Category Archives: Service

Rev. Ferguson on Pragmatic Evangelism

What is the role of the Church in times of crisis? Rev. Darren A. Ferguson talks about how his Church dealt with the aftermath of Hurrican Sandy in his New Jersey community in his Sojourners piece “Evangelism After the Storm.”

We served hot Thanksgiving meals to more than 300 residents of Far Rockaway. When I arrived on that day, I walked from the entrance of our lot to the parking area where the tent was set up. I saw people of all colors, cultures, religions, and orientations, working together for the common good. There were no Blacks or Whites, Republicans or Democrats, no Liberals or Conservatives, Straight or Gay, but only people – together. This great quilt of caring lavished love and hope on the people of our community by providing a true Thanksgiving fellowship and meal.

Read the full article HERE.

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A War That Builds Bridges, Not Bombs


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

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

 

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Interfaith at U of I: A Brief Look at Upcoming Interfaith Events and Initiatives

Illinois Interfaith and Community Service Logo

 

We said we’d keep you updated, so here’s attempt number one. In addition to planning new things for FLP, this is how Greg and I spend our free time…

This year is an exciting year for interfaith service work at the University of Illinois. With our campus interfaith organization, Interfaith in Action, working with and alongside university administration to implement the President’s Challenge (mentioned in Greg’s earlier post here), interfaith programming has easily tripled over previous years; not only are we reaching out to other campus organizations, but our community presence has increased as well.

For the President’s Challenge, Greg has been fulfilling his duties as co-leader of the Communication Committee, while I have served as part of the Education Committee working to plan a steady schedule of events focused on religious literacy and understanding. Our first event–  a panel discussion for part of our unofficially dubbed “First Tuesday Talks” series– happens just next week.  I will be on the panel as a Christian representative answering the question, “Why do you serve?”along with four others from different backgrounds and traditions.

For Interfaith in Action, Greg continues his work as Treasurer, finding ways to raise funds and launch various service initiatives. Meanwhile, as Religious Literacy Chair, I do basically the same things as I do for the Illinois Interfaith and Community Service initiative– planning educational events that promote religious literacy. Earlier this week, I gave a brief talk about the importance of interfaith cooperation, explaining the function of Interfaith in Action to a small but interested group of new (for us) students.

All of this activity is drumming up more support and exposure for our programs, and presents Greg and I with a plethora of opportunities to represent Christ to those who may know very little about the Christian faith.

In fact, next month’s First Tuesday Talk (Oct. 4th) will be on the subject of evangelicals and interfaith cooperation, and will be hosted by Greg and me. But we’ll share more about that– and about our upcoming September 11th service projects– later on! For now, check out both Interfaith in Action’s website and the site for the Illinois Interfaith and Community Service Challenge. Like them (and us!) on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter for more updates!

 

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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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“Open Letter to Greg Damhorst and Cameron Nations”: A Response

A few weeks ago, Frank Turk, a blogger for PyroManiacs (teampyro.blogspot.com), wrote an open letter to our friend Chris Stedman. We wrote Frank a response, and in return he responded to us. (You can read his letter to Greg and me here.) This is our reply. (Warning: it’s a long one.)

Frank,

I want to begin by thanking you for your thorough response; the time and effort required to pen nine pages of anything is not insignificant—so, again, thanks.

In this letter I hope to principally address the three points you brought up in your comment, as I agree that they are the most pertinent and worthy of discussion (and, discussion is, after all, what we both advocate). I would like to begin, however, with the observation that you appear to view Greg and I as interfaith activists first, Christians second. This is not how we view ourselves, and I would encourage you not to view us in this way, either. When considering what I have to say, I hope that you bear this in mind, viewing me as someone with whom you disagree, but who is ultimately on your side, rather than someone standing in direct opposition to you.

Neither Greg nor I meant to imply that you are not a “leading voice” by saying that Chris is one. We simply used the verb “target” to describe your open letter. And while this may not have been the most sensitive word choice, it does in fact describe what your letter did. Any letter—open or not—is directed at a particular person. We saw your letter as an attack on our friend, and thus reacted the way we did. If it portrayed you wrongly, then I apologize.

I will further apologize for what you feel was a “Reader’s Digest version” of your open letter. However, I will also say that copy-and-pasting Chris’s HuffPost bio and then giving a few lines of commentary on atheism in general does not constitute devoting gracious amounts of space to Chris’s own words on interfaith cooperation. Instead it only provides a list of his accomplishments and then a bit of opinion. Our summary of your letter was only intended to provide a bit of context for those who had not yet read it (which they could easily do for themselves, as we provided the link for them), and its brevity was an attempt at saving space. Again, we had no intention of misrepresenting your points.

