Category Archives: Introduction

The #1 Tip for Engaging Evangelicals in Interfaith Work is…

As a Christian working at an interfaith organization, I am frequently asked how to engage evangelicals. Here at Faithline Protestants we’ve written a lot about the subject, but there’s one issue that I’ve seen that comes up again and again. If I were to pick one tip for communities interested in engaging evangelicals in interfaith work, if would be this: Define interfaith cooperation.

Here’s why. A few years ago, my IFYC colleagues visited a campus that was interested in how they could build and sustain interfaith initiatives in their community. During that visit, we met with several campus groups, students and staff. A few of our Christian colleagues met with a conservative evangelical group that heard we were coming to campus, and were skeptical about our intentions, so they requested a meeting. After hearing us out, the group said this: “We can’t do interfaith work. But, if you want organize an event, bringing together people of different faiths to do a service project, and afterwards we can talk about how Jesus inspires us to serve, we can definitely do that.” We were thrilled! People of different traditions coming together to serve and talk about their religious or secular values? That’s interfaith work! Our new friends just didn’t want to call it interfaith.

What struck me about that story is that the biggest barrier to getting this particular group on board to do interfaith work was the label “interfaith” – and common misconceptions about the word. Some that I hear most often in my work: “Interfaith is wanting everyone to be one religion” “Interfaith where you have to water down your faith to the least common denominator” “Interfaith work is only for folks on the liberal end of the political spectrum” “Interfaith is people of different traditions worshiping together” – none of these are true based on the way we define interfaith cooperation.

At IFYC, we define interfaith as respect for people’s diverse religious and nonreligious identities, mutually inspiring relationships between people of different backgrounds, and common action for the common good. Interfaith cooperation is not syncretistic or relativistic; 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, you don’t have to compromise what you believe (or what you don’t believe) to engage in interfaith work. We recognize there are shared values across different traditions, and there are very real differences – while we may not agree who goes to heaven, or even if there is a heaven, but we can agree that homelessness is a problem in our community, and we should do something about it. Our definition of interfaith is founded on a sociological – not theological – principle of pluralism that acknowledges the potential for diverse religious and nonreligious to build positive relationships and social cohesion. That means that when even when folks of different backgrounds disagree, there is still a sense of common ground between them.

Those of us that work in the interfaith field, or regularly engage in interfaith work can forget the importance of defining interfaith cooperation for folks new to this work. So, if you’re hoping to engage evangelical communities – or most other communities, for that matter – in interfaith work, define what interfaith is, and what it isn’t. Emphasize that folks across the theological and philosophical spectrum, whether liberal or conservative, are welcome.

The interfaith table is set, and you are welcome here.

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What My Southern Baptist Past Says About My Episcopal Present

cameron_cropI’ll confess: If I listed my relationship with Evangelicalism on my Facebook page, it would probably read “It’s Complicated.”

I grew up a Southern Baptist just outside Nashville, TN—the de facto headquarters for evangelical culture. In addition to being the home of country music, Nashville also lays claim to the Christian music industry, as well as other forms of Christian media such as Christian publishing houses Thomas Nelson, Abingdon Press, and LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Both the Southern Baptist Convention and most of the administrative offices of the United Methodist Church call Nashville home, as do the National Association of Free Will Baptists. The Gideons International—those guys who put Bibles in every hotel room—is also headquartered there. All this has earned it the nicknames “the Protestant Vatican” and the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.”

It’s not surprising, then, that I grew up enmeshed in the evangelical Christian subculture. I played in a band, and we toured around various churches leading “worship nights,” interspersing our own material in between the Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United covers. I’ve even worked at the Dove Awards—the contemporary Christian music version of the Grammys— multiple times and have met a good many artists in the Christian music industry.

If anyone was (by appearances, at least) a thoroughgoing evangelical, I was. Yet from a young age I wasn’t sure I completely owned the identity I had spent so much time embodying.

Just as college came knocking, I felt a call to ordained ministry. Naturally I assumed that this call included a trip to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lousiville, KY before heading into a life as an aspiring megachurch pastor—a prospect I did not find altogether inspiring. Disenchanted with the Southern Baptist church and the evangelical subculture itself, I stepped back from a possible vocation as a minister and instead focused my energies on my writing and my studies.

