Category Archives: Barriers

Ripples of Peace: Confess, Repent, Learn, Speak Up

Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace…-Romans 14:19

 

Real talk – it’s not looking good

In fact, it’s looking pretty damn bleak.

The headlines these last few weeks have gone from bad, to worse, to downright depressing.

Particularly distressing for Christians around the world, and specifically Christians of my Facebook newsfeed, is the violent persecution of Christians in Iraq. I’m sure you’ve noticed a particular Arabic letter acting as your friends’ profile pictures, or the use of the hashtag #WeAreN. This comes from reports that ISIS militants were marking the homes of Iraqi Christians with the arabic letter “N,” meaning “Nazarene” or “Christian,” in order for those homes to be targeted. Apparently, Christians are being told to convert, or die, and many have been killed (there is an informative interview with the creator of the #WeAreN hashtag which you can read here and can offer you some more context).

I think it’s important for Christians to remember the universal church community of which they are a part. Often times our own American nationalism, and our Protestant denominationalism, can keep us from remembering our role in the greater body of Christ. That being said, I also think it’s very important for us to remember that Christians aren’t the only religious minority being driven from their homes, and killed.

When we peer out from behind the safety blanket of our first amendment into the lives of others and see such ruthless, meaningless violence against people simply because of their religious beliefs, it’s natural for us to want to do something. But we don’t know what the heck to do. So we resort to things like changing our profile picture, or using social media to spread awareness. these things (like changing our profile picture) can be helpful, and they can help us feel like we’re doing something to create a ripple of peace in this world – and I think that’s okay.

However, I wanted to make a few suggestions for simple ways (simple- not always easy) you can begin to make ripples, and hopefully eventually a tide, of peace.

1.  Confess:

Admit what your prejudices are – say them aloud to a friend, to yourself, to God. When we name our prejudices aloud, we realize so many of those prejudices are based on fear and misunderstanding. When we confess our prejudices aloud, we have an opportunity to learn how we ourselves perpetuate a culture of intolerance through our own ignorance, misunderstanding and fear. When we confess our prejudices aloud to God, we are opening our hearts to see others the way God sees them.

2.  Repent:

Once you have acknowledged your prejudices – repent. Repentance humbles us before God and others, reminding us that we are often in the wrong. Not only must we feel regret for the prejudice we’ve felt and believed, we must turn away from them completely. As Christians in a religiously diverse world, it is easy for us to believe we are always in the right, but history has shown us that that is definitely not true (think Spanish Inquisition, theologically defended slavery in the U.S., etc.). Pride is a dangerous road which often leads to violence. Pride and peace are like oil and water and pride is an oily slippery slope. Turn away from pride; instead, humble yourselves in service to others.

3.  Learn

Once you’ve confessed your prejudices and repented, you can humble yourself before others by learning. There are two ways in which I believe learning can help us create more peace in the world. First, learn about the believe systems of others. I’ve noticed that “open-mindedness” is often confused with wishy-washy political correctness (I actually believe political correctness can be very important for inclusion – but that’s a different topic). I believe, on the other hand, that open-mindedness is actually a willingness to check our presumptions at the door in order to listen and learn about others. We don’t have to not believe what we believe in order to be open-minded. Learning about others, particularly the belief system of those from different worldviews (religious or non-religious), can lead to more positive attitudes about others, thus leading to positive relationships with others (see more at www.ifyc.org/about). What’s the worst that could happen if you decide to learn more about another person – you make a new friend? Being willing to learn more about others helps us understand more fully that we are all created in God’s image and we might have more in common than you might expect. What better way to create more peace in the world than through new friendships and relationships?

