely Illinois Interfaith Service and the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration), I’ll be keeping an eye out for private Christian colleges and universities to hear about how explicitly Christian campuses have engaged interfaith work on their campuses. (For a great example, check back to our guest post from Kyleen Burke From Gordon College: Loving Our Religious Neighbors).

I’ll be bringing the FLP video camera and I hope to have a chance to do some informal video blogs along the way, so check back here next week for more about the President’s Challenge Summer Gathering!

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Charles Worley Shows Us What Jesus Wouldn’t Do

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-damhorst/charles-worley-and-what-jesus-wouldnt-do_b_1559209.html.

I found it painful to watch the video (also below) that hit the web last week of North Carolina pastor Charles L. Worley expressing his particular view on President Obama’s recent announcement about same-sex marriage. Perhaps most disturbing is Worley’s suggestion that “lesbians, queers and homosexuals” be quarantined until they eventually die off from a lack of ability to reproduce — an idea that reeks of hate and contains echoes of genocide.

Gay marriage is an issue that divides our country, and President Obama’s new position on the matter promises to make it a central issue in the upcoming presidential election. But it’s also an issue that divides American Christianity.

Through my experiences as an interfaith organizer and a Christian, I have been blessed with relationships with people from many different traditions, perspectives and backgrounds. It’s also given me a unique perspective on my own tradition as I’ve worked with Christian ministries boasting political positions on both ends of the spectrum. As a result, I am witness to some congregations that are open and affirming and others which remain conservatively quiet.

To me, the matter at hand is not about whether I agree or disagree with a particular ministry’s position. However, the ministries I respect and admire are those which approach all people with a posture of love — a position antithetic to Charles L. Worley’s ideas.

It’s too often that the Christian perspectives heard around the world — whether as viral media or on the front page of the news — are those of radically bigoted leaders who fail to represent the Christ that I know. And Charles Worley reminds me of some of those embarrassments, like Terry Jones, the Florida Family Association or even Harold Camping. These instances in which my faith is so badly misrepresented remind me why the world needs interfaith cooperation.

Worley, as a matter of fact, gives me two reasons.

First, the face of Christianity that many see today is not an accurate picture of a compassionate Christ. If I and other Christians want to better represent our faith, we can only do so in a world where opinions are based on real relationships, not viral bigotry. The interfaith movement seeks to create such a world. This means increased opportunity for Christians to demonstrate, through dialogue and common action, that what Charles Worley is suggesting is exactly what Jesus wouldn’t do.

Second, Worley’s hate misrepresents Christians on both sides of the political debate over gay marriage. I’m not convinced that every denomination of Christianity will ever come to unanimous agreement on the morality question. However, at moments like this, the Christian Church must be prepared for intra-religious cooperation that seeks to overcome the language of hate with a language of love. Once again, we need the tools of the interfaith movement.

If you look in the right place, you’ll find many Christians apologizing for Charles Worley’s comments on behalf of our faith tradition. I, too, wish to echo this apology. But many also recognize that this incident is a call to action, and that we must reach across divides to practice radical hospitality.

Now is a time in which we are reminded that, as human beings, differences are not only present in our theological perspectives or the texts we consider sacred, but at many levels in human existence. And although we will not agree with each other on many levels, we must agree that bigotry cannot be tolerated. This instance is yet another reminder that an example of hate is a call to practice love.

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Standing with Nuns, Standing for Compassion

This piece was originally posted on God’s Politics.
Read the full post here.

The reprimand that came out of the Vatican last month has familiar echoes.

The statement addressing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 80 percent of nuns in the United States, accuses the organization of “serious doctrinal problems” regarding the focus of religious practice, among them, a concern that the Catholic Sisters are too focused on social justice and not enough on voicing the Church’s views on homosexuality or abortion.

For me, the reprimand carries reverberations of similar friction from my undergrad…

Continue reading at Sojourners

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A spiritual calling to interfaith work

This piece was originally published on the Interfaith Youth Core blog at http://www.ifyc.org/content/spiritual-calling-interfaith-work.

Last Thursday night I found myself at the largest interfaith dialogue the University of Illinois has ever seen. Directly north of the iconic Assembly Hall and Memorial Stadium on campus, 600 people packed into a multipurpose room at our beautiful Activities and Recreation Center – the same room where we’ll kick off the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration in just under a month.

The event, a Muslim-Christian dialogue between academics Zeki Saritoprak and Peter Kreeft, was well-attended by people from many traditions, but I’m willing to bet that just about every Christian fellowship on campus was represented. So while I stood in the back waiting to meet some friends from Interfaith in Action, the relatively high density of Cru, InterVarsity (IV) and Navigators shirts inspired some reflection.