I then began to wander. I devoured as much as I could about other denominations and even other religious traditions. At the University of Illinois I floated from church to church, but nowhere really felt like home. I became involved in interfaith work and encountered for the first time a cross-section of the world’s diverse religious traditions.

It was in the midst of this tumultuous time in my life that I fell in love with the liturgy (and I’ll admit even some of the theology) of the Roman Catholic Church. But this was during the thick of the sex abuse scandals, and in addition to some other misgivings regarding Roman Catholic belief I could not so easily jettison my Protestant convictions.

The Episcopal Church filled this void for me, providing the richness of the liturgy with theology of the Reformation. It seemed like a “big tent” where evangelicals (such as the newly-consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby) could exist alongside progressives and where “high church” worship styles could intermingle with guitars and pianos. Though still informed and influenced by my evangelical roots, my faith has also been strengthened and enriched by the incorporation of Anglo-Catholic theology and practice propagated by the 19th century Oxford Movement.

This interesting combination is a part of my story—my own journey and perspective—that I hope to bring to the pages of FLP.

Perhaps because of my own meandering journey I possess a passion for building bridges of understanding between different communities, and jumped at the chance to found FLP with Greg back in 2010 to encourage the evangelical community to participate in interfaith engagement. How we share the gospel with others, how we live out the gospel in our lives—these are central to part of the Christian faith, whatever your stripe. I’m excited about FLP’s re-launch and the new conversations we hope to foster!

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FLP- The Vision of Things to Come

As the new school year kicks off, Greg and I have finally been able to meet physically (no more Skype!) and discuss plans for the future of FLP. Out of these conversations have come many exciting ideas, and I will share a few of them with you now!

In attempt to provide quality content, Greg and I often spend a few hours per post, shooting each one back and forth at least once or twice for proofreading before formatting it and queuing it up to go on the site. This makes publishing new content a rather lengthy process, and thus whenever either of our schedules become even the least bit hectic, things fall silent around here.

To combat this, Greg and I have agreed to operate this a bit more like a conventional blog, posting shorter, less formal pieces while continuing to post the more in-depth pieces we have been posting since day one.

Greg and I maintain active leadership roles in the University of Illinois’ student interfaith group, Interfaith in Action, where we both serve as executive board members, as well as serve on the leadership team charged with implementing the President’s Interfaith Service Challenge issued earlier this year. All this, in addition to being full-time students, leaves us at times with precious little in the way of free time. Despite this, our passion for, and devotion to, the mission of FLP remains strong and steadfast; we just have to get better at balancing this blog with our day-to-day lives.

We will update ya’ll with news about our activities, both in Interfaith in Action and in our work implementing the President’s Challenge. After all, this blog is about Christians engaging in interfaith work, and that means practicing what we preach!

So, here’s what you can expect:

  • More Tweets! Messages from myself will be signed “-C.” and messages from Greg will be signed “-G.”
  • Frequent updates to the blog, including less ‘formal’ posts
  • More guest posts (hopefully expanding to a rotation of other regular contributors)
  • New media content, such as videos, talks, etc.

In the meantime, look for Greg’s posts on Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians.

Please follow us on Twitter, “like” us on Facebook, tell your friends, and continue to check back regularly for new content! We look forward to stepping into the future of FLP with all of you!

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Looking Both Ways: What Lies Ahead for FLP

Whew! What a busy (and rather eventful) past few weeks!

I sincerely apologize for the silence over here—it isn’t good for the life of a blog if the two contributors rarely post. Greg’s been inundated with university work, and I’ve… well, okay, I’ve just been traveling to foreign countries and getting swept up in Holy Week and Royal Wedding celebrations.  But regardless of my actions, I’ve not kept up with diligence my responsibilities over here at FLP (with the exception of a quick response to the breaking news regarding Osama Bin Laden). That’s about to change.

As you all know, Greg has been working on a series that examines what the concept of the “Kingdom of God” has to do with interfaith cooperation. In this same spirit, I will begin a series of my own that should—if all goes well—run alongside Greg’s “Kingdom” posts as a sort of complement.

Instead of the Kingdom, I’ll be delving straight into scripture, looking at the early church to see how the apostles interacted with the cultures of their day, and how these interactions can inform our interfaith endeavor. First I’ll go to Acts, and then move from there into Paul’s letters and so on.