Second, learn about the hardships of other people groups (whether those are religious groups, ethnic groups, etc.). Believe it or not, one of the things that all religious/non-religious groups in the United States have in common is that every group has experienced some kind of religious intolerance. Religious intolerance is understood broadly; it takes many different forms. Vandalism of religious buildings, stereotypes, misrepresentation in the media, discrimination, violence – these are ways that people experience religious intolerance. Feeling persecuted because your biology professor scoffs at your Christian view of creation? Learn about the experiences of Muslim girls getting their hijabs torn off in their school hallways. Or read about the persecution the Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, minority Muslim groups and others in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State currently. You’ll soon find out that you’re not the only one experiencing religious intolerance. Perhaps your experience will help you feel empathy for others – even those you would not normally identify with. Perhaps this empathy will inspire you to act on behalf of others as well – whether it’s through prayer, writing, community organizing, raising aid funds, etc.

4.  Speak Up for Others

I’ve heard a lot of fellow Christians get really offended by the lack of coverage about the persecution of Christians in Iraq (heck – I know I have). Thankfully it seems the media has finally taken notice. However, I’ve noticed Christians are very quick to spread the news about the persecution of their brothers and sisters in Christ, yet I rarely see a fellow Christian talk about the Yezidis or other Muslim minority groups also experiencing violence and even death because of their religious identity in Iraq (not to mention religious violence experienced by Muslims in Mynmar, or Muslims and Christians in India, etc.). I’m not blaming them – I get it. As I listened to NPR yesterday morning they talked for several minutes about the persecution experienced by Yezidis in Iraq, and there wasn’t a single word about Christians in Iraq. Now, I have heard NPR cover the persecution of Christians in the last few weeks, but in that moment I immediately felt alienated.

But why should I feel alienated?

It’s important people know what’s happening to Yezidis, just as it is important for people to know what’s happening to religious groups all over the world who are experiencing extreme persecution.

All that to say – I think it would say a lot more about what it means to follow Christ if we as Christians were just as quick to stand up and speak up for all groups who experience violence, discrimination, and displacement on account of what they believe. It’s important for us to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being killed and displaced because they believe in the same gospel we do; it’s important that we spread the news of what’s happening to them. I think it’s just as important, however, to speak up for others, even those we would not normally identify with.

Proverbs 31:8 tells us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” With social media a mobile device away – it’s easier to speak up for others now more than it ever has been.

Let’s stand against violence by speaking on behalf of others in the name of peace, and in the name of the coming Kingdom we so fervently are hoping for. Let’s drop all defensiveness, pride, and prejudice, tear down the wall of division and build a bridge of peace, remembering that it is our duty as Christians not only to stand up and speak out on behalf of each other, but also for others.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the violence and hatred in this world. It’s easy to feel bogged down by the enormity of it all and simply sit, paralyzed to do anything. But I believe if we confess, repent, learn and speak up on behalf of others – then we can create small ripples of peace in our own lives. Who knows – maybe this way we can create ripples of peace in other lives too.

photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc

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“I will, with God’s help”

As a member of The Episcopal Church and someone involved in their ecumenical and interreligious work on a national and global level, I have begun to delve deeper into my own tradition for sources that nurture our work to foster mutual understanding amongst our brothers and sisters of other faiths.

While The Episcopal Church has an important historical legacy for building interfaith understanding and relationships – one that I cannot fully go into here – I have found that one of the best places for Episcopalians to begin interfaith work is, you guessed it, our liturgy.

In the Anglican tradition we hold fervently to the motto “praying shapes believing”. It comes from the Latin: lex orandi lex credendi, which translates to “the law of praying is the law of believing.” It means that the words we utter together to God hold profound weight in our life. Verbal and communal markers, they carve deeper into the bedrock of our belief through repetition until our hands and feet respond to the flood.

Just as a stream wends its way through rock and soil to carve a path, gradually building its momentum and depth into a river, so also I believe our liturgy can embed itself in us, molding and moving us into action, directing and expanding our imaginations, hearts and wills towards a greater collective theological and social consciousness.

So if our prayers, beliefs and actions are so closely knit together, then what are we praying?

