Category Archives: Reasons

“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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When Hunger Action is Interfaith Collaboration

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.
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When doing the Christian thing isn’t the right thing

707084_12414975I used to be a Bible study leader.

And per the undergraduate campus fellowship tradition, it kept me busy: Sunday brunch community building, Monday night small groups, Tuesday leadership meetings, and Wednesday training sessions. Discipleship, one-on-ones, social activities, all-campus worship, weekend retreats, week-long retreats, all-day retreats, evangelism workshops, work day, capture the flag, scavenger hunts, and prayer meetings.

But what I remember most vividly are Thursdays.

 

Every Thursday. The evening walk through campustown, past bars and restaurants beginning to fill with my peers, through a door almost hidden to the unaware, flanked by a man sitting on the ground. The man is dirty and unkempt. Sometimes he’s panhandling. Sometimes he’s asleep. On one occasion, he eats, still alone, from a small bag of popcorn one of my fellow Bible study leaders had brought to him.

The man catches my attention, yet I don’t show it. I don’t ask his name, or where he goes when he doesn’t sit by the door, or how he manages to stay warm through Midwestern winters. Thursdays are obligatory for Bible study leaders, so maybe that’s why I try to ignore the man. Maybe that’s why I feel I can’t stop to ask him his name. Or maybe being a Bible study leader is just a convenient excuse to keep walking.

So every Thursday I climb the stairs behind that door, leaving the man below, allowing him to fade into the background until he is just another distant person, indistinguishable from those filling the pub across the street or sleeping on their textbooks in the library across the quad. Suddenly the band is on stage, the rhythm of worship distracts me, channeling an energy which gives way to reflection, to reverence, to calm. Every Thursday.

And then it’s over. And like all good Bible study leaders, I greet friends, practice fellowship, welcome newcomers. We leave in groups to study or socialize. I don’t notice if the man is still there when we leave.

 

This man has come to represent many things to me in my faith journey, and something I’ve encountered this week brings my thoughts back to him.

There is a certain logic among many Christians which says that it is necessary to proselytize on account of our tradition’s teaching that our truth is exclusive. Because our exclusive truth teaches us that the consequence is damnation for those who do not subscribe, we feel we must convince others of our truth. At all costs. At any length. Whatever it takes. To not do so, we reason, would be unloving.

I happen to agree – to a certain extent – with this logic. But I also happen to disagree with where this logic has led many Christians: to the notion that we must be aggressive, abrasive, disrespectful and judgmental.

I believe that the problem evangelicalism faces today is that we have forgotten the very example that we claim to follow. The example of a servant, preacher, and prophet who was a friend of those that religious leaders considered sinners and outcasts. In fact, Jesus seemed to value relationships over regulations and rituals, whether that relationship was with someone of a different tradition, someone society hated, or someone religious leaders considered immoral.

What we Christians fail to see is that the most important way to relate to a person who believes differently is not to convince them of how they are wrong, which we have tried with every method available—approaches which ironically seem to make our message even less convincing. What is more important is to communicate the message of our faith, the Gospel (hint: it’s about more than just being a sinner).

But unfortunately, we haven’t been taught how to communicate the Gospel. We’ve been taught how to lead Bible studies and have fellowship, how to run prayer meetings, and draw the bridge diagram.

But we haven’t learned to communicate the Gospel.

Why do I say this? Because the Gospel is not only communicated through words, but also how we live our lives. And when I was faced with the opportunity to live according to the Gospel, I felt obligated to abandon it on the street, on my way to being a good Bible study leader.

I credit two people with teaching me how to communicate the Gospel. One of them is a Christian living in the slums of Philadelphia, and the other is a Muslim.

So that’s why I quit being a Bible study leader. Not because it’s the wrong thing to be, but because it kept me too busy to do the right thing. Because while I participated dutifully in Christian activities, a homeless man sat outside in the cold and ate popcorn. Because Shane Claiborne reminded me that Jesus would have quit being a Bible study leader too, to sit alongside that man, if for no other reason than to ask him his name and eat popcorn together.

And because Eboo Patel taught me that you don’t have to do that alone. Even if you’re the only Christian eating popcorn with a homeless man while your fellow believers sing songs and socialize upstairs, if you invite them, there are Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Jains, and Buddhists who will join you. And the funny thing is that authentic dialogue begins to happen in these sorts of situations – you build relationships and you share stories, simply because you all agree that no one should have to eat popcorn alone in the cold.