As for misinterpreting your statements and the tone behind them, I would say that this is a function of your writing—you do, whether you intend this or not, write with a bit of a bite. Sometimes your statements, when read by someone who has never heard you speak or is not used to your blogs, come off as snarky and aggressive. A bit of cheek isn’t a bad thing (and in quite a few of your posts is rather entertaining), but I will say that it certainly contributed to my reading of your letter to Chris, and potentially distorted what you actually were saying. Our letter in defense of Chris may not have been a paragon of open-letter responses, but Greg and I still think it addressed the issues you raised in a manner not that different from your own.

You accused us of misrepresenting you—of “demonizing” you— and yet you grossly misrepresented our own views at a few points in your response, making us out to be the bad guys in need of repentance. I would say that this tactic resembles the very thing you criticized us for doing. By telling you a bit of Faith Line Protestants’ story, as well as addressing a few of your statements, I hope I can clear up any false impressions and better articulate our own position. I will go about this as well as I can by category, examining those things which I feel have caused the greatest breakdown in understanding. (Because whatever your beef with our letter in defense of Chris, the real issue here lies in your assumptions regarding our faith, our approach to evangelism, and the efficacy of interfaith work. What we said in Chris’s letter is done.)

But before I really get going, I wish to address one of your statements that irked me on a personal level. It comes at the end of your paragraph in which you attribute our response to hubris and collegiate spirit, and assert that we must have only skimmed your letter before penning our response to it: “I like to call it the surprise in the Cracker Jack box which is my faith and mission as a blogger: surprising people with the idea that there are really folks who have walked the field of faithlessness and come out the other end with a different conclusion. But I say that only to say this: if there were actually any discussion going on, you’d probably have discovered that.” I actually did know of your former atheism—I read it in the comments at the bottom of the open letter. Moreover, I spent quite a few hours combing through your old posts, looking at other blogs to which you have contributed, etc. before even considering a response. I did this because I did not think it fair to write something addressing you when I didn’t know much about you and what you stood for. I never “took it for granted that [you were] one kind of person,” as you state. People’s lives and stories are much more complex than that.

For example, I too have a “surprise in the Cracker Jack box”—I walked away from my faith as well upon entering university, only to return to it less than a year ago. I feel this shared experience (not all that uncommon) is something that perhaps we can build from—it was a terribly dark time for me, and one that has had a profound impact on my drive to do interfaith work. Just like your time as an atheist has shaped you and what you hope to accomplish, so have my own struggles with my faith driven me in mine.

Now, back to your three points…

I find it interesting that you repeatedly refer to our participation in interfaith work as not compelling when you devoted 9 pages in response to it. That is perhaps a cheap shot, so I’ll ask you a genuine question. You claim what Greg and I are doing isn’t “new,” as if age possesses some sort of truth value. You even go so far as to say that this is a “problem” (something I will discuss in greater depth later on). What do you mean by this? Below are two points where you have posed this critique of our work, along with my response to them.

You say:

I cannot pretend that your version of what you say you mean to do is better than what has come before it. At least the old main-line Liberal approach stood in the Sermon on the Mount and in Leviticus and looked for the longest possible list of good works to produce rather than to a reductive consensus which everyone can agree on. Your version compared to your intellectual fathers is not even compelling in terms of what it is seeking to accomplish.

And at a different point:

Your idea isn’t new, and it isnt half as compelling as the liberal Christian activism that came before it — except that it doesn’t really believe that a Christian moral foundation is needed to act on it.

First off, I would like to point out that our position does in fact look to a Christian moral foundation for its basis. One can see this stated quite plainly all over our site. Greg and I look to the early church, to Paul’s ministry, and to the teachings of Jesus himself for guidance, direction, and inspiration. Greg and I often quote the Beatitudes in our posts; I don’t know where you find the grounds to make the claim that we don’t appeal to scripture when we quite obviously do so in almost everything we write. And who are these “intellectual fathers” you mention? Do you mean people like Schleiermacher and Tillich (as you keep positioning us as some sort of Christian Liberalism Lite), or are you fishing elsewhere? I’m not ignorant of the traditions that have shaped the interfaith movement or my place in it, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at there.