This is exactly where I, and many others past and present, have found the words of the Baptismal Covenant to be a deep well and foundation for enabling, fashioning, and sustaining our work to build bridges and mutual understanding amongst those of other faiths.

I was baptized as an infant so I do not recall the memory well (or at all). But I hold this liturgy dear today, knowing that my family and community prayed it over me all those years ago so that I can now claim it as my own, confirm the faith of my baptism, and strive to live out these promises moving forward.

The Baptismal Covenant is found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the hallmark resource which embodies the corporate, liturgical, sacramental and ordered Anglican moral vision (the 1979 version is distinctly Episcopal). It is comprised in true catechetical form: it begins with an affirmation of belief in the classical Christian doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed and then includes a question-and-answer format with five ethically-driven questions at the end.

It is this question-and-answer portion which I find particularly compelling, and offer it here as a guiding prayer, resource and resolve for crossing the borders of difference and ministering in interfaith contexts.

Celebrant    Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the
prayers?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant    Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?

People       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?

People       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant  Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?

People       I will, with God’s help.

(Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305)

As we continue to renew our faith this Easter season, it is my hope that Christians of all backgrounds would find the boldness to make these promises over and over again – only and always with God’s help – and let the praying shape the believing as we seek and serve Christ in all persons, even those most different from us.

Carrie Diaz-Littauer is a member of The Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. She is currently an editorial consultant for various international and ecumenical NGOs in Geneva, Switzerland. She holds an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

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Interfaith Relationships

In honor of Valentine’s Day (which also happens to be my birthday!  Gifts in comment, reposting, or tweet-form are not only acceptable but preferred), here is an article about interfaith relationships.

Have you ever dated/married outside of your own faith tradition?  What are some of the joys?  Challenges?

Peace and love,

Anthony

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Born Again Christian + Interfaith Activist = Not Mutually Exclusive

This blog originally appeared on Talking Taboo, a forum for Christian women to explore the unspeakable experiences of their faith.

There’s a moment when I meet someone new and I’m asked what I do for a living where I look down at my watch and calculate whether or not I have enough time to explain that I work for an interfaith organization – and what that means for me as a born again Christian.

I’m a medium sized town Baptist girl from North Carolina. I made my profession of faith when I was nine years old by asking Jesus to come into my heart and hopping into our church’s beloved “dunking booth” to be baptized. I’m a born again Christian who does interfaith work for a living at an organization in Chicago called Interfaith Youth Core, which seeks to make interfaith cooperation a social norm, and I’ve been at it now for almost seven years. When I tell some of my Christian brothers and sisters what I do for a living, I get a range of reactions: furrowed brows, polite head nods, enthusiastic reactions, and challenging, critical statements about my chosen career path. Here are some of most common examples of push back I get within my own community and how I respond:

 “You aren’t a real Christian if you do interfaith work.” There are common misconceptions about interfaith work – that it means everyone should all be a part of one big religion or it implies that everyone essentially believes the same thing we’re just taking different paths. Neither of these definitions describes the interfaith movement I belong to.  At IFYC, we define interfaith as respect for people’s diverse religious and nonreligious identities, mutually inspiring relationships between folks of different backgrounds, and common action for the common good. That means that you don’t have to water down your identity to come to the table of interfaith cooperation – whether you’re an evangelical, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, or an atheist – and you don’t have to compromise what you believe (or what you don’t believe). We may not agree about who gets into heaven, or if heaven exists at all. We may be divided across political lines. But we can all agree that hunger is a problem in our community and we should tackle it together because when we start from a place of shared values and combine our social capital, we are better together.