And even though you might not observe the conversion experience your evangelism training taught you to expect, your actions have communicated something deeper than your words, and your stories have taken on fuller meaning. And there’s a good chance that you’ve convinced them all of something about the Gospel.

 

This piece originally appeared at Sojourners.

Image credit.

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Too exclusive to stay: one reason young Christians are leaving the church

The Barna group released an update yesterday with a preview of David Kinnaman’s (co-author of UnChristian with Gabe Lyons) new book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church. The update suggests six major themes, at least one of which is of interest to our discussion on Faith Line Protestants.

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%). (http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church).

As America’s religious diversity grows, so does the potential for tension between an exclusive faith tradition and the people of other traditions (including no tradition at all). Contrary to popular belief, the reality of that tension does not seem to come solely from the fact that Christianity identifies Jesus Christ as the only way to God, but from the broader Christian community’s failure to see how these truth claims – and the call to share those claims with others – will play out in relationships with others.

Click on photo for credits

For example, my evangelical upbringing rarely emphasized the importance of caring for any aspect of my atheist friends’ lives other than their salvation. Nor did I receive any guidance on how to build friendships with Muslims in a way that opened doors instead of closing them. What this does – whether intentionally or not – is it creates a mentality of “us versus them”: Christians are worthy of our fellowship, and the only concern I should have with the others is in converting them.

This may be what gives rise to the opinions that Barna has uncovered in their latest project.

So how do we change this? If young Christians are so unprepared to handle their faith in a diverse world that they must choose between making friends with non-Christians or staying committed to their faith, then something is wrong. There is a failure to look at the life of Jesus while asking: how would Jesus engage a religiously diverse world?

What the church needs in this arena is to start a conversation within its own congregations to ponder this question. We need to explore the possibility of maintaining exclusive truth claims while building positive relationships with our Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and non-religious neighbors. We need to teach young people to have a conversation about faith that doesn’t infallibly induce an awkward discomfort in one or both of the parties involved, yet doesn’t gloss over differences to create a watered-down dialogue, either. We need to start thinking about how interfaith cooperation might actually enhance our ability to communicate the message of our faith instead of hinder it.

If we look at the life of Christ and we ask about how Christians should respond in the wake of religious bigotry, in the presence of human need, or in the tenderness of a relationship, we will find that “love your neighbor” has even more to teach us. Then our young people will discover as well that friendship is something that takes place because of Jesus, not in spite of Him.

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Exploring the [non] Religious Landscape: Thoughts on CNN Belief’s 1st Birthday

Photo courtesy of CNNBelief blog (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/08/10-things-the-belief-blog-learned-in-its-first-year/)

 

Being a young blog, FLP still has more than a few lessons to learn. Thus it caught my eye when I came across a post on CNNBelief by CNN.com Religion Editor Dan Gilgoff entitled, “10 things the Belief Blog learned in its first year.” When an established news site throws around any kind of advice, it’s perhaps best to take it, so I clicked.

Though some of Gilgoff’s observations didn’t surprise me, I found many of them rather compelling for their relation to interfaith concerns. (See specifically numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7.)

And as Religious Literacy Chair of Interfaith in Action (the student interfaith organization at University of Illinois of which Greg and I are a part), I was personally quite interested in numbers 3, 4, and 5 of Gilgoff’s list, which were not all that encouraging to someone who makes it a goal to promote religious understanding.

Yet the points I thought most noteworthy for FLP, and the ones I will focus on in this post, are the following (along with my commentary):

1. Every big news story has a faith angle.

I love that this is number one. Why? Because one’s faith (or lack thereof) is perhaps the single most significant aspect to shaping how one views the world. “Faith angle[s]” are part of every news story because they are part of every person’s story. It is this use of story that underpins much of interfaith cooperation and understanding.

2. Atheists are the most fervent commenters on matters religious.

Why is this one pertinent for the mission of FLP? Because the non-religious as well as the religious should—and can—participate in interfaith cooperation based around shared values of service. Our friend Chris Stedman is working tirelessly to inject interfaith cooperation into the conversations taking place in the atheist community. (Check him out at Non-Prophet Status, in our “Friends” bar at the top of the page.)

4.   Most Americans are religiously illiterate.

The first step to cooperation is understanding. Ignorance breeds ill-will, and I can’t express how difficult it can be to achieve any level of understanding if one has no context from which to work. Can you understand Christianity without understanding where it derives its ethic? Without understanding Christ and his teachings? I would say “no.”

