Tag Archives: Chris Stedman

Chris Stedman at Chautauqua

“In the words of native novelist and scholar Thomas King, ‘The truth about stories is that that’s all we are,’ ” Stedman said. “Want a different ethic? Tell a different story. So let’s tell a different story about our religious differences. And let’s be sure that the nonreligious are a part of this conversation.”

It sounds like they have quite the lineup at Chautauqua Institution. Check out this summary of Chris Stedman’s talk http://chqdaily.com/2013/07/05/stedman-lets-be-sure-the-nonreligious-are-a-part-of-this-conversation/.

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Quick thoughts after ICIC12

Cameron and I just finished with a long and exhausting weekend organizing and participating in the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration. I really enjoyed the chance to chat with Jim Wallis of Sojourners on Friday night, run another interfaith meal packaging event, see Chris Stedman (although meal-packaging clean-up kept me from attending his talk), and hear from Valarie Kaur this morning. All had very different backgrounds and perspectives but stimulated a lot of great conversation. We’ll follow-up in the coming days with some reflects and content from ICIC12.

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From Gordon College: Loving Our Religious Neighbors

Faith Line Protestants is excited to feature a new voice in our discussion on Christians in the interfaith movement. Kyleen Burke is a senior Political Science/Philosophy major at Gordon College in Massachusetts. She has been involved in the leadership of a new interfaith club at Gordon, which she hopes will become a permanent part of the college ethos.

Over the course of my four years at Gordon I have devised a simple and succinct way to describe my school: It’s a “small, Christian, liberal arts college just north of Boston”. This is enough to pacify most, and is apt outline of what makes my college unique. I decided to go to Gordon the night before the decision deadline, thinking “if I’m going to call myself a Christian for the rest of my life, I should probably learn about Christianity”. As it turned out, Gordon was an excellent place for this sort of mission. Educating well-versed Christians is the driving philosophy of Gordon, and faith is integrated into every aspect of our learning. However, the Christian environment does come with a trade-off. While it is conducive to good, deep conversations about big questions, it is hard to consider the perspective of other faiths. We do not have Muslim, Jewish, or Secular Humanist peers to discuss issues with. It is also hard to learn about other religions and philosophical traditions when they are not represented on campus. Thankfully, Gordon has recently confronted this issue with a concerted effort connect our campus to the rich diversity of religious groups in the Boston area. Our hope is to pioneer a new way for Christian colleges to retain their unique community, without being closed-off to relationships with our religious neighbors.

Our project at Gordon began with the prodding of Josh Daneshforooz, an Evangelical Christian who had recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School. Having been raised in a multi-faith household, Josh was particularly passionate about connecting Christian and Muslim communities. He wrote a book called “Loving Our Religious Neighbors”, as a manual for Churches that want to connect with the Muslims in their area. The book outlines a fourteen-week program, in which Christian groups reflect on the Biblical mandates to love our neighbor, before engaging with their Muslim partners in community service and dialogue. In the summer of 2010, before the book had been published, Josh asked us if we could pilot the program at Gordon.

The opportunity to start a Loving Our Religious Neighbors campaign seemed like the perfect way to introduce interfaith engagement to our Evangelical campus. Like many students at Gordon, I had always been interested in learning about other religions, but hadn’t found a method that fit clearly within the school’s paradigm. So, a small group of us started meeting weekly, reading chapters from Loving Our Religious Neighbors and talking about religion and belief in general. We partnered with the Muslim Students Association at MIT to host a joint service project at a local NGO, and a Church/Mosque visit. By the end of our first semester we had facilitated exciting conversations and formed new friendships with peers we would not have met otherwise.

This year, the Loving Our Religious Neighbors project at Gordon has grown in numbers and support. More students are interested in learning about other faiths and engaging in our area. Faculty and administration have also encouraged our project and endorsed the effort to find a way to join the interfaith movement as Evangelicals. We continue to meet weekly for discussions about religion and faith. We also host a lecture series of visiting scholars who present on their belief, including Nuri Friedlander from the Harvard Islamic Society and Chris Stedman from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. The most affecting aspect of our project, however, continues to be the partnership with our peers (which are the wonderful students at the Harvard Interfaith Council this year). By working with the HIC on service projects and special events, we are given opportunities that few Evangelical college students encounter. We are able to meet thoughtful and devout students our own age and develop relationships that broaden and challenge our comfortable lines of thinking. It is this type of growth that is necessary for the holistic education places like Gordon seek to provide. Without learning from, and engaging with, our religious neighbors, we neglect an important aspect how we might develop as students and as Evangelical Christians.

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Unconvential alliances

I had to take a quick moment to promote this article from my friend Chris Stedman on the Relevant Magazine blog: Why This Atheist Still Needs His Former Pastor.

