Author Archives: Rachael McNeal

Why do we have Christmas Trees?

Christianity Day gives a short summary of some traditional holiday practices such as the Christmas Tree, ornaments and gift giving.

Turns out, Christians have been learning how to live in this religious diverse world for centuries and much of that process has led to many of our holiday customs around Christmas. An interesting read for sure.

Visit Christianity Today to learn more.

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Tolerance is a four letter word?

For many – “Tolerance” has become a four letter word. Which is why interfaith work can be a hard pill so swallow for some.

There was a piece this week on Relevant on Tolerance claiming that perhaps, tolerance is of God, rather than against God.

God doesn’t change hearts through breathless, red-faced debates and browbeating. Rather, He is rich in kindness and tolerance and patience.

Read the full article HERE.

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Nelson Mandela: Interfaith Leader

 

In 1999 Nelson Mandela spoke at the Parliament of the World’s Religions about the role of interfaith cooperation in ending Apartheid. You can read his speech here:

No government or social agency can on its own meet the enormous challenges… of development of our age. Partnerships are required across the broad range of society. In drawing upon its spiritual and communal resources, religion can be a powerful partner in such causes as meeting the challenges of poverty, alienation, the abuse of women and children, and the destructive disregard for our natural environment.

 
You can read the full speech on the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ Blog.
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Let’s Get beyone arguments of Christian Persecution

We’ve talked a little bit about Christian Privilege here on FLP. I myself am still working at understanding my Christian Privilege in the U.S.. The truth is – I don’t always feel privileged. This is nothing new. Part of the difficulty of talking about “privilege” of any kind is that the privileged don’t understand themselves to be privileged and therefore have a hard time participating in conversation about said privilege.

This piece by Joanna Hoyt at Sojourners discusses Christian persecution and privilege in a way that I could really relate to.

 I fear that arguments over religious privilege and persecution may blind us to the real challenge our culture poses to our attempts to live in faithful community.

What are your thoughts?

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Rachel Held Evans on being divisive

rachel held evans

When we discuss “living Christian in a religiously diverse world” of course Christian witness regularly comes up. What is our witness to our religiously diverse neighbors as individually, but perhaps more importantly – as a Church…as a body of believers.

It’s a challenging question since as a body of believers – as the Church – we are not all theologically uniform and this often causes tension, arguments, and division.

Rachel Held Evans addresses this issue, specifically regarding the Evangelical strands of Christianity, in her recent post, “On being divisive…”

Like most Christians, when I read the prayer of Jesus from John 17, my heart aches for the day when the Church will be unified, when our love for one another and for the world will be our greatest witness to the truth of the gospel message.

 

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Strive to Love

 I work for a public university in Florida full-time in their Interfaith Center. I am the Programming Coordinator which means it is my job to put together programs and events for students in order to promote religious pluralism on campus. On a daily basis I engage with students of diverse religious and non-religious identities from Atheist to Baha’i, Christian to Jewish, Mystic to Muslim, Secular to Unaffiliated and everything in between.

Engaging with students of so many different religious and non-religious backgrounds and understandings is the most exciting part of my job. I learn something new every day about how young people understand themselves and the world around them: what’s more, I learn something new every day about how I understand myself and the world around me.

I also identify as an Evangelical Christian. And I’m not really that shy about sharing my religious identity with my students. I want them to be comfortable sharing themselves with me, so I try to model how to talk about their identity as a religious or non-religious identity by doing so myself.

Since I’m not shy about sharing my own religious identity, naturally a lot of question come up. In particular, I have been asked by many people…

                        How can you be a Christian and do full-time interfaith work?

Sometimes this is asked out of genuine curiosity, sometimes it’s asked more as an accusation than an actual question, and other times it’s asked by Christian students who genuinely want to participate in interfaith dialogue and cooperation while holding onto their Christian identities and need help understanding how to do so.

I don’t mind being asked this question. In fact, I’m grateful that I’ve been asked so many times since I started my job over a year ago. Being asked this question enables me to take a moment to stop, take a step back, and reflect. I use this question to keep myself accountable to Christ’s calling on my life. Is my work enabling me to act as Christ’s witness, or is it hindering me? How do I follow Christ and do my job? Or, what’s better – how do I follow Christ by doing my job.

You see, I take my Christian identity (or role as follower of Christ) very seriously. I like to consider it my first identity- more important than my identity as a wife, daughter, sister, female, etc. When engaging with the normalcy and routine of life, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of who we are in Christ; what God’s call on our lives has to do with the mundane; how our actions reflect something about who our God is – the list goes on. Interfaith work is my job. It has become a very normal part of what I do on a daily basis.

So it’s important for me to ask myself, as often as possible, “Why do I do what I do?”

Of course in every person’s life there is a series of events and relationships which creates a path, a journey, that leads them to where they are, wherever that is. And my case is no different.

So of course there is a story about how I got here.

