Reflecting on September 11

I remember the day when, shortly after September 11, 2001,  my mom asked me if anyone bullied the Muslim kid at school.

“No,” I said, “not that I’ve noticed.”

And I hadn’t noticed anything. But as we all know, not all American Muslims fared so well, and even if those I knew weren’t being bullied, there is no telling what sort of distress they felt inside that I couldn’t see.

So today, as I struggled to think about how to pose my reflections on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, one thing comes to mind: love.

And it is only proper that love should be the prevailing message, because the things which we remember are the ramifications of an ideology of hate, the destruction accomplished by terror. I believe that the objective of extremism is not solely the destruction of life, but the induction of hatred in others. So we see that from hatred, hate also rises.

That hate is manifested in many forms, from the violence that fuels war across the world to the doctrine that continues to raise terrorists around the world to the bigotry and intolerance of Islamaphobia here at home. So our reflections on 9/11 must not be only about the twin towers, flight 93, the pentagon, and those who died, but also a somber recognition that our struggle should not be a fight against other human beings, but against hate.

It is a fight that can only be won with love. I am reminded, then, of Jesus’ simple, yet profound words.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 4:43).

“‘Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

However you define neighbor and enemy, these words are clear: we are called to love. This must be our response, particularly on the day where we remember those who have lost their lives to hate.

I leave you with a verse on which I’ve been reflecting, as a final thought today:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brotheror sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their borther and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:18-21

The Anglican Church Goes After the New Atheists

Archbishop John Sentamu (Left) w/ Archbishop Rowan Williams (Right) Photo courtesy the Telegraph UK (http://tgr.ph/pAPSCB)

This post comes out of this article from the Telegraph, which discusses a new report endorsed by both the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu that encourages clergy in the Church of England to “to be more vocal in countering the arguments put forward by a more hard-line group of atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have campaigned for a less tolerant attitude towards religion.”

So, some of you may be asking, why should we care? After all, we don’t live in Britain, nor are we Anglican. (Well, I am. But I’d expect many of our readers aren’t.)

One should care, I think, because at the root of this article lies a much more fundamental question regarding the relationship between the religious and non-religious in modern society. What I find most interesting is that the CofE’s report seems to locate the issue not only between Christians and atheists, but between all religious groups and atheists. The author writes:

“One of the paradoxes of recent times has been the increasing secularisation of society and attempts to marginalise religion alongside an increasing interest in spiritual issues and in the social and cultural implications of religious faith,” says the report, called Challenges for the New Quinquennium.

The Church must be “explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem,” it says.

[…]

The Church is keen to address the rise of new atheism, which has grown over recent years with the publication of bestselling books arguing against religion.

However, the document says that this intolerance is becoming more widespread and can be seen in public bodies, which it says must be challenged over attitudes of “suspicion or hostility towards churches and other faith groups”.

In recent years, a number of Christians have taken legal action against local councils and hospital trusts after being disciplined for expressing their faith by wearing crosses or refusing to act against their orthodox beliefs.

“There is still work to be done to counter the prevailing tendency of treating faith as a private matter which should not impact on what happens in the public realm.

“This is a challenge for all churches and faiths, but especially for the Church of England.”

As the report frames it, this isn’t just about Christianity– it’s “for all churches and faiths“. While things are a bit different here in the States– religion, for instance, is not marginalized as the author claims for Britain, and I find many claims made by Christians warning of impending threats of secularization dubious– I still find this deliberate “calling out” of one group worthy of watching.

If I’m not mistaken, the Vatican issued a similar exhortation to engage with secular society earlier this year (or a bit before), that sought to host dialogues and educational events in prominent cathedrals (I believe the article I read specifically named churches in Paris) between atheists and Christians. Such formal imperatives to get involved in the predominantly secular cultures in Europe could speak rather loudly as a bold step to save face, or it could represent a genuine attempt at peace and understanding divorced from mere proselytizing.

I’m all for engaging with atheists on notions of faith in public life– I’m even happy to debate theological/ethical/philosophical issues with the non-religious community; I believe a healthy debate is good, and can build bridges of mutual understanding if done well. However, what I hope does not happen is that the engagement turns into argument, rendering as lost any hope for understanding. Already many in the New Atheist movement have fervently spoken out against religion, calling it force for evil in the world and a gross suspension of reason. And here in the States, many in the more fundamentalist sects of the Christian faith refuse to deal with atheists, dismissing them all as immoral heathens bound for an eternity in hell. Painting in such broad strokes doesn’t strike me as productive, and so I hope that the CofE does a good job in countering New Atheism’s barbed critiques by promoting peace and a reasonable approach to faith.

Though sympathetic to the atheist’s position– and seeing it as a perfectly valid one– I personally  don’t appreciate the so-called New Atheist movement. I find it rather counterproductive and often results in the two sides (religious and non-religious) talking past each other. If the CofE can improve the public discourse surrounding the religious/non-religious divide, then I support the Archbishops’ effort; if this becomes another dialogic train wreck, however, I won’t think so highly of it. Much of this depends on how their initiative manifests itself in church life: will this be simply an increase in polemical apologetics, or a genuine attempt at providing quality lay-education programs on the subjects in question? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, the announcement of this report comes just before Greg and I are set to participate in a lunch-time panel discussion on Friday (tomorrow!) about Evangelicals and their (rarely peaceful) relationship to the atheist community. We will post more information on this event later.