“Interfaith work isn’t biblical.” There are many biblical arguments for interfaith work. My friend and IFYC alum Nick Price, former InterVarsity staffer and pastor in training, wrote a three part blog series on sharing his theological framework for interfaith cooperation. My theology of interfaith cooperation starts at the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the parable in response to an expert in the law who wants to know how Jesus defines the “neighbor” that you are called to love as you love yourself. There are four Greek words for love in the Bible – the specific word for love used here is “agape” which means a full and complete love. And who is our neighbor? In the story, the Samaritan, who was someone from the oppressed group in that time, showed compassion and mercy to the Jewish man who was robbed and left for dead. Jesus is emphasizing the importance of caring for your neighbor especially when that person is from a different background and tradition from your own. Engaging in interfaith work gives me that opportunity to love and serve alongside those that are my neighbors, as well as to talk about Jesus as the inspiration for my life.

 “You’ll get converted if you do interfaith work.” Engaging in interfaith work has only strengthened my identity as a Christian. Many non-Christians have asked me questions about my faith story and different tenants in my tradition that have challenged me to go back to my Christian community to get answers. My favorite question was from a young Muslim girl who wanted me to explain the relationship between Jesus and Santa Claus. Learning about other traditions hasn’t made me want to convert or let go of my faith, in fact, quite the opposite. For example, when I learned that many of my Muslim friends pray five times a day and I juxtaposed that against my paltry two prayers a day, that inspired me to take a hard look at my own prayer life and consider how often I’m spending time with my Lord and Savior. Another example was when I first started at IFYC and encountered a Catholic mother who was reticent to send her son to our programs. He was barely interested in church as it was, she explained, and she didn’t want him coming away from the faith. After spending time with folks from other traditions and talking about his faith in a new way, this sixteen year old kid came home and expressed an interest in going to seminary. She promptly called our office and asked if we could get her other son immediately involved in our programs.

I believe the Christian community has a biblical calling to interfaith work. I also believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. I don’t have to compromise my deeply held beliefs to engage in interfaith work. I am a born again Christian. I am an interfaith leader.  I do interfaith work not despite the fact that I’m a Christian, but I do it because I am a Christian. Many other folks in the Christian community are starting to recognize the importance of engaging in interfaith work. I invite you to join us.

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Feeding the Trolls, or Feeding Ourselves?: Thoughts on Disagreement.

The trolls. (Har-har.)

While the internet is a wonderful thing, I’ve realized that it often brings me much more grief than it does pleasant experiences. Much of the grief comes from the absolute cacophony that such an open forum as the internet invites. Sometimes, even seemingly innocuous things provoke endless comment streams that run on and on and quickly devolve into topics that don’t have anything to do with the original post (which could be anything from a news story to a Facebook status lauding one’s favorite sports team).

It all feels like lots of yelling and talking past one another.

This kind of interaction has given rise to an entirely new ignoble class of person: the troll. And sometimes, we can become unintentional trolls, simply because, I think, we aren’t all that skilled at disagreeing with one another, but we are taught from an early age how to criticize.

Moreover, disagreement has the interesting ability to imply aggression, which can lead to barbed responses. Example: “I’m a vegetarian” does not have to imply that “I judge you for eating meat and want to make sure you never eat meat again.” It simply stands on its own. Yet so often I think we tend to see disagreement as carrying with it some sort of nefarious intention to undermine our own stance, when this isn’t always the case.

Thus whenever engaging in any debate or discussion, online or otherwise, I try to remember these three things about those with whom I may disagree:

  1. Be generous. Always give others the benefit of the doubt. Assume they have the best intentions in mind, and remember that they are a fellow human being with real convictions, emotions, and ideas.
  2. Be gracious. Don’t immediately dismiss another’s claims as unreasonable; assume they have reason for believing what they do (even if it is misguided). Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to understand where they are coming from. This allows one to be kind and understanding, and, hopefully, to come away from the conversation having learned something new. Forgive others if they accidentally step on your toes.
  3. Be humble. Surprisingly, you might not know everything. Always keep this in mind when talking with someone else. Remain aware of your own potential faults and whether or not you may be letting a perceived aggression sour your ability to engage with the other person.