Through sharing personal stories, the IFYC’s model for interfaith service projects seeks to build religious literacy while also building relationships. Until one has an intellectual framework to build upon (made from stories of individuals or from the pages of a textbook), it is foolish to expect any sort of peaceful coexistence or cooperation among those of different beliefs.

5. It’s impossible to understand much of the news without knowing something about religion.

This one links closely with the number preceding it. Misunderstanding the teachings and beliefs of those in other countries (and even at home) contributes to the “othering” and alienation of those different from us. To fully understand things like the Arab Spring, for instance, one must know a few things about Islam. (Which, clearly, we don’t. See no. 4 above and no. 7 below.)

6.  Regardless of where they fit on the spectrum, people want others to understand what they believe. That goes for pagans, fundamentalist Mormons, Native Americans, atheists – everyone.

I would say that this acts as a kind of proof or confirmation of my assertion above that to not understand someone is to make them more alien. I think that people desire to be heard because they desire to be taken seriously—no one enjoys feeling misunderstood, and thus looked down upon, because of their difference from others.

7. Americans still have an uneasy relationship with Islam.

This is perhaps the most obvious one to discuss on a blog that promotes interfaith cooperation, and sadly makes even more sense on a blog that focuses on the Christian community’s involvement in interfaith cooperation more specifically. I know that many in the Christian community don’t have any problem at all with their Muslim neighbors; however, this sentiment is by no means a general rule. Prominent public figures continue to make disparaging and uninformed statements about the Islamic community that only further strife and division, even going so far as to place Islam on trial. (For more on this, see my recent post on Herman Cain.) Hate crimes continue to occur at mosques all across the nation. Clearly, we have still not come to understand that those who attacked us in September of 2001 were not Muslims, but extremists.

So what does one take away from this list?

I believe this list gives numerous reasons for reflection, but the one that sticks out most is this: there is much work to be done. We seem more hateful, more religiously illiterate, and quicker to judge than we should be. What do you think? Do you agree with this assessment? What do you make of the list featured in the article?

More importantly, how do we change it? How does our faith impact or inform Gilgoff’s observations? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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What Would Jesus Blog?

While we as Evangelical Christians discuss frequently on our site the importance of interfaith relationships – including relationships with those of a secular tradition – we are reminded that not everyone sees things the way we do.

Earlier this week, our friend Chris Stedman, a secular humanist and a leading voice for the involvement of the nonreligious in interfaith cooperation, was the target of an open letter written by Frank Turk, contributor to a Christian blog “PyroManiacs” (tagline: “Setting the world on fire…”). We wanted to respond – not because a response was invited, but because we are Evangelical Christians, we disagree with the approach to religious difference that particular Christians (“PyroManiacs” included) have taken, and because we are offended by the idea that someone representing Jesus Christ would make some of the statements that were made toward Chris.

Turk’s “Open letter” centers on a tweet posted earlier this month that read: “Exciting to hear about how @ChrisDStedman is reshaping the conversation between religious and nonreligious.” While Turk seemingly attempts to belittle Chris’s work by calling out his sexuality and tattoos, we are reminded of the very need for reshaping just such a conversation. Turk asks “Is that really ‘reshaping’ anything?”—in other words, is Chris really making a difference? And later implies that dialogue won’t change humanity’s propensity to, as he calls it, “err,” calling into question the very efficacy of the interfaith endeavor. We contend that Chris Stedman is in fact reshaping the conversation, and that constructive dialogue is playing a great part in this.

The conversation “between religious and nonreligious” as mentioned in the tweet is not a two-way discussion between Christians and atheists; rather, Christians and atheists are simply two pieces of a much broader discourse among peoples of all different faith traditions, worldviews, philosophies, and perspectives. Whether it is a church being bombed in Egypt, a pastor threatening to burn the Qur’an, or the recent protests of a Muslim community fundraiser in California, we would say that conversations around religious differences still need some major remodeling. And in the arena of atheists’ relationship to religion in particular, Chris is doing phenomenal work to show that being a non-religious person does not mean one has to be aggressively anti-religious. As a religious man himself, Turk should at least grant this much in Stedman’s favor.

We believe that interfaith cooperation efforts—and atheists/humanists’ involvement in them— are relevant, timely, and crucial in today’s global society, and that they stand in line with the values espoused by Christ to love one’s neighbor and bring peace to the world. Chris Stedman has contributed greatly to the cause of interfaith cooperation, making it a visible and vibrant part of the discussion happening on university campuses all across the country.