As a Christian, I value the sort of community that a Christian fellowship provides. However, I also value the opportunity to share the message of my faith with others. In reflecting, I thought back to my days as a Bible study leader with IV – my struggle to balance over-commitment to academics and extracurricular activities and an evangelism seminar my junior year that convicted me not to renew my time-consuming commitments to leadership with IV.

Why? Because the take-home message of the seminar was simple: stop doing so many things with just Christians and start doing things with people from a different background. It’s through those relationships that you will show others who Jesus is.

That seminar confirmed my spiritual calling to interfaith work.

I thought about where I have come since then. One year after that retreat, I attended an IFYC conference at Northwestern University. Six months later, we organized more than 5,000 people in packaging 1,000,000 meals for earthquake victims in Haiti, Champaign-Urbana’s largest ever interfaith service project. Six months after that, I found myself in front of the White House with 200 other student leaders at the first ever Interfaith Leadership Institute.

As a student speaker in the opening session of that ILI, I remember the excitement of telling my parents – both of whom are Christians and great supporters of my involvement in interfaith work – about how I knew that I had heard God’s call correctly: I had been given the opportunity to go to the White House to tell 200 hundred other students about the ways that Jesus inspires me to serve others.

But I realize now that the real indicators of God’s desire come in less obvious, but more meaningful forms. Like those of the friends I was meeting at that dialogue last Thursday night.

They are people like Adam, an atheist and an inspiring leader with whom I get to work closely on a regular basis. Or Gautam, an old friend from my hometown with Jain and Hindu heritage – and now a colleague in interfaith work on our campus. Or Adham, an American Muslim of Syrian descent who is one of the University of Illinois’ emerging young interfaith leaders. But that’s just a few – there are innumerable others who I have met through interfaith work – some in just short conversations, others as collaborators and friends in long-term projects.

What I realized while waiting in the back of that multipurpose room last Thursday night was that these relationships are the real reason I know my spiritual calling to do interfaith work is true. Because I’m doing something that I wasn’t doing before, something that my faith was instructing me to do all along – I’m building inspiring relationships with people of different backgrounds.

Relationships like this are built at events like the IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institutes, which are this summer in Chicago (June 18-21, 2012) and Philadelphia (July 16-19). Also, consider joining us at the University of Illinois April 20th-22nd for the inaugural Illinois Conference on Interfaith Cooperation. We have some special guests including Eboo PatelJim WallisChris Stedman and Valarie Kaur.

And you might even get to meet Adam, Gautam or Adham…

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Clooney, Kony and Why Interfaith Matters

The Kony 2012 video has now amassed more than 83 million views on YouTube and triggered a response with which Invisible Children can’t keep up. To make things worse, this viral phenomenon has triggered assertions that have called the non-profit’s integrity into question on multiple levels. It sounds like a mess. But at least a significantly larger portion of the world’s population knows something about the horrors taking place in Uganda, right?

While millions are getting behind the Kony 2012 movement, it has also garnered its fair share of critics. Included are those who have something to add to the discussion on western mentality in response to global crises. I’m referring to the superiority complex that tempts the well-resourced to see themselves as the rescuers of the under-resourced, saviors of the helpless, deliverers of the oppressed.

This mentality has been criticized — as it should — and this criticism often accompanies insults hurled at the sort of folks who use their celebrity to attract attention to humanitarian issues around the world, folks like Bono of U2 or innumerable Hollywood stars, including George Clooney. Clooney was arrested Friday outside of the Sudanese embassy in D.C. while trying to attract attention to another humanitarian crisis: the suffering of the Sudanese people living in the Nuba Mountains.

In some ways, when it comes to responding to humanitarian issues, ignorance and arrogance are the Scylla and Charybdis through which we must navigate. Some stick their heads in the sand while accusations of self-righteousness are dealt all too readily on those taking action to raise awareness, especially if it makes them look good in the process. If there is an approach immune to ridicule, it’s a delicate one.

But of all things, I think George Clooney might be on to something slightly more than commendable.

Continue reading at The Huffington Post.

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What if Jeremy Lin wasn’t a Christian?

Photo by nikk_la

 

I can’t quite tell if Linsanity is dying down yet, but one way or another, I’ve wanted to ask a question ever since the NBA’s latest star surfaced: What if Jeremy Lin wasn’t a Christian?

Would he still be the no-name basketball player who was waived from two teams before stepping into a moment of opportunity and leading the team on a seven-game winning streak, producing the kind of stats and hype that landed him the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row? Would he still be the undrafted 2010 rookie who was repeatedly sent to the NBA Development League during his first season? Would we still emphasize that he’s the first Harvard graduate in the NBA since 1954? Would he still be the first Chinese- or Taiwanese-American ever to play in the NBA? Would we be talking about his faith in the same way?

Continue reading at The Huffington Post.

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