Point is this—I do not think Greg and I seek “a reductive consensus which everyone can agree on.” We do not advocate for that. Yes, we do seek to bring people of different traditions together around the shared value of service, but that is hardly a reductive consensus. Off of what are you basing your opinion? It feels like you are treating our view as a proposed systematic approach to the Christian faith, which is not what we are doing or what we purport to do.

When Greg and I sat down for coffee and hatched the plans for Faith Line Protestants, we both came from prominent roles in a large Christian organization on campus— the University of Illinois chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. During his time as an undergrad, Greg led small groups, and I myself still serve by leading worship and doing creative planning. Though we both love Intervarsity as an organization, we noticed a kind of insularity plaguing not only IV, but also the other prominent Christian organizations on campus as well. We saw a reluctance to engage with people of other backgrounds in service, despite the fact that Intervarsity leads some of the best service trips (such as the Chicago Urban Project) of any U of I Christian organization. We felt that interfaith service seemed a natural fit for a group that already engaged in numerous projects throughout the local community and beyond.

Greg and I, as participants in both Interfaith and Intervarsity, saw that the conversation surrounding interfaith cooperation was already happening, but that Christians weren’t participating in it. At interfaith event after interfaith event, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and even atheists turned up in droves, while Christians did not. This troubled us, not least because Christians form the majority faith group in this country and on campus. And by not participating, we send signals of disinterest that reflect poorly on Christians as a faith community. If Jews and Hindus and Muslims are willing to come together to solve problems in the community, but Christians are not, then how does that make us look? Sure, we may be doing service projects on our own, but we still come across as insular and unwilling to engage with those different from us—two stereotypes that I don’t think are healthy for the church going forward, especially on university campuses.

But Greg and I were optimistic. We believed that Christians, because of Christ’s call to service and love, would be willing and eager to participate if they only knew more about interfaith itself—that it isn’t advocating a theological pluralism, that it doesn’t violate any part of our beliefs, and that it actually is a great way to show, if you will, what the Christian community is made of.

We were familiar with Chris Stedman and his work attempting to bring the atheist community into better relationships with religious groups, and we sought a Christian resource that did something similar… only, we couldn’t find one. The “interfaith question” seemed to be one that the church wasn’t asking, but that Greg and I felt should be addressed. We figured we might as well start the discussion. We’re not launching some sort of theological movement that we misguidedly believe to be novel, but rather operate out of existing values within the church to pose questions and seek answers.

Evangelism in its current and popular iterations does not address the specific parameters of interfaith relationships—relationships where you really can’t adopt the usual tactics of telling others about Jesus and then expecting a conversion at the end. It fails to negotiate what happens when the person on the other side of the table holds deep beliefs of their own, and who is not looking for an alternative.

I do not mean to say, however, that you can’t share your story/testimony with someone of another belief. On the contrary, much of our interfaith work revolves around sharing stories of faith and its impact on a person’s life. Greg and I actually see interfaith as a unique and thrilling opportunity to show others who would ordinarily maintain a distance from the Christian community what it means to believe in Christ. To us, leading by example in love and compassion speaks much louder than an outreach event or handing out Bible verses on the quad.

We’re young. We’re perhaps not the best equipped for this. But we aren’t going about things blindly. Before we began our site, we met with pastors to consult with them about our ideas. We had them read over our belief statements (all of the tabs at the top of our site) and they helped us craft them. These pastors and church leaders continue to read our blog, ready to call us out if we ever say something unintentionally out of line.

Greg and I wish to increase Christians’ involvement in interfaith cooperation because we want others to be exposed to the love of Christ. Yet you seem to see us differently. You say:

And this, really, lies as the foundation of all your other problems. You self-identify with “Evangelicalism” and call yourselves “Evangelicals”, but you are no such thing. An “evangelical” thinks proclaiming the Gospel is of the highest priority; you think it is a hopeful secondary objective. An “Evangelical” has a high regard for inerrancy and Biblical authority; you believe that the Bible’s authority is as one source of information in the secular context. An “Evangelical” thinks that teaching what the death and resurrection of Jesus means is a key emphasis; for you, it hasn’t yet come up – and can’t, because it will offend the personal ethics of those you would have to tell it to. You assume they have heard it and that is enough. Finally, an “Evangelical” places the conversion of others to being followers of Christ – not just admirers or glib flatterers of Christ – as the key objective of the Christian faith; for you, playing well with others is the key objective, and if that objective means they don’t hear the Gospel or respond to it, there’s always tomorrow.

