Remembering Nelson Mandela

“It was religious institutions whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu, or Jewish in the context of our country, they are the people who bought land, who built schools, who equipped them, who employed teachers, and paid them. Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today.” – Nelson Mandela

Some reflections on the life of the great South African Leader here:

Advent, Apocalypse, and Interfaith Cooperation?

As a seminary student, I have spent a lot of time in the classroom learning about the Bible. But this past Sunday I just preached for the first time at the main service of my Episcopal church in New York City, standing on a high-rise lectern in front of 150+ churchgoers. It didn’t make it any easier that this week was a pretty important one in the liturgical calendar—Sunday was the first day of the entire church year, and the first Sunday of Advent (the season that leads up to Christmas). The fascinating thing about the lectionary texts that kick off the New Year is that they are apocalyptic—they’re not about fresh starts or new beginnings; instead, they warn believers to prepare for judgment at the end of the world.

As I worked on my sermon, it struck me that the Second Coming of Christ is probably not a topic of many interfaith discussions. But why isn’t it? I started to realize that Christian anticipation of the Second Coming actually has a lot to do with building a future of interfaith cooperation.

The Second (or final) Coming is the idea that Jesus will return to earth at some unknown time to the finish the work he began over 2,000 years ago. While most mainline Christian denominations agree that Jesus will return, the exact nature of that return is heavily debated. Some churches emphasize their belief in the idea of a rapture in which the people of the world will be divided. These traditions hold that there will be war, fire, and severe suffering until Jesus arrives to establish the Kingdom of God with those who have remained faithful.

Other Christians envision a broken world that is miraculously revived through the return of Jesus, who is able to establish his Kingdom of love, peace, and justice for all people on earth.

In both cases, and in all the many beliefs not cited here, Christians are asked to bear witness to the possibility that the end of world, as we know it, is drawing near. This means that Christians are called to live in a way that continuously prepares for the return of Jesus. We have to ask ourselves, to what world do we want Jesus to return? What do we want the world to be like when our Savior arrives?

If you are part of a Christian tradition that observes the liturgical calendar, then you know that Advent is our main season for preparation—but Christians are called to prepare for the Coming of the Lord at all times, not just at appointed seasons. I want to prepare a world for Jesus in which Christians are kind neighbors to those of other religious traditions. I want to prepare a world in which there is an end to poverty, an end to bullying, and an end to greed. I want to prepare my own heart for Jesus by striving to spend more time in prayer than I do on social media, more time building community than I do complaining about how my communities aren’t strong enough.

How will you prepare for the Coming of Christ? In what kind of world do you want to meet Jesus?

Let’s Get beyone arguments of Christian Persecution

We’ve talked a little bit about Christian Privilege here on FLP. I myself am still working at understanding my Christian Privilege in the U.S.. The truth is – I don’t always feel privileged. This is nothing new. Part of the difficulty of talking about “privilege” of any kind is that the privileged don’t understand themselves to be privileged and therefore have a hard time participating in conversation about said privilege.

This piece by Joanna Hoyt at Sojourners discusses Christian persecution and privilege in a way that I could really relate to.

 I fear that arguments over religious privilege and persecution may blind us to the real challenge our culture poses to our attempts to live in faithful community.

What are your thoughts?

What is an evangelical?

I usually sit down to write for this blog with a specific message to communicate, but today I have a few questions.

In a recent meeting with other interfaith organizers on campus, a progressive Christian minister – for whom I have great respect – questioned whether inviting an evangelical Christian speaker would be appropriate for our annual interfaith conference. “After all,” he pointed out, “when I think of evangelicals…”

You can probably complete the sentence.

My first thought was to defend the individual we had been discussing, an evangelical who has had a significant impact on me as an interfaith organizer. Without realizing it, I tried to explain that this particular individual was an exception: cooperative, respectful…

But as I’ve thought more about this encounter, some further questions have resurfaced regarding the way the world perceives evangelicals. Is a respectful evangelical really a misnomer? Or is it just blowhard public figures who have perpetuated this idea that evangelicals aren’t interested in being your friend (unless if you convert)? Running parallel with this same train of thought is a question of my own identity: do I want to identify as an evangelical?

It will always be true that I grew up an evangelical – albeit my church community could hardly be characterized as aggressive or charismatic. And I’ve continued to call myself an evangelical despite – like many in my generation – growing disenchanted with many habits of the evangelical church. I’ve also learned (largely thanks to Facebook) that the members of my childhood congregation represented the full spectrum of political and social opinions, though rarely did controversial topics come up in church activities. On the other hand, I’ve been through evangelism trainings, been told to keep a list of friends I want to convert, and been challenged to do cold-turkey evangelism.

So my experience with what it means to be an evangelical has included a broad range of people with varying political views, spiritual practices, and methods for communicating the gospel. And I continue to call myself an evangelical because of the way I view my faith, and because of how I interpret the gospel regarding the way I should live my life: that there is good news to be shared. This is a theme that has been at the core of many of the things I’ve written on this site and will continue to be so. Furthermore, I’ve been interested in involving other evangelicals in these dialogues with people from other religious and non-religious traditions because, among several reasons, I believe the idea that is at the core of evangelicalism – communicating the gospel – is best accomplished in these settings.

So when I find myself in a conversation where one’s compatibility with interfaith cooperation is questioned because they are an evangelical, how should I react? Should the image of evangelical Christians be defended by pointing out that there are – and presumably always have been – “nice” evangelicals? Or should we abandon the label altogether? Does the name “evangelical Christian” require some sort of makeover, how can that be accomplished, and who will lead it?

I’m not a sociologist or a theologian, and I can’t cite to you the way either scholar would define an evangelical Christian. But how many of the ¼ of Americans who call themselves evangelicals could?

This is something I hope to learn from my fellow contributors and readers of this blog: what do you consider to define an evangelical?