Skye Jethani on “Why I Defend Muslims”

A little something from Skye Jethani on Christians and Muslims. I think there’s a lot to discuss following Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s article in a recent issue of Newsweek, but until we get to that, enjoy some thoughts from Skye Jethani:

“… my work with interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims, have led some to believe that I’m an advocate for Islam…or at least not sold out for team Christianity (a.k.a. theologically liberal). Nothing could be farther from reality. Here’s the truth. First, I believe Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, including our Muslim neighbors, and we cannot love them if we are gripped by fear.”

Read his article here:

A new paradigm

I came across this article in an e-mail from John Morehead, Director of the Evangelical Christian chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. And although it was published two years ago, I think it continues to be a valid statement to call this a “new” paradigm of Christian and non-Christian dialogue.

So after an assessment of what the old paradigm of dialogue was, you get to the author’s description of the new paradigm and some things really resonate.

First, in setting a place at the table, so to speak, for evangelicals to participate:

No longer do partners seek the lowest common denominator between traditions, but rather embrace and encourage differences. This move against the relativistic tendencies of the old paradigm encourages a more robust dialogue in which each party brings to the discussion what they believe to be binding truth, whether or not those truths are universal among traditions. In this kind of model, exclusivist views are valued, not discouraged.

And then, in the outcomes of taking a dialogue-based approach to sharing the faith:

Having more respect for other religions opens up venues for interfaith dialogue to occur and for relationships to be formed based upon trust, love, and compassion.

There are plenty of compelling reasons, in a world marked too frequently by conflict, violence, and bigotry, to be committed to interfaith relationships based on trust, love, and compassion. But the author also reminds us that these relationships are an approach to a “missionary activity” that is central to the Christian tradition.

Then again, relationships based on genuine trust, love, and compassion communicate aspects of the gospel insomuch that they emulate and demonstrate the character of Christ that perhaps no effective effort at evangelism can afford to be without…

Link to article:

Tim Tebow and John 3:16

I talk a lot on this blog about communicating the message of our faith. So, when folks like Tim Tebow take the national spotlight and display their faith prominently, my question is: does it communicate the gospel effectively?

The Barna Group starts to scratch the surface of that question with this poll published last week:

5 Types of Christians: Restorers (Part 6 of 6)

This article is part 6 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and see the links below for past articles.

Over the past month I’ve posted a series of five articles to this blog discussing five types of Christians as they are described in Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians. I’ve attempted to identify the problems each category of Christians encounters with respect to the interfaith movement. Some Christians take an approach that leads to an abrasive interaction with the world: we must fight for laws that reflect biblical values, fight for the acknowledgement of the God of the Bible in public spaces, or fight for the souls of our lost neighbors. This approach doesn’t cultivate relationships with people who have different perspectives – just disagreement.

Other Christians prefer to avoid friction at all costs. They seek to blend in with the rest of society or to let faith only manifest as acts of service and generosity – something with which no one can really disagree. Life can go smoothly that way, or so it seems.

But there’s something to be gained from taking a different approach – a sixth type, if you will. Something that involves a thorough assessment of the way that Jesus interacted with the world around him – and an understanding of the message he preached. So I return to words I’ve written in the past:

Jesus preached the gospel, which is to say the he preached the good news, and this good news was about something – it was about the Kingdom of God.

So Jesus preached the good news of the Kingdom of God.

And that good news is about restoration. So we might call those who live under the influence of the kingdom restorers.

Gabe Lyons says:

“I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest.”

Lyons’ description of the restorer’s vision reminds me of Scot McKnight’s description of the kingdom: “By kingdom, Jesus means: God’s Dream Society on earth” – the way the world was meant to be.

So as Christians – as restorers – we are part of a narrative that is as old as history itself. It’s a story in which a broken world longs to be restored and where followers of Jesus play a role in that restoration. It’s a story in which restoration is sought at the level of societies, communities, and relationships – including each individual’s relationship with God.

As a Christian, when you realize what it means to be a restorer life is no longer only about whether you’re going to heaven or hell. It’s about serving others. It’s about relationships. It’s about peace. The dialogue and service that comprise the interfaith movement are a part of that – and they provide a platform for communicating the message of the kingdom holistically.

In the realization of what it means to be a restorer, there is a call to action. And it includes a call to step out of your comfort zone to make real relationships with people with drastically different backgrounds, to work together with people of the same faith and different faiths to address areas of great need, and to stand up against ignorance and bigotry. It’s a call to try to look at the world through God’s eyes, to ask how things were meant to be, and to work to advance the kingdom.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

What’s Lowe’s Got to Do with It?