Frankly, the last few sentences of the above paragraph are false; you have made assumptions that echo the very same reductive descriptions you criticized Greg and I for making. The implications/meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ undergirds FLP’s very existence, and we do not shy from it simply because it may offend someone else. It’s not the message itself that we find offensive, but the way in which the church can sometimes present it. Moreover, we do not assume that “they have heard it and that is enough.” You have taken what we said about Chris and erroneously extrapolated it onto our entire ethos. We know Chris has heard the gospel and knows it well. What more can we do then but allow him to make his own decisions? If there are those who have not heard about Christ or the gospel message, Greg and I do not take the approach you attribute to us—that we feel “there’s always tomorrow” for someone to hear it. We have not stated such a position anywhere, either in the letter regarding Chris or in the material found on our site. Your assumptions egregiously miscast what Greg and I aim to do. In a way, your critique once again treats us as if we espouse or posit some sort of systematic theology, one in which we only vaunt “playing well with others” as the chief aim of the Christian individual. Though we make seek peace over strife, I wouldn’t say that this comes at the expense of our beliefs or the strength of our faith.

I ask you to consider the following statements, which come straight off of our website:

-We believe in the Bible as the central and holy text of the Christian faith that it is a vehicle through which God conveys truth, and that it is the authority on matters of morality.  We maintain that God created the universe–including human beings, which he made in his image, rendering each person inherently valuable.

-We believe that Jesus, whose life is described in the New Testament of the Bible, was both human and divine, and that his crucifixion on earth was a sacrifice for the punishment that all human beings would otherwise pay for falling short of God’s standard (a concept called sin). Consequently, we believe that faith in Jesus’ sacrifice is the only way to both live life to its fullest on earth and be granted life forever with God in heaven.  We believe that Jesus will also be returning to earth to judge the humankind on the existence or absence of this faith.

-We believe that Jesus’ life and actions are an example for the way that we should live, and that all Christians form a global community (the body of Christ) that God often uses to interact with the world.  Finally, we believe that God communicates in many ways with believers through the Holy Spirit, a part of the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as expressed in the foundational creeds of the church.

This—our belief statement—is displayed prominently in a tab at the top of our homepage, and includes both the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds. Did you even read it? If you had done, I don’t see how you could have levied any of the criticisms that called into question our beliefs about the primacy of scripture or the value we place on the Gospel narrative. At one point in your response you also claim that we possess “uneasiness with the actual Christian message,” but I ask in return: how do you know this? Like your other assumptions, this one rings false. One read-through of our belief statement would have affirmed that. Our concerns lie with the expression of the Christian message—not the message itself—specifically where it intersects with interfaith work. (Read a few of our past posts on FLP where we try to articulate our perspectives on this very topic. Feel free to comment.)

Then, onto this charge: “Your view isn’t the least bit “Evangelical” unless we change the definition of that word.” I both agree and disagree with this. First, I must admit that you caught me with my trousers down—if you read my bio on FLP, you’ll see plainly that I am a member of the Episcopal Church, and even seeking possible ordination there. The ECUSA is quite obviously a mainline denomination. So… am I lying when I call myself an evangelical? By the Wikipedia definition you provided, then yes, perhaps I am. I’ve been down that road before during my upbringing as a Baptist, and did not like my time there. Certain beliefs I hold do fall firmly within the Christian Liberalism that you attribute of me (I do in fact enjoy Tillich). But I would take a look back at the belief statement above. Clearly, I’m not some sort of sympathetic-to-the-Jesus-Seminar kind of person who sees the gospel as merely a beautiful story of death and rebirth; I do take a reasoned approach to my faith, but I don’t flirt outside the bounds of orthodoxy. The first comment in your response’s stream mentioned detecting more than a hint of Emergent Christianity in my (and Greg’s) views. I’d say that such an assessment is fair—to a point. But does that mean we aren’t evangelical?

I believe that “evangelical” shouldn’t have to mean an individual who fits into Bebbington’s four perimeters as mentioned in the Wikipedia article. In the same article from which you pulled, one can find the etymology of the word, which comes from the Greek “evangelion,” meaning “good news.” Thus, an evangelical is one who proclaims the “good news.” Not too tough (and I know you knew that). In this way, Greg and I fit the description, and this is how we have thought of ourselves. I’ll admit we may employ the term rather loosely. From your comments, I see that Greg and I should probably do better to define this.