Because the model for interfaith cooperation to which we adhere depends upon mutual respect, value judgments on the morality of human sexuality or concern with one’s personal choices lie largely beyond the purview of the discussion. We, like Chris, simply advance the message of peace and sociological pluralism. Our concern is not with individual religious practice or belief or widespread social concerns except where they intersect with violence, strife, and bigotry. Our own Christian religious identity informs our desire to build bridges of cooperation with those of other traditions and worldviews, but does not in any way muddy our own values or compel us to entreat them on others.

Dialogue, though discounted in Turk’s letter, has the power to produce empathy through understanding. Part of the goal of interfaith cooperation is not simply an end to something (i.e. violence), but is actually a positive, proactive movement built around service that aims to improve our world and address the problems we face. (See Greg’s post on the Million Meals for Haiti even at UIUC for an example of this.)

As devout Christians, we understand the desire and imperative to point to Christ as the answer to any perceived iniquity; we want our friends to know Christ and his saving grace. Yet we often struggle with the way the church presents these messages of salvation to the world, having been frustrated by our own past experiences.

Chris Stedman, once a church-going Christian himself, doesn’t need a lesson on the teachings of Christ or what the Christian church believes about salvation; doubtless he has picked up on these things through his years as a member of the church and as a student in religious studies programs both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We, like Turk, desire for Chris to know Jesus as his savior—Chris knows that full well.  But to see the gospel tacked on the end of a Bible-brandishing diatribe in which the author takes jabs at both Chris’s sexuality and his body art comes across as condescending.

The Bible states in 1 Peter 3:15:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

We’d like to suggest that the conversation of interfaith cooperation – the precise conversation that Chris Stedman indeed does work to shape – presents a better opportunity for giving that answer mentioned in 1 Peter than the method observed in Turk’s “open letter.”  Ironically, this verse can be found on one of the “Pyromaniacs” logos plastered all over their site. Yet it seems they’ve forgotten this respect in their determination to criticize our friend and wave the gospel in his face.

Jesus’ ministry placed a heavy emphasis on relationships. He beckoned Zacchaeus down from the tree in order to have dinner with him. When at Mary and Martha’s house, he praised Mary for sitting and talking to him. One of the central sacraments of the church—the Eucharist—is in celebration and remembrance of a meal he had with his disciples. Indeed, relationships undergird the very reason Jesus had disciples, and God’s desire for relationships with all of us is in some sense the reason Jesus died for our sins.

Dialogue—or conversation— is implicit in relationships. In some sense conversing with God is what we do when we pray. What then does Turk mean when he asserts in his closing paragraph that Jesus isn’t “looking for a dialog?” Such a claim seems rather spurious. Also spurious is when Turk posits that leading an ethical life without God is not possible. Though a difficult, complex issue in its own right—one that we could write about at great length—looking at Chris’ work and Turk’s letter makes it seem clear that a belief in God, or lack thereof, doesn’t necessarily correlate with ethical behavior.

When reading Turk’s letter, we would ask: Does it work to build a strong relationship with Chris (or anyone, for that matter), or does it operate sans any personal ties? Does it do anything constructive, or does it attempt to deconstruct? Does it display a level of respect, or does it assume a moral high ground? Most importantly, for a Christian: does it seem to emulate Jesus?

Which of these approaches to dialogue—Chris’ or Turk’s—seems to embody Jesus’ compassion, vision for service, and emphasis on personal relationships? To us, it’s obvious.

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It’s a Small World After All: Why the Importance of Interfaith Grows with the Population

(Photo courtesy of the NOAA.)

Seven billion. That’s the number that our population will hit at some point this year. And afterward, it will continue to grow. That’s seven billion lives, seven billion stories, and seven billion beliefs about the world in which we will all inhabit. With rapid communication and fast travel, our world has already grown smaller, just as the population has ballooned larger. Apart from being an ecological concern for the population-at-large, this expansion of the world’s citizens carries quite a bit of significance specifically for the interfaith community. What do we do as the world becomes more crowded, when differing opinions and ideologies come closer and closer to one another than ever before? What do we do when clashing viewpoints meet in the public spheres of our society–not just the physical ones, but also the electronic spaces frequented by an ever-expanding percent of the global populace?