Quoting Chris, this is what really hits home for me:

…I cannot help but wonder what the world would look like if we were more willing to forge unconventional alliances. What would happen if we were more radical about whom we saw as our collaborators? What would happen if we took the risk of reaching out to the unfamiliar? If atheists and Christians started seeing one another as necessary partners in making the world a better place, what might we come to understand about each other? What might we come to better understand about ourselves? What might we accomplish together?

This is important because of the two simple facts that God calls Christians to serve those in need and that we can accomplish more by working together. But since this blog almost invariably comes back to this idea of evangelism, I’d like to add that the unconventional alliances to which Chris refers are, in my opinion, the best way to show the world the compassion of Jesus and to communicate the full, compelling truth of the gospel. And even though Chris and I disagree about whether that gospel is indeed truth, we can agree about the fact that we’re all better off as collaborators in making the world a better place than we are as collaborators in the historic, futile argument about who is right.

So check out Chris’ article and dwell on this today: what if we made these unconventional alliances… conventional?

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Unfavorable Opinions

This piece was originally posted by Faith Line Protestants co-founder Greg Damhorst on the Interfaith Youth Core blog at http://www.ifyc.org/content/unfavorable-opinions.

Yesterday the Pew Forum released a Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders that caught my attention. I was first intrigued by a headline that read: “Evangelical Leaders see Secularism as Greater Threat than Islam,” but as I read on, I realized there was something even deeper.

I am constantly intrigued with the interaction of evangelicals and people of other faith traditions, including those from non-religious traditions. Especially in the interfaith movement – a movement that seeks to make interfaith cooperation a social norm – I am fascinated by the role the evangelical tradition will play.

The Pew Forum has given the world a subtle glimpse of why I feel this way:

“On the whole, the evangelical Protestant leaders express favorable opinions of adherents of other faiths in the Judeo-Christian tradition, including Judaism, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. But of those who express an opinion, solid majorities express unfavorable views of Buddhists (65%), Hindus (65%), Muslims (67%) and atheists (70%). Interestingly, the leaders who live in Muslim-majority countries generally are more positive in their assessments of Muslims than are the evangelical leaders overall.”

Survey results from Pew Forum Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders

These statistics represent views held by 2,196 evangelical leaders toward faith communities. But when I look at these numbers, I don’t see communities – I see faces.

65% of evangelicals have an unfavorable view of Buddhists and 65% have an unfavorable view of Hindus, but when I think of those traditions I remember the Buddhist and the Hindu who I worked with to start a project to provide relief to earthquake survivors in Haiti last year.

67% of evangelicals have an unfavorable view of Muslims, but I can’t ignore the Avicenna Community Health Center, which reaches out to the uninsured in my community alongside religious and non-religious folks who are passionate about bringing health to those who can’t access care.

And while the 70% of evangelicals who view atheists unfavorably can likely blame the anti-religious rhetoric of a few individuals, I can’t help but look at the non-religious in a different light because of my relationships with people like Chris Stedman, Adam Garner, and Chelsea Link (the latter two have joined me in the new class of Better Together coaches this year!)

I’m willing to bet that these unfavorable views do nothing to enhance the evangelistic efforts of my fellow Christians – that they only hinder our ability to genuinely communicate the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I’m willing to bet that those who hold these unfavorable views don’t have meaningful relationships with people from other faith backgrounds.

When I look at the example that Jesus set – the example I work hard to emulate – I see relationships. In fact, they were often relationships with the people whom pious folks viewed unfavorably.

It is significant that evangelical leaders in Muslim-majority countries are more positive about Muslims than the worldwide trend. In my opinion, it’s probably because those evangelical leaders actually have Muslim friends.

It’s time for the evangelical community to stop being afraid of perceived threats to our faith and to start engaging with the world in a positive way. Relationships are the key to changing our perspectives. My prayer is that we all would understand the power they contain.

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What Would Jesus Blog?

While we as Evangelical Christians discuss frequently on our site the importance of interfaith relationships – including relationships with those of a secular tradition – we are reminded that not everyone sees things the way we do.

Earlier this week, our friend Chris Stedman, a secular humanist and a leading voice for the involvement of the nonreligious in interfaith cooperation, was the target of an open letter written by Frank Turk, contributor to a Christian blog “PyroManiacs” (tagline: “Setting the world on fire…”). We wanted to respond – not because a response was invited, but because we are Evangelical Christians, we disagree with the approach to religious difference that particular Christians (“PyroManiacs” included) have taken, and because we are offended by the idea that someone representing Jesus Christ would make some of the statements that were made toward Chris.