Furthermore, look for FLP’s first guest post in the coming weeks, written by the Rev. Tim Baranoski of Grace Cumberland Presbyterian Church (just outside my hometown of Nashville, TN). He recently wrote a great post for our friend Chris Stedman’s blog, Non-Prophet Status, and he has agreed to write a post for us as well! Certainly stay tuned for that. You can check out Rev. Tim’s blog here.

Greg and I have been discussing ways of expanding Faith Line Protestants, gaining more regular contributors, and bringing in more guests to post. We both realize that the strains of student life make it difficult to maintain quality content, and we don’t want to deliver lackluster material.

Please join us as we re-invigorate life over here at FLP and break into new topics and discussions!

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Questioning Our Assumptions: Reasons for Interfaith Involvement (Intro)

Why should we want to participate in interfaith efforts? What’s the need for a web site like Faith Line Protestants? Why is interfaith cooperation even important in the first place?

No, this isn’t our first existential crisis. They’re fair questions.

In the past few posts, Greg and I have discussed a number of things that we feel are the commonest barriers between the Christian community and interfaith cooperation. But simply enumerating barriers isn’t enough. For our next series of posts, we will give four reasons why interfaith cooperation is important—and, more specifically, why the Christian community should become involved.

Greg and I believe that the reasons for Christians’ involvement yield tangible and positive results both for the church and the world. Some of the things we’ll discuss are:

  • the ability for the church to act as peacemakers in a world of strife and disagreement
  • what being Ambassadors of Christ has to do with interfaith cooperation
  • the practical and tangible benefits of mobilizing faith groups in service
  • interfaith cooperation’s potential for building local (and global) community, and how interfaith cooperation can work to build religious literacy and promote understanding in religiously diverse world

We’ll also be posting with increasing frequency on topics outside of our series’ scope, hopefully fostering more discussions on different topics that have interfaith implications.

The Christian church has much to offer in the discourse surrounding interfaith cooperation. Join us as we step into a new series making a case for our participation in interfaith work.

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Living Christian in a Diverse World

Take a look at the New York Times today*.  I’m willing to bet you can find something in the front section about religion.  A bombing at a church in Egypt.  Violence in the West Bank.  Members of a new Gay-Straight Alliance being called “satanists” and “diseased” in a largely religious Utah.

As a Christian, reading the headlines almost always proves disheartening.  Religion appears in the public discourse most often as the subject of bickering, the negative side of a controversial social issue, the motivation for violence and destruction.  Yet my faith emphasizes peace, compassion, and mercy.

Faith Line Protestants is meant to be a discussion of Christianity in the real world.  And the reality of the real world is that it’s a place of religious diversity.  As Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core says: religious diversity can tend one of two ways – cooperation or conflict.  As a Christian coming of age in the 21st century, my religious upbringing certainly did not teach me to resolve difference with conflict – but did it really teach me how to do cooperation across boundaries of religious difference?

Patel speculated that the problem of the 21st century was going to be the “Faith Line” (for more, read The Faith Line) – the line that divides our country and highlights our conflict.  So what does it mean to be a Christian in a religiously diverse world?  What relevancy does the Faith Line represent to a follower of Jesus?  How does an exclusivist theological tradition and a call to evangelism reconcile with a charge to love your neighbor and be a peacemaker?  To use a cliche of my childhood: what would Jesus do in a world where people are being killed and killing because of faith?

My friend Adam, an atheist, once said something to the effect of: I’m getting so sick of reading the headlines about violence, economic turmoil, and political bickering.  It’s time we do something.  It’s time we create headlines that are about peace, cooperation, and action for the common good.

I’m with Adam on this one.  And I believe that, as a Christian, I have a role to play.  Faith Line Protestants is a discussion as we journey to understand what that role looks like – and I invite you to join in along the way.

* – This post was originally written in early January, 2011

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Between the Lines: A Personal Reflection on Interfaith Work

 

“…you know, since he’s black.”