If we don’t seem to be typical evangelicals, then I would say Greg and I are doing our job well. Interfaith cooperation is not something currently on the wider evangelical radar, and we’re trying to change that. (Though I would note it is gaining traction within the evangelical community.) But again, you don’t think there is anything novel or new about what we do. In regard to the Million Meals for Haiti event, you said:

Do I need “e[m]pathy and understanding” to think to myself, “huh! The people in Haiti who have been decimated for more than a year by the aftermath of a natural disaster probably need something to eat!” Or do I just need the raw facts? I mean: even the Southern Baptist Convention can mobilize for the Red Cross (and does so) without checking anyone’s baptism certificates. Is that really a wild leap forward for “interfaith dialog”, or does it turn out that you guys just found out that this happens in real life all the time, and that it happens mostly when people can agree on really gigantic incidents of suffering? The problem is not seeing the gigantic incidents of suffering: everyone can see those, and no one with a Western values system will tell you that humanitarian aid is uncalled for. The problem is that you guys think that this is new, and an innovation, and a neoteric way to do society – and that it’s the most important thing you can be concerned about.

What you fail to acknowledge (or perhaps fail to value) is that this approach to interfaith cooperation—one that revolves around service—doesn’t just affect those who need the aid, but also affects those serving. By mobilizing both the religious and non-religious, we interact face-to-face with those who would never set foot inside a church. You can’t directly represent Christ to those who are in the pews if they’re sitting in a synagogue. Or a mosque. Or a temple. But you can show your faith while packing meals together and sharing stories about what motivates you to serve. We discuss the transformative power of service all the time in the church, but I challenge you to think of it in terms of interfaith cooperation. True, it’s not a new idea.  The idea of meeting people where they are, of finding common ground, of sharing our lives and the basis for our faith, is as old as the Gospel itself.

I know that we’re operating on different wavelengths with this one, and we can certainly discuss it more. The “so what?” question is certainly important, and I feel I’m probably not giving you a satisfactory answer. Yet, for time’s sake, I will move on, as we can talk more about it when we have the opportunity to address it by itself.

Whew. I know this has dragged on for far too long, so I will end here with these two paragraphs:

If that further offends you, so be it. But in that, I offer you the chance to repent of your mistakes. The real message of Jesus is that when we turn away from what God has actually said to what seems right in our own eyes, we can repent if we believe that Christ died for our sins and was raised to new life to prove his work was worthy.

This is your chance to repent, if you believe. You can repent of abusing facts to advocate for social ends; you can repent of neglecting evangelism for the sake of making more friends; you can repent of denigrating the authority of the Bible; you can repent of making Jesus into merely a good example.

I feel no compunction to “repent of my mistakes,” for I genuinely do not believe I have made any. I have not, as you claim, turned away from “what God has actually said to what seems right in our own eyes.” I have not abused facts “to advocate for social ends.” We’re not “neglecting evangelism for the sake of making more friends”—clearly we’re not making any over here, for one—but hope that through leading by example in service and in our community, we can be the “salt and light” that Jesus himself compels us to be. I have in no way made Jesus “merely a good example”—a reread of the second bullet point in FLP’s belief statement should tell you that.

Behind your words lies an assumed superiority, an assumed “rightness,” that I do not agree with. I’ll admit I think it comes across as self-righteous in much the same way that the end of your “Open letter to Chris Stedman” did. You say that I am in the wrong, but all you have done in your response (excepting perhaps those criticisms you made regarding the tone and points of contention in our letter) is attack your own construction of what you assume Greg and I must believe. Your cadre of commenters has similarly attacked us based on these misrepresentations of our views. You raise some very valid points, but because they come couched in cynicism they are sometimes hard to tease out. I don’t mind that you critique my beliefs, I just ask that you actually critique my beliefs, not your beliefs about them. If you didn’t enjoy it when we did it to you (which I apologized for, as we sincerely did not mean to do so), then I ask you not do it in return.

It seems we differ in our theological stances; however, because I believe that you reached your view of your faith through careful study and consideration, I don’t call for you to repent. I can see how you believe the things you do and respect that fact despite our differences, and I ask that you extend me the same courtesy. Because again, Greg and I are trying to reach people for Christ, and have been presented with a terrific avenue for doing so. We do not stand opposite you. At our most basic, we’re just trying to coordinate service projects, demonstrate Christ’s love, and promote religious literacy and understanding.