Sometimes disagreements are had where none initially exist, and all because either party was not willing to slow down and engage with the other side with empathy and patience. Don’t get me wrong– it is certainly permissible (and even right) to disagree at times. But if we (myself included) don’t keep these three things in mind, then we won’t be disagreeing about the right issues.

My experiences in formal (and informal) interfaith discussions have helped show me not only that adopting these three precepts can benefit both sides, but that they also simply work. Have any other things to add to this list? I’d love to hear them. Want to expound on one of the three points already listed? Take issue with one (or more)? I’d love to hear that, too!

Weigh in below!

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Religious Illiteracy and the Mistake of Fearing Interfaith Engagement

My friend Jeff, who is Asian American, is a gifted vocalist and was an enthusiastic member of the University of Illinois Black Chorus during his undergraduate studies.  As I started thinking about literacy and interfaith work, a specific incident from his experience came to mind.

I remember Jeff talking about an upcoming Black Chorus concert one day when one of our friends asked him: “are you the only white person in Black chorus?”

These were poorly chosen words – Jeff is unmistakably Asian American. In this situation, our friend was unaware of the disrespect that was inadvertently embedded in her language. However, my point is not to broach a discussion on racial microaggressions, but to illustrate what I mean by illiteracy.

Naturally, any setting outside of our comfort or experience is going to produce literacy-related apprehension.  Do I know the proper way to act, dress, talk, or eat?  Will I unintentionally offend someone with what I say?  Will my naivety show?

Engaging people of other faiths is a similar situation.  I imagine it is common that many Christians fear being embarrassed by an insufficient understanding of other faith traditions.  In fact, after four years of organizing interfaith programs with Interfaith in Action, a student organization at the University of Illinois, I still occasionally worry that I will make a remark that reflects my incomplete understanding of my friends’ faith traditions.

But we cannot let this fear keep us from pursuing interfaith cooperation. Religious literacy is a goal of interfaith work, not a prerequisite.  And while we must make it our desire to understand other faiths with respect as our goal, the interfaith relationship is the mechanism through which we learn about our neighbor.

Cameron and I mention frequently that we follow a model for interfaith cooperation that has been developed by the Interfaith Youth Core (see Pluralism), which stresses respect for religious identity, mutually inspiring relationships, and common action for the common good.  There is no requirement for an expert understanding of other faith traditions in order to participate; respect is established by asking questions instead of making assumptions.

As a Christian, I feel that this is just another component of “love your neighbor”.  I desire to understand my friends’ faith traditions better because I hope to better understand my friends.  It’s that simple.

Here at Faith Line Protestants, part of our vision is to be a resource for Christians who are struggling to understand how to live in a religiously diverse world.  As a part of that vision, we hope to feature guest bloggers from other faith traditions who can provide some insight into their traditions.  So stay tuned as we continue the conversation, and look for opportunities to learn along the way!

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The Great Commission: A Barrier to Interfaith Cooperation, or a Catalyst for It?

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (taken from the New International Version, ©2010)

These verses, typically referred to as the “Great Commission,” are some of the most central to the Christian faith. They represent the theological motivation for evangelism, straight from Jesus himself, and have compelled the church to share the love of Christ with the world. Yet they have also produced great controversy, both within the church and outside of it. How we as Christians evangelize shapes our identity and affects how we interact with culture and society.

Traditionally, evangelism has, at its most basic, meant telling others about Christ, entreating them to join the fold. Yet, in interfaith cooperation, this approach can sometimes come across as insensitive to others who also hold strong beliefs about the sacred. Building mutual respect is crucial for forming strong relationships with other religious (or non-religious) persons. Because the point of interfaith cooperation (especially in community service projects) is not to convert those with whom you work, there seems an obvious and possibly difficult tension here if we as Christians are compelled by our faith to share our beliefs, but prevented from doing so in order to maintain a level of respect for the beliefs of others.