Turk’s “Open letter” centers on a tweet posted earlier this month that read: “Exciting to hear about how @ChrisDStedman is reshaping the conversation between religious and nonreligious.” While Turk seemingly attempts to belittle Chris’s work by calling out his sexuality and tattoos, we are reminded of the very need for reshaping just such a conversation. Turk asks “Is that really ‘reshaping’ anything?”—in other words, is Chris really making a difference? And later implies that dialogue won’t change humanity’s propensity to, as he calls it, “err,” calling into question the very efficacy of the interfaith endeavor. We contend that Chris Stedman is in fact reshaping the conversation, and that constructive dialogue is playing a great part in this.

The conversation “between religious and nonreligious” as mentioned in the tweet is not a two-way discussion between Christians and atheists; rather, Christians and atheists are simply two pieces of a much broader discourse among peoples of all different faith traditions, worldviews, philosophies, and perspectives. Whether it is a church being bombed in Egypt, a pastor threatening to burn the Qur’an, or the recent protests of a Muslim community fundraiser in California, we would say that conversations around religious differences still need some major remodeling. And in the arena of atheists’ relationship to religion in particular, Chris is doing phenomenal work to show that being a non-religious person does not mean one has to be aggressively anti-religious. As a religious man himself, Turk should at least grant this much in Stedman’s favor.

We believe that interfaith cooperation efforts—and atheists/humanists’ involvement in them— are relevant, timely, and crucial in today’s global society, and that they stand in line with the values espoused by Christ to love one’s neighbor and bring peace to the world. Chris Stedman has contributed greatly to the cause of interfaith cooperation, making it a visible and vibrant part of the discussion happening on university campuses all across the country.

Because the model for interfaith cooperation to which we adhere depends upon mutual respect, value judgments on the morality of human sexuality or concern with one’s personal choices lie largely beyond the purview of the discussion. We, like Chris, simply advance the message of peace and sociological pluralism. Our concern is not with individual religious practice or belief or widespread social concerns except where they intersect with violence, strife, and bigotry. Our own Christian religious identity informs our desire to build bridges of cooperation with those of other traditions and worldviews, but does not in any way muddy our own values or compel us to entreat them on others.

Dialogue, though discounted in Turk’s letter, has the power to produce empathy through understanding. Part of the goal of interfaith cooperation is not simply an end to something (i.e. violence), but is actually a positive, proactive movement built around service that aims to improve our world and address the problems we face. (See Greg’s post on the Million Meals for Haiti even at UIUC for an example of this.)

As devout Christians, we understand the desire and imperative to point to Christ as the answer to any perceived iniquity; we want our friends to know Christ and his saving grace. Yet we often struggle with the way the church presents these messages of salvation to the world, having been frustrated by our own past experiences.

Chris Stedman, once a church-going Christian himself, doesn’t need a lesson on the teachings of Christ or what the Christian church believes about salvation; doubtless he has picked up on these things through his years as a member of the church and as a student in religious studies programs both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We, like Turk, desire for Chris to know Jesus as his savior—Chris knows that full well.  But to see the gospel tacked on the end of a Bible-brandishing diatribe in which the author takes jabs at both Chris’s sexuality and his body art comes across as condescending.

The Bible states in 1 Peter 3:15:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

We’d like to suggest that the conversation of interfaith cooperation – the precise conversation that Chris Stedman indeed does work to shape – presents a better opportunity for giving that answer mentioned in 1 Peter than the method observed in Turk’s “open letter.”  Ironically, this verse can be found on one of the “Pyromaniacs” logos plastered all over their site. Yet it seems they’ve forgotten this respect in their determination to criticize our friend and wave the gospel in his face.

Jesus’ ministry placed a heavy emphasis on relationships. He beckoned Zacchaeus down from the tree in order to have dinner with him. When at Mary and Martha’s house, he praised Mary for sitting and talking to him. One of the central sacraments of the church—the Eucharist—is in celebration and remembrance of a meal he had with his disciples. Indeed, relationships undergird the very reason Jesus had disciples, and God’s desire for relationships with all of us is in some sense the reason Jesus died for our sins.

Dialogue—or conversation— is implicit in relationships. In some sense conversing with God is what we do when we pray. What then does Turk mean when he asserts in his closing paragraph that Jesus isn’t “looking for a dialog?” Such a claim seems rather spurious. Also spurious is when Turk posits that leading an ethical life without God is not possible. Though a difficult, complex issue in its own right—one that we could write about at great length—looking at Chris’ work and Turk’s letter makes it seem clear that a belief in God, or lack thereof, doesn’t necessarily correlate with ethical behavior.

When reading Turk’s letter, we would ask: Does it work to build a strong relationship with Chris (or anyone, for that matter), or does it operate sans any personal ties? Does it do anything constructive, or does it attempt to deconstruct? Does it display a level of respect, or does it assume a moral high ground? Most importantly, for a Christian: does it seem to emulate Jesus?

Which of these approaches to dialogue—Chris’ or Turk’s—seems to embody Jesus’ compassion, vision for service, and emphasis on personal relationships? To us, it’s obvious.

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