Though when you walk into the church in which I grew up today, demographically (I emphasize “demographically!!”- not in substance) it’s very much like a saltine cracker – white and plain (with few exceptions)-it wasn’t always like that. When I was very young the church was a pretty international and diverse church (unless my memory serves me poorly). There were all sorts of different people – artists, scientists, musicians, black, white, asian. India, Uganda, China, Puerto Rico, England were all places people within our congregation called home. Five of the Seven Continents were represented, and I think this is, at least in part, what drew my parents to this place. I can’t help but think it was this early exposure to ethnic and international diversity that fostered a desire within myself to bridge gaps and understand difference – because I saw what a community can be capable of when difference (at least certain kinds of difference) is embraced rather than feared.

I didn’t always have such cushy feelings towards other religions. And of course certain relationships brought me to a place where I was able to start opening up to other faiths and to see them as an opportunity for learning and cultivating understanding rather than as a conflict or something to change to be more like me.

But the most important relationship I’ve had that brought me to a place where I saw this work as necessary, was my relationship with Jesus.

I know it sounds hokey-but I don’t believe that it is.

Jesus loved with everything; with his whole self. Jesus was (and I believe-is) the embodiment of love. I want to love others the way Jesus does; and though I know this is impossible, I want to spend my life striving to do so.

He said the two greatest commandments were to Love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor.

I truly believe that by serving and loving my neighbor – Hindu, Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim and so on- I am loving God and serving Christ.

There’s a whole lot of ugly in this world, and often that violence and ugliness are created at the fault of the religious (and even at the fault of Christians – gasp!). As a religious person I want to bring people of different religious backgrounds together to serve the community, the country, and the world, rather than breaking it.

So I do this job as a Christian seeking a way to serve God and serve God’s children to the best of my ability.

And that’s how I do full time interfaith work as a Christian – by striving to love as Jesus loves me.

“So in Everything – Strive to Love,” I Corinthians 14:1

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Proselytism and Interfaith

This piece was originally posted to Interfaith Youth Core’s blog, www.ifyc.org/stay-informed on October 16, 2013

Thanks to IFYC’s Alumni Professional Development Fund, I was recently attended the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Gathering in Washington, D.C. The Gathering brought together staff, faculty, administrators and students from universities all over the country who are participating in the President’s Challenge. The two days were spent in plenary and breakout sessions listening to panelists from various college campuses discuss what their schools are doing to work across lines of religious and non-religious difference for the common good of their communities.

Though it was great to hear a number of inspiring stories about the work of young people who are able to come together in their difference, see a need in the community and work to fill that need, I left the Gathering knowing there is still much work to be done.

During one of the breakout sessions a question was posed to the panel that went something like this: “How do you get people of different religious identities together in a room to dialogue—and what do you do about those who are there to only proselytize?” While the panel offered some helpful advice about how to recruit students for dialogue, the panel never answered the question about proselytism. I am not criticizing the panelists here, but it reminded me that there is still much work to be done in how we deal with proselytism. It is a topic we love to brush under the rug. This is a common frustration of mine as an Evangelical Christian.

At interfaith gatherings I regularly hear interfaith professionals talk a big game about making safe spaces for students of different religious and non-religious identities to express themselves authentically, but in the next breath say something denigrating about Evangelical Christians or other “conservative types.” At the same time, interfaith professionals regularly complain that they cannot seem to get Evangelicals involved in interfaith work.

There’s an obvious disconnect here.

While we can agree that interfaith dialogue is not a place for proselytism, we still have to be intentional about making sure those whose spiritual practice involves proselytism can still have a place at the interfaith table. How can we allow Evangelical Christians, and others who proselytize (let’s remember that this is not only a Christian practice), to participate in interfaith work while being authentically themselves? One of the ways we can do this is by affirming that proselytism is a central spiritual practice for some.

Gatherings like the President’s Challenge Gathering at Georgetown last month are a great way to be reminded of the wonderful interfaith work being done across the country. We can be motivated by the interfaith work of others to do better interfaith work ourselves. Let’s remember that this is a young movement, and there is still much to learn about how to be the best movement we can be. One thing we can work on is our reception of Evangelicals (and other proselytizing groups) and how we talk about proselytism within the interfaith movement.

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Persecution of Christians in America?

The word on the street is we’ll be having some conversation on Faith Line Protestants next month about Christian Privilege. This piece by Ian Harber popped up over at Relevant entitled, “The Myth of the Persecuted American Church.” I thought it would be a good way to get you thinking about some questions: Does Christian privilege exist in America? Does the persecution of Christians exist in America?

Harber writes,

It’s not that Christians are not occasionally persecuted in America. There are instances—such as an incident this summer in which Evangelical Christians were labeled as “extremists” in a Pentagon training session—that we ought to take seriously. However, the type of persecution endured in the United States is far less than anything our brothers and sisters suffer from around the world. In fact, calling Christians in America “persecuted” seems like a disservice to our fellow believers overseas who face jail—and far worse—for their relationship with God.

 

 thoughts?

 

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