There is no such thing as an airtight response, especially in this arena, and in order to address everything in your letter I would have had to take it almost line-by-line. It’s clear that you and I disagree on a number of accounts, but I hope I at least gave you a better sense of my stances and ideas (and those of Greg as well). Greg and I do not want to be seen as misguided for our positions on evangelism and interfaith cooperation. Instead, we want others to see where we are coming from, to see that we have reached this point out of a reasonable assessment of our faith and our world, and know that not everyone will see things the way that we do. As you acknowledge, it is easy to drop into caricature when critiquing someone else, and it is also easy to make incorrect assumptions from these mischaracterizations. I hope I have cleared up some of your questions, and apologize for any caricatures we would have constructed of you.

As I said at the beginning of this letter, Greg and I are Christ followers first and foremost—albeit Christ followers who see a real benefit and need in working together with people of other faiths. Interfaith relationships will continue to remain a reality and a challenge—indeed, their necessity will only grow as the world continues to shrink. The movement toward building bridges of cooperation has begun, and either Christians will play a productive role in it or they won’t. Greg and I hope they will. The discussion we are interested in having at FLP is one that seeks to examine the role that evangelism plays within interfaith cooperation, and it is there that you will find answers to your more specific questions about what we feel this looks like. Some people may not see any value in this, and we understand that.

We welcome voices to this discussion, even dissenting ones, and would love to have your participation and that of your readers as well.

Best,

-Cameron Nations.

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Service: Breaking Barriers

Screenshot from President Obama's call to interfaith service

This piece was originally posted on the Interfaith Youth Core website as a response to the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.  View the original entry here: http://www.ifyc.org/content/service-breaking-barriers.

Today, the President issued a challenge to pursue interfaith service and cooperation on our campuses. We are asked to think and dream: What if we all came together by the tens, hundreds, or thousands to fight poverty, stop hunger, or speak out on behalf of the marginalized? What if our colleges and universities raised leaders with a passion for interfaith cooperation?

In a time where, all too frequently, religion means difference and difference means conflict, this call to action is as timely as ever. And what better arena for response than the college campus? It is an experiment of cultures and traditions, perspectives and experiences – a focused reflection of broader America.

From my home at the University of Illinois, I have seen the power of interfaith service. I found it in the effort of 5,119 volunteers from Champaign-Urbana, IL who prepared 1,012,640 meals for people of Haiti last year through cooperative service in the wake of the earthquake catastrophe. I also found it in the hearts of the young leaders who were dedicated to creating this event, which we called “One Million Meals for Haiti,” and who continue today to inspire service learning on our campus.

We are Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Humanist, and Protestant, joining with Baha’i, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh. And when we serve together, we are free. Not free of our differences, but free from the barriers we had created from our differences.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of freedom over 40 years ago, he advanced a notion that continues today. It continues in the lives of those who live in service, and it is a testament to the power of helping others. This is because freedom and service can be one in the same. When we serve together, we are breaking the barriers that drive us apart; we are drowning out the voices of intolerance that would rather destroy than construct.

As an Evangelical Christian, I believe in freedom. And I believe in freedom not just to preserve the ability of choice, but because I desire to live in a country that fosters understanding – understanding that is only achieved through breaking down the barriers that we have constructed out of our differences.
President Obama suggests that we are a nation that affirms the sort of cooperation and service that achieves understanding. As a student at the University of Illinois, as an American, and as a Christian, I am proud of this call to come together.

I am reminded of the words of President Washington, that we are a country “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

This is interfaith cooperation: that we may destroy the barriers of our differences and find good citizenship in serving together.

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Serving Together

This piece was originally published by the Interfaith Youth Core at http://www.ifyc.org/content/serving-together.  While I always intended to re-post it on this site eventually, I think that it is a particularly timely piece given current events.

Whether we are facing the voices of intolerance or problems with health care accessibility, interfaith work has taught me that relationships are the solution to the problems our world faces.

When offensive images depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad appeared on my campus late last spring as part of one group’s protest of censorship and religious extremism, I started to think about the relationships I had with Muslims in my community. After considering those relationships, I understood these images’ significance with a distinctly different perspective than I would have just a few years ago. I realized that the images were not offensive to a faceless and distant religious community, but to my friends.