We want to hear your thoughts. Do you think the church should engage so specifically with the so-called “New Atheists” and their criticisms?

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!

 

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!

On the Air: An interview on Keepin’ the Faith

A few weeks ago I was privileged to interview as a guest on the WILL AM 580 (local public radio) show Keepin’ the Faith about interfaith work on the University of Illinois campus with my friend Ish Umer. Don Nolen, who guest-hosted that evening, led us into a discussion of evangelicals and interfaith work that I thought you might enjoy. You can download the podcast from will.illinois.edu at the following link: http://will.illinois.edu/keepinthefaith/show/ktf110807/

I’ve listed a few landmarks so you don’t have to listen to the whole program if your schedule doesn’t allow the time:

0:00 – About the Illinois Interfaith Service Challenge

20:18 – Ish’s description of his religious background and his experience around 9/11

25:48 – Greg’s description of his religious background

29:10 – Addressing sensitive issues in interfaith dialogue

36:50 – Evangelism and interfaith dialogue

47:36 – Guest caller with question for Ish

50:00 – Interfaith work on campus: One Million Meals for Haiti, and continued discussion of the Interfaith Service Challenge.

The end of Christian America?

Something is being whispered about in daring conversations around the country. You may have heard it mentioned in editorials, on the covers of magazines, and in blogs. It seems that the evidence is there, although it hasn’t necessarily been aggregated and analyzed. If it wasn’t for my own personal experiences, I might have tried to deny it too, but there’s something about it that resonates strangely, like a poorly-articulated pop song to which you finally were able to decipher all the words.

The church is losing its influence in society.

But is it really a bad thing? Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas and co-author of the bestselling UnChristian, speaks explicitly to this reality in his new book Next Christians. I’m going to use this text, as I have with other books in the past, to guide a discussion over the next several weeks.

Lyons paints a symbolically rich picture in his opening chapter of a visit he paid to the legendary evangelist Billy Graham at Graham’s home in the winding roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the two chatted while reclining in rocking chairs on the back porch and enjoyed warm cookies from the oven, Lyons finds Graham in a place of rest, comfort, and solitude – Graham’s work, though both tremendous and inspiring, is over.

A fitting scene to set the stage for a book subtitled: The Good News about the End of Christian America.

Lyons is on to something. If you read back through our archive of posts on Faith Line Protestants, you’ll be able to infer that Cameron and I sense that the “Billy Graham” method of evangelism is becoming, to some extent, culturally obsolete.

Let me clarify: I affirm the ministry of Billy Graham. I believe that Reverend Graham, like few people in his generation, responded wholly and obediently to the mission to which God had called him, and did so with tremendous success. But Billy Graham witnessed to a generation of Americans in stark contrast to the present generation.

In general, it seems that Graham spoke to a nominally-churched generation. These were people who may or may not have called themselves Christians, but perhaps recognized the Church as an authority and the Bible as a source of insight, giving traction to Graham’s stadium-revival and radio-show approach to communicating the gospel. The truth about my generation, however,  is that most are disenchanted with the Christian Church– a fact possibly most apparent on college campuses and in metropolitan areas.

Some may blame secularism, but it’s also largely because of pluralism. America is becoming increasingly diverse. Among my closest peers at the University of Illinois, the majority have been raised either in another faith tradition or in a non-religious household. The Church and its scriptures carry little or no influence, simply because of their upbringing.

So if we are called as Christians to communicate the message of the gospel, and we desire to be heard by the current generation of young adults (and perhaps their parents, but certainly their children), it will not suffice simply to hold stadium revivals, deliver inspiring sermons on the radio, and stage teary-eyed altar-calls.

To communicate the gospel, we have to live the gospel.

I’ll leave you with the words of Billy Graham as quoted by Gabe Lyons in Next Christians:

“Back when we did these big crusades in football stadiums and arenas, the Holy Spirit was really moving—and people were coming to Christ as we preached the Word of God.  But today, I sense something different is happening. I see evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in a new way.  He’s moving through people where they work and through one-on-one relationships to accomplish great things.  They are demonstrating God’s love to those around them, not just with words, but in deed.”

I have found that the interfaith movement cultivates these relationships. Don’t let the end of Christian America get you down; there are exciting times ahead.

During my next several entries, I’ll discuss Gabe Lyons’ analysis of Christian interaction with current culture, which provides insight on living Christian in a religiously diverse world and sets the stage for an understanding of what it means to live life seeking restoration through engaging those around us.

John Stott and the Pharisees

John Stott was an evangelical leader, and one who bore the name well. His passing last week has spurred a number of blogs and articles reflecting on his work as a minister. Among these is an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof which I felt important to share with the FLP community.