This is where interfaith cooperation becomes crucial. Sociological pluralism of the sort we advocate at FLP (and that you will find outlined in our pages above) will become a social necessity if humanity is to live and work and grow together as we move into the future. Why not get a head start? Greg and I have outlined a few reasons why we think interfaith work worthwhile– from our call as Christians to live as ambassadors of Christ, to the simple practical benefits of service– and this one perhaps encompasses them all.

As a prominent faith community– the Christian community– we should begin considering these challenges that the future poses. The population increase, expected by some sources to reach nearly ten billion by 2050, will bring with it a host of new issues, many of them ecological. We will have to be better stewards of our resources, and we will have to look to our moral rubrics for guidance. In our case, that means turning to Scripture and discussing what Christ’s example can teach us about a Christian ethic on an enormous (and enormously diverse) planet. We will have to decide what the church looks like in a dynamic world.

To solve these issues and truly progress into a better age than those that came before, we cannot continue to fight and oppose one another. Dissidence breeds only more problems. In his last entry, Greg talked about the incredible outpouring of support surrounding UIUC’s “Million Meals for Haiti” event, which saw people from every walk of life come together to solve a problem, to right a wrong and better the world in which we live. To flourish, we will need more of these events. I believe that acts of service like this must become normal rather than exceptional for us to powerfully transform our world.

We have the ability to write the story of our future; we can choose to promote peace or allow violence. It’s up to us. Interfaith cooperation provides an opportunity to forge strong relationships with those different from you. If enough people did this, then the bonds of the global community would be much stronger than they are now. Perhaps things like “Million Meals” could seem commonplace. From within our Christian identity we can pull together to make this seven billion strong–seven billion united in our differences–instead of seven billion reasons to disagree. So what do you think the world will look like? How will the Christian community respond to the issues faced in this growing world, and what are some ways to join people of different beliefs and traditions together to address them?

As an aside, here’s an excellent video put together by National Geographic as part of their series “Seven Billion”:7 Billion, National Geographic Magazine

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Feeding the Hungry: an Example that Compels us Toward Interfaith Work

Just over a year ago I was on a train home to visit my parents in the Chicago suburbs when my cell phone rang. It was my mother, who was calling to gauge my interest in a family service project packaging meals for Haiti.

Envisioning a room somewhere in a church basement with a pile of canned goods, miscellaneous boxes, and a junior high youth group, I was shocked when we walked into a former hardware store in Elgin, IL to roughly 1,000 energized volunteers filling box after box with packages of a nutritious rice, soy, vegetable, and vitamin blend – all the while chatting and dancing excitedly.

Somewhere along the way, the excitement caught me. Coming from a student organization at the University of Illinois–Interfaith in Action–with a rich history of organizing service projects, I wanted to see such an endeavor staged on my campus.

This is where the story of interfaith cooperation catches fire.

I brought the idea to a small group of friends – the “executive committee” that organized Interfaith in Action’s programs. We were an Evangelical Christian, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and a Humanist, and we set out to plan an event at which our campus could package these meals for Haiti.

I got a hold of the cell phone number for Rick McNary, founder of Numana, Inc., with whom I discussed the logistics of the project. We started a search for facilities to host the event, the money to fund the event, and the volunteers to staff the event. During the process, we connected with the regional office of the Salvation Army who connected us with the local corps at the same time that a phone call from Washington, D.C. out of the Salvation Army World Service Office confirmed that a federal grant was going to fund our project.

With that, a community-wide, multi-faith endeavor was born. The event was moved to an abandoned Hobby Lobby building on the west side of Champaign and staff from Numana, Inc. flew in prepare for the event.

In a single weekend, 5,112 volunteers from every walk of life, faith and philosophical tradition passed through that site to lend a hand. In less than 12 hours, 1,012,640 meals were packaged for shipment to Haiti where they were protected by the 82nd airborne and distributed by Salvation Army humanitarian workers.

This is a story of coming together, it’s a story of cooperation, and it’s a story of interfaith work. As an evangelical, this is a snapshot of how I desire to live out my faith. To do so alongside people who I desire to show the compassion of Jesus makes it an even more compelling endeavor.

Jesus said “I was hungry and you brought me something to eat.” Consider the significance of inviting others to join in such an activity. If you ask me, this is a simple yet profound way to communicate the compassion of Christ, meet the needs of the world, and build a better community.

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More photos of the Million Meals for Haiti event in Champaign,  IL can be found here or by navigating www.uiucinterfaith.org.

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