Some may even see this as a strong reason NOT to become involved in interfaith cooperation—why exert the effort if you can’t expect to lead non-Christians to a belief in Christ? While I could give you many reasons (and Greg and I will do just that in our next series of posts) why Christians should be involved anyway, I will refrain and instead point to the issue underlying the belief that interfaith cooperation thwarts any hope for evangelism: the question of what such an evangelism should look like in an interfaith environment.

Though disputed by historians, legend has it that St. Francis of Assisi said this pithy statement regarding evangelism: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words.” It is believed that he also said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” Whether these statements actually came from St. Francis’s mouth does not diminish their meaning—actions speak louder than words, and we as Christians should be conscious of that fact as we strive to represent Christ to others. Showing love and compassion and a deep care for the world would speak far louder to someone of another faith than would an awkward conversation about doctrinal difference and the threat of hell for those who do not convert.

However, one must remember that interfaith cooperation depends upon mutual respect of religious or non-religious identities, meaning that evangelism as a facet of Christian identity must also be respected. Once strong relationships have been established, we as Christians can have opportunities to discuss with those of other beliefs the faith that motivates us and drives us. We share our stories and our tradition’s teachings; we learn from one another. Taken in this way, evangelism does not have to oppose interfaith cooperation. Instead, we simply must ask ourselves what evangelism should look like, and what it would look like to the non-Christian. Jesus tells us in the verses above to “[teach] them to obey everything I have commanded you”—what better way to do this than by example? If we back up our lofty moral ideals with action, then others will take notice, and the Christian community will rise to distinction as one that seeks to promote justice, peace, and love in a world in need of such qualities.

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Struggling with Limited Capacity: Why Increasing Interfaith Cooperation Requires Changes to the Schedule

I was involved with a Christian fellowship group for the better part of my undergraduate career – leading Bible studies, going to meetings, and attending leadership training sessions.  I learned the organization’s ministry strategies, the Bible study methodology, and the accompanying social schedule.

I also grew in my faith.  Certain themes began to surface through my experience there that struck me.  Perhaps the strongest were the calls to help people who are in need and to pursue justice in a world where so many are oppressed.  Quickly, I started to ask how I could apply these lessons in my life as a college student.

I was among a group of students who suggested ideas for getting our campus fellowship involved in the community.  We lived in one of the poorest counties in the state of Illinois, which exhibited significant homelessness, unemployment, and healthcare accessibility issues.  But each time the suggestion to go serve in our community came up, we were told that the organization’s focus was on other forms of ministry.  In other words, our campus fellowship didn’t have the capacity for sustained service activities.

I feel that a similar lack of capacity prevents Christian organizations from forming interfaith relationships within their communities and on their campuses.  While most churches I’ve attended have a weekly calendar packed with activities, none of those activities attempt to interact with other faith communities.  Yet if our Christian organizations and their leaders don’t lead the way in building interfaith cooperation, who are we going to follow?

I once heard advice about evangelism suggesting that Christians should do fewer religious activities in order to free-up time to participate in the non-religious activities we enjoy.  Doing so gives us the chance to interact and build relationships with people of different backgrounds, which is part of our obligation to share Jesus Christ with the world.

But I wonder what would happen if we tried to be more creative in planning our agendas.  What about planning that campus fellowship Frisbee tournament with student organizations of other faith traditions?  Or inviting members of the nearby mosque or temple to participate in your church’s weekly soup kitchen?  Or going on a mission trip with the secular humanist organization in your area? (It’s been done!)

Like all Christians, I value time in fellowship, prayer, and worship with other Christians and believe that it is essential to my faith.  But I don’t believe that Christians are called to make themselves busy with the sort of Christians-only activities that keep us from building meaningful relationships with our neighbors – especially our neighbors from other faith traditions.  And my guess is that the Christians-only busyness won’t stop happening until we start making changes to the schedule.

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