Some variation of these words, the last one spoken usually in a whisper, came to define some of the more awkward and perplexing moments of my childhood. Born and raised in the South, I wondered at statements like the one above, spoken by adults or older folks—sometimes as an excuse, sometimes as an accusation, often as a proof—but never did I understand why one’s race meant anything. Why did it matter that someone was black? To me, the Civil War had ended a long time ago, and we should have moved on by now. Yet there were still moments overheard in conversation where someone would define an area of town because, well, you know, that’s where the black people live. It infuriated me, the way that “black” meant “other,” reduced sometimes simply to “they” or “them,” as if “black” and “crime” were almost synonyms, as if no white man ever committed a felony.

Because of my identity as a devout Christian, I felt especially awkward at these occurrences. Many in the South are Bible-believing, avid church-going people, yet, despite this fact, I sometimes felt that the Jesus I followed wasn’t the same one that the speakers of the above quotation followed. I had been taught that all people were God’s children—and that included those that humanity considered “other.” Indeed, it was with those on the margins of society that Jesus spent the most time. He had little good to say of the Pharisees and Sadducees or the rulers of the day, but plenty to say about the poor prostitute with an honest heart or the ostracized leper who longed for community again. I had thought at length about the significance of Jesus himself having been a Jewish man, a member of a people who had found, and would continue to find, their identity best defined by the word “other” for many hundreds of years.

Make no mistake, I don’t mean to mischaracterize the South—I’ve encountered enough of that during my time in the Midwest—as some of the kindest and most accepting people I have ever met are Southerners, and I absolutely loved growing up there. Generalizations in any form are dangerous. However, whether between races or religions, the underlying principle in what I have said is the same: ignorance and insularity only bring about strife and misunderstanding, never peace. We must be intentional in order not to label a certain group as “other,” reducing and disrespecting them as fellow inhabitants of this earth. My experiences with racial tension are why I am passionate about interfaith work, and why I look especially forward to working with Greg on Faith Line Protestants. To me, Patel’s “faith line” holds such personal significance because du Bois’s “color line” holds such personal significance.

Greg and I make no claim of expertise on the things we write about—we’re just trying to facilitate the discussion. We want Faith Line Protestants to be a forum of openness and honesty, where all of us can join together and shape the place of the evangelical Christian in a world of interfaith cooperation. In this spirit, I hope that each visitor to this blog can take something positive away from it (and add something positive to it!) as we embark on this journey together.

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Faith Line Protestants 101



Welcome to Faith Line Protestants 101!  This is a short overview of everything you need to know about navigating and following Faith Line Protestants.  We launched on January 13, 2011 and were featured on the Washington Post’s On Faith blog the same day, broaching this conversation on the involvement of Evangelical Christians in interfaith work.

But before you dive in to the conversation, familiarize yourself with the vocabulary and background on which our blog relies.  See our “pages” (a menu of pages is at the top of each page and in a list on our homepage) for background on topics like:

The Faith Line – a term coined by Eboo Patel, founder and President of the Interfaith Youth Core.  In the spirit of W.E.B. DuBois and with insight on one of the difficult social issues of our time, Patel writes in his book, Acts of Faith, that the faith line divides out society between those who believe in the possibility of cooperation and those who feel that difference must be settled with ignorance and violence.

Pluralism – we recognize the danger of theological pluralism, a concept inconsistent with the Christian tradition and the teachings of the Bible.  When we discuss pluralism, we refer to sociological pluralism: the vision for positive cooperation in the midst of religious difference.

Evangelism – a central and irremovable concept in most Christian traditions that calls for telling others about the core concepts of the Christian faith, which presents every individual with a choice to accept them as truth or reject them as fiction.  There often seems a tension between evangelism and interfaith cooperation, which keeps many Evangelicals out of interfaith activities.

The Faith Line Protestant – A new term that describes the authors: Evangelical Christians who have found their faith impacted by interaction with people of other faiths and seek to live out their faith with awareness of the religious diversity that exists in our world and how that relates to evangelism.

What We Believe – in a religiously diverse world, it is essential to clarify theological assumptions.  Christianity both relies on immovable theological principles and exhibits disagreement, diversity, and even controversy in the concepts that expand upon these principles.  Our theology page elucidates the theology that is considered essential to Christian beliefs.  If you are a reader from another faith or philosophical tradition, use this page as a resource for understanding Christianity better.

Authors – Cameron Nations and Gregory Damhorst are students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  They are Evangelical Christians and interfaith leaders.  Faith Line Protestants is both a description of these authors and the title of this blog, which is motived by their experiences in interfaith work.

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