At this point I shouldn’t have to explain much about the controversy surrounding Lowe’s this past week. And I also probably don’t need to spend much time dwelling on the fact that Lowe’s decision to cut its ads from the TLC show All-American Muslim is troubling. In fact, many have already commented on this, including my friends Eboo Patel, Chris Stedman (who seemed to lead the charge on twitter), and many others.

But in addition to adding my voice to the many who are affirming dissapointment in Lowe’s, I wanted to look at the situation from a different angle – one most appropriate for commentary from an evangelical.

Because, as disappointing as Lowe’s decision is, the truth is that I am more disappointed by the Florida Family Association (FFA), an organization that aims to “educate people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values” and claims that the TLC show “is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.

Yet I struggle to find how bigotry reflects biblical values. So I’d like to reflect on a few thoughts that occurred to me as I learned about the Florida Family Association’s statements that triggered the Lowe’s controversy. Here we go:

1. These Christians don’t know Muslims

I too am opposed to extremism. But as a Christian I believe that fighting extremism requires cooperation, not marginalization. If the Christians leading the FFA knew the Muslims in their community, I am convinced that they would be compelled to work together to address concerns about the threat of extremism in America. It has been well-voiced by the Muslim community – particularly during the past decade – that Islamic extremists do not represent the Islamic tradition. Take Eboo Patel as an example, who says that extremists “don’t deserve the title Muslim” in an interview on ABC (embedded at the end of this post).

2. These Christians aren’t just opposed to extremism, they’re also opposed to Muslims.

While the FFA cites concern that All-American Muslim is propaganda designed to counter concerns about Islamic fundamentalism, I don’t buy the premise that the world is undereducated about the existence of extremists. In fact, the problem is exactly the opposite: the general public is so familiar with images of burning effigies and burning buildings – and so undereducated about the existence of moderate Muslims – that they believe extremists like al-Qaeda to represent all Muslims. The actions of the FFA only make sense to me if the organization is set on opposing Islam – not just Islamic extremists.

3. These Christians are out of touch with our diverse reality.

The FFA seems to believe that The Learning Channel is portraying Muslims as typical American families while “excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.” Or as Eboo Patel puts it: the FFA was “disappointed that the show didn’t offer enough airtime to Muslim extremists.” The only way I can understand a reason why the FFA would make such an absurd claim is that either (a) the FFA is substantially out of touch with the current paradigm of reality television or (b) I was right on with point number 2. Does the FFA really need a reminder that it’s impossible to represent every person who calls him or herself a Muslim cannot possibly in just 5 hour-long episodes?

4. What the world needs is dialogue.

This controversy has led me to reflect on how I learned the valuable lesson not to assume one individual is an accurate representation of a whole group. I also got to thinking about the reason why I believe most Muslim communities to be not only peaceful and anti-extremism, but also intelligent, inspiring, and pro-active in meeting the needs of their communities.

I owe the credit for learning these lessons to interfaith dialogue.

It’s time for Christian communities of all styles to consider what kind of a world we want to live in. Do we want a world where harsh and ignorant statements trigger controversy that is continually traced back to so-called followers of Christ? Or do we want a world where we can sit together, serve together, and learn from one another without blurring the lines between our traditions but still getting to know one another?

It’s only through this coming together that Christians have the opportunity to show people of other faith traditions what following Jesus is really about – including what it means to live with biblical values. I just pray that the Florida Family Association learns this lesson before stirring up another embarrassing controversy that reflects poorly on those who are striving to follow the simple command to love one another.

I should really be studying…

The title says it all. But since I’ve failed all evening to focus on memorizing the list of 50 some pathogenic bacteria that sits in front of me, what does another minute or two matter?

I’m really looking forward to posting the last piece in my “5 types of Christians” series that I’ve been slowly publishing over the past month or so. And if you’re attentive, you may have realized by now that, since the series has 6 parts and I’ve already discussed 5 “types,” there’s a surprise 6th “type” coming!

And that type will likely launch us into a recurring theme about what it means to be a “restorer” in a religiously diverse world (a concept that has really helped me find the words to both describe and understand my faith ever since I picked up Gabe Lyon’s The Next Christians).

But unfortunately that discussion has to wait until exams are over.

In the meantime, I was excited to learn today that North Park University (the institution affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church – the denomination in which I was grew up) has been participating in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge! Check it out on page 6 of the North Parker Magazine.