Response to Tragedies in Oak Creek and Joplin

The burning of a mosque in Joplin, Missouri. A horrific shooting rampage at a crowded gurdwara outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

These two terrible events mark the latest in religious hate crimes across the US, and highlight the continued need for interfaith efforts in building bridges of understanding among people of all backgrounds. As the discourse around these two events develops, it remains clear that much is still required– even of large, mainstream media outlets like CNN– to better know the perceived “others” in our midst.

Our hearts go out to all impacted by these terrible tragedies as our prayers rise to the heavens, seeking reconciliation, solace, and peace. We stand in solidarity with the Sikh victims and their families as they deal with the profound terror of the attack perpetrated against them. And we stand, too, with the Muslims in Missouri as they seek to rebuild and repair their place of worship, just as we all seek to rebuild and repair the wounds in our hearts at the sad state of relations in our world today.

These events will continue to shape us as we strive toward a world in which differences are not addressed with violence or vandalism, and we must recognize them as an indication that working for dialogue is more important than ever.

May the Christian community show its best in the shadow of these two tragedies. May we reach out to those effected to fully extend the love of Christ and his servant’s heart in the restoration of these two communities. For it is in this way that we may also restore the whole community– the whole of humanity.

— Cameron and Greg

Learning about other traditions… from others

The latest from Nicholas Price at Relevant Magazine Online:

“When it comes to talking with people of other faith traditions, it is important to ask them what they believe and why. And then sit back and listen.”

Read the full article here: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/tossing-out-silver-bullet

Evangelical Credibility

John Morehead on Q Ideas:

A new movement has arisen among Evangelicals, involving organizations like the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and others, a movement of people who believe that it is possible to engage those in other religions without compromise, and to do so in civility. At the core of this movement is a desire to follow the way of Jesus. At times Evangelicals have attempted to support such a model with reference to biblical passages where Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees (Mat. 23:27). But a more careful reading reveals that this passage is not applicable to interreligious encounters. Here Jesus criticizes leaders in his own religious community. It is not a text that applies to consideration of how Jesus engaged those outside of his religious community.

Read the full article here: http://www.qideas.org/blog/evangelical-credibility-and-religious-pluralism.aspx

Paul’s example of interfaith dialogue

From our friend Nicholas Price at Relevant Magazine Online:

The reality is that, when it comes to interactions with people of other faith traditions, evangelicals have been standoffish at best and, at worst, hostile. Too often those few interactions with communities from other faith backgrounds dissolve into theological slugging matches in which each side seeks to point out the flaws of the other, with evangelicals entering the fray in the name of evangelism.

Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/generous-model-interfaith-engagement.

Honoring Muslim friends during Ramadan

From Christopher L. Heuertz at the Washington Post’s On Faith blog:

“Ramadan is not only a special time for Muslims, but for people of all faiths. For non-Muslims, we are invited to consider making our own sacrifices and we are challenged to follow the example of our devoted friends. This is a prayerful time to consider what a more peaceful world might look like if we’d all prioritize periods of religious or non-religious purification.”

Read more at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/ramadan-a-sacred-time-for-reflection-sacrifice-to-muslims-and-appreciation-as-non-muslims/2012/07/17/gJQAJ2tetW_blog.html

Creating Leaders in a Religiously Plural World

The church building that housed the faith community where I grew up sat immediately adjacent to my high school. Only the church’s parking lot separated the two, making it a convenient alternative to the busy main road traffic for many parents and carpools depositing students on weekday mornings.

On my first day of high school, however, the lot sat empty. Chains barricaded the driveway at the entrance. There were certain types of people, I learned, that a few members of our congregation didn’t want hanging out on “our private property.”

But not everyone was excluded. As we drove up to the church, a few men who had volunteered their time at 7:00 AM that Monday morning recognized us as church members and unhooked the chains that barricaded the parking lot entrance to let us through. Outsiders, however, were not welcome.

At a national gathering of college presidents, faculty, staff, campus ministers and students for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge this week in Washington D.C., my thoughts returned to that morning. Leaders from all over the country gathered at Howard University in the heart of our nation’s capital because of chains like those: barricades that keep one type of person in — and another type of person out.

The leaders who I met this week in D.C., however, don’t believe that those barricades have to exist.

I’m not talking about a group of folks who are interested in blurring the lines between theological and philosophical perspectives. Instead, we’re having a discussion about how our differences don’t have to keep us from relationships that will improve our communities, break down stereotypes, and even inspire us to be better people. These are government officials, college administrators and student activists, interfaith organizers from across the country who are not only passionate about the programs they will run or the projects they will complete but also the leaders they will create.

And that is what the movement is all about.

They are creating leaders who recognize the danger of barricades in church parking lots. They realize what happens when one group tries to keep for itself something that has the potential to benefit the common good. They know what can be accomplished when we refuse to let presumptions and stereotypes get in the way of relationships.

I am inspired by the progress of campuses like Bethel University and Messiah College, who — despite student bodies that largely profess the same core beliefs — believe it crucial to create a learning environment in which Christian leaders are trained to engage a diverse society. They and many of their peer campuses are demonstrating the impact of deliberate steps beyond campus boundaries to create partnerships with communities of different traditions at nearby schools and in neighboring congregations.

But they are not the only ones who deserve applause. I’ve heard the stories this week of colleges and universities that gather students from around the world but are realizing that the mere presence of diversity is not enough. They too see that tomorrow’s leaders must be champions of not just tolerance, but of collaborative action.

I saw this need to create interfaith leaders my first day of high school, when a well-intentioned effort to keep a church parking lot free of litter and loitering became a metaphor for my tradition, the evangelical church. But it has taken the better part of 10 years for me to realize its full meaning, illuminated now by the vision of tomorrow’s leaders.

For the American church, it’s a call to practice hospitality — to remember that Jesus was relationship-oriented, a storyteller, and a servant. And to realize what that means in the context of the most religiously diverse nation in history.

Someday I hope to return to that parking lot for an interfaith service project, where imams and rabbis join evangelical pastors, Sikhs, Buddhists, and religious and nonreligious folks from around the neighborhood in doing something that helps make our community a better place. During that project, we’ll dialogue about what motivates us to serve — a process that catalyzes relationships, creating long-term partnerships between communities once separated by barricades.

When it happens, it will be because of the Bethel Universities, the Messiah Colleges and the hundreds of campuses across the nation that recognized the need for interfaith engagement and created leaders to fill it.

This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post Religion.

Messy Religions and Interfaith Dialogue

From John Morehead:

In past encounters with those of other faith traditions, we have found that hospitality is the best way to address hostilities. Most if not all major religious traditions prize hospitality. Among other things, hospitality helps us move beyond simply seeing ideas and categorizing people in terms of “isms” and ideologies.

Read more at The Interfaith Observer: http://www.theinterfaithobserver.org/journal-articles/2012/7/15/dealing-with-religions-messiness.html