This empathy is possible because of interfaith relationships. One of those relationships is my friendship with Irfan. Three years ago I started volunteering with the Champaign County Christian Health Center (which we call the “Christian clinic”), providing free medical care to uninsured people in Champaign County. As I soon learned, even the well-run operation at the Christian clinic couldn’t keep up with the needs of our community, and a group from the nearby mosque led by Irfan Ahmad stepped up to help.

As Irfan grew the Avicenna Community Health Center – which is staffed by volunteer medical professionals and students – into a functional weekend clinic, he also built a bridge with the Christian clinic, and the two organizations have since been sharing a facility and together pursuing a goal of seven-days-a-week free healthcare for uninsured people.

Irfan inspires me. In a conversation last spring while shooting a video about the clinics (including a third clinic at the same site, which has recently closed), he explained that all healing is from God, and that the physician is the conduit through which God provides healing.

As a Christian who believes that God inspires and empowers his people to help others, Irfan’s insight reminds me why I am a medical student working on a doctorate in biomedical engineering and pursuing a career fighting global health challenges. He also reminds me that interfaith collaboration can often accomplish more than a single religious community can on its own.

This is what interfaith work means to me: relationships based on common action for the good of others, relationships that easily destroy the barriers built by ignorance and bigotry, and relationships that inspire me as an evangelical Christian to demonstrate the compassion of Christ in response to the needs of the world around me.

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Interfaith from Across the Pond: My Time With the Three Faiths Forum

Copyright © Three Faiths Forum 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by David Fraccaro of the IFYC if I could travel to London for an event put on by the Three Faiths Forum, a UK-based organization similar in mission to IFYC who was trying to launch campus interfaith initiatives at universities across London. Not surprisingly, I agreed.

When the day finally came, I hopped on a train and arrived in London just after lunch. A quick jaunt through the Underground on the Northern Line, and I emerged in the quiet neighborhood of Belsize Park, where the event was taking place. I checked in to the retreat center, met briefly with David, and then headed inside to sit in on some of the training sessions to get a feel for the conference’s trajectory.

I met some really great people—everyone welcomed me warmly and graciously allowed me to hang around. I participated in a few of the group challenges, like when we sorted through a pile of questions and phrases, teasing out those we felt demonstrated the greatest and least respect before discussing those we felt floated on the margins of either category. It was an eye-opening experience to see the myriad assumptions that go into even our most simple questions.

I found it interesting that the Three Faiths Forum not only works to promote interfaith cooperation amongst religious groups on university campuses, but also runs programs in London-area secondary schools (among other things). These programs bring speakers from various faith traditions into classrooms, where they share their stories and spend time teaching the value of mutual civility and the art of asking respectful questions. The aim is to get the students thinking about what they say and how they view people other than themselves. I thought it was a great, though albeit rather bold, thing to do, as I can’t imagine doing something similar in American high schools.

I gave a brief address during an informal panel discussion—a story about how I became involved in interfaith work and where I hoped to go with it in the future—and fielded a few questions regarding the pragmatics of mobilizing campus and community groups to engage in large-scale service projects.

After our sessions ended for the day, we headed to dinner, and I had a chance to get to know everyone better. The next day (and the last day of their conference), everyone shared their ideas for reaching out to their campus communities and demonstrating the power of interfaith cooperation. Their ideas were incredible and original, inspiring me to consider implementing a few of them at U of I when I return next semester.

My favorite idea was one that involved making t-shirts emblazoned with the symbol of your faith tradition on it and then building a full-size archway out of cardboard bricks (or something similar) in a prominent campus location, the display of unity coming from the concerted effort to build an object that requires all of its parts to stand (as an arch does). I imagine this could be a pretty powerful demonstration on the quad at University of Illinois.

My time with the Three Faiths Forum reminded me that interfaith is also international. It isn’t a movement consigned to American university campuses or even London secondary schools, but is something that involves the entire world. (I think the recent stories of Muslims and Christians standing together in the Middle East proves this.) And I know that we talk about it as being a global movement all the time, but I must admit that it didn’t quite hit me until I sat in a room with students from another country who shared the same values as I do about interfaith cooperation.

When we as Christians participate in interfaith work, we participate in an international discussion. Our efforts to form relationships with those of other religious and non-religious traditions may not seem like much at first, but once the example has been set in one place, it can be followed in another. Just think of Martin Luther King Jr following the example set by Gandhi; one individual’s witness for their faith can resonate throughout the world.

You can find more information on The Three Faiths Forum at their website here, as well as watch some great and informative videos on their YouTube channel.

 

 

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