Kristoff highlights the “distaste” often inspired by the title evangelical Christian, pointing to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as examples of the self-righteousness that has soured the evangelical name. On the other hand, Kristoff identifies Rev. Stott as gentle and intellectual, an evangelical who coupled his preaching of the gospel with compassionate acts and concern for the suffering. Furthermore, Kristoff recognizes this quality in “some of the bravest people you meet” at the “front lines” of major humanitarian efforts.

It seems what Kristoff is observing is an age-old pattern.

When Jesus walked the earth, as described in the New Testament (specifically the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), a similar polarity could be observed in the religious culture. The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law practiced self-righteous piety; Jesus practiced love.

Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic, the Pharisees called it blasphemy. Jesus healed a shriveled hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees plotted to kill him. Jesus built relationships with “tax collectors and sinners,” the Pharisees questioned his actions.

The Pharisees fasted to demonstrate their piety, but never seemed to understand compassion. Caught up in their own self-righteousness, they were repeatedly looking to accuse Jesus and his followers of wrongdoing. Jesus even warned his followers of their teaching. But the difficulty of Phariseeism is that it was a subtle danger – they had become so obsessed with the religious Law that they missed identifying the one to whom the Law pointed.

Is this what Kristoff is observing in today’s society? It sounds familiar: the compassionate and the self-righteous. Jesus and the Pharisees. The Stotts and the Falwells?

Every time I encounter an evangelical who is compelled to “preach the message” through criticism, especially when that criticism elevates that “evangelical” in self-righteousness, I think back to the life of Christ: service, storytelling, and relationships. When Jesus used strong words – when Jesus was critical – it wasn’t to condemn the broken for their immorality. It was to confront the Pharisees about their self-righteousness (Matthew 3:7, Matthew 23:27).

This is important to our discussion at Faith Line Protestants. Phariseeism isn’t compatible with the interfaith movement. What is compatible is service through compassion, humility and relationships.

Jesus didn’t come to say that the 9/11 attacks were punishment for American’s immorality or that AIDS is God’s judgment on promiscuity. He came to grant forgiveness to the immoral, offer completeness to the promiscuous, and to provide freedom from sin. After all, it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

A practical guide for engaging evangelicals in interfaith work

In conversations at the Interfaith Youth Core’s Interfaith Leadership Institute in Washington D.C. this week I encountered several interfaith leaders – both college students and staff – who struggle with engaging the evangelical communities on their campus.  I hope this will serve as a practical guide for interfaith leaders in similar situations.

I frequently encounter students, staff, and faculty involved in interfaith work who struggle to involve evangelical students in the interfaith movement. While there’s no hard and fast answer, here is a practical guide from an evangelical about evangelicals, hoping to bolster evangelical participation in the interfaith movement.

1. Set up a safe space

First, communicate the concept of interfaith cooperation. Diana Eck’s definition is particularly helpful here:

  • Respect for religious identity
  • Mutually inspiring relationships
  • Common action for the common good

The two major barriers to interfaith involvement for evangelicals are (1) a fear that it promotes theological pluralism or universalism and (2) the disinterest that results from a perceived lack of opportunities to convert others. Clear communication of the definition of interfaith cooperation will mitigate the former and inform the latter. Evangelicalism must be respected for the interfaith movement to be patent — even if it means tolerating some degree of proselytization. Proselytization, however, can only be tolerated in the interfaith movement if it respects the religious identity of those who are proselytized, thus requiring that the evangelical make a careful examination of their technique.

Proselytization that occurs in the setting of an interfaith dialogue is another conversation, and must be handled on a case-by-case basis.

2. Emphasize the invitation

When I think about the ministry of Christ, I recognize three prominent themes: storytelling (including parables and sermons), relationships (including those with ‘sinners’ and societal outcasts), and service. Similarly, the tenants of the interfaith movement are: storytelling, relationships, and service.

To me, an invitation to interfaith cooperation is an invitation to emulate Christ (which naturally appeals to my evangelical worldview). You might not be in a position to convince evangelicals on your campus of this idea, but you can make an invitation that will appeal to anyone with evangelical convictions. The interfaith movement is an invitation to talk about Christ (including the concept of salvation) and to demonstrate the compassion with which Christ engaged the world.

It’s also an opportunity to learn more about other religious and non-religious traditions, which even the most aggressive evangelicals should see as an opportunity to equip themselves with knowledge relevant to a mission to communicate the gospel to people of other faiths.

3. Let other evangelicals help

The Christian gospel can be communicated in the interfaith movement. A discussion of sin and salvation is probable. An invitation to explore the idea of a personal relationship with God is possible – but there is a learned approach through the interfaith experience and an argument about the limitations of evangelical strategy that often must necessarily take place.

Non-evangelicals cannot easily have that argument with evangelicals, but other evangelicals can. This is the mission of Faith Line Protestants, so you are invited to point to us as a resource in your efforts to engage evangelicals on your campus.

Cameron and I are available for lectures, seminars, and discussions. Feel free to contact us through the contact page on this site — and good luck!