Tag Archives: dialogue

Kicking off a new year… two months late

I opened up an e-mail last night that has been sitting in my inbox for a while, waiting for a reply. I was shocked when I realized it was dated from January 22nd. If you know me, you know that I usually keep up with these things, but on this particular incident I dropped the ball. So where did the last month go?

For me it’s been a whirlwind of the usual mixed with a little unusual. I returned from Ghana over a month ago after leading a group of 18 other graduate students and faculty on an observational trip as part of the University of Illinois’ new Global Health Initiative. It turned out to be a perspective-shifting experience for me as I started to think about God’s calling for my life – but more on that later.

As far as I can tell, Cameron is currently occupied with the undergraduates’ greatest stressor: the Senior Thesis. Add a side of part-time job and applying to seminary for dessert and you have a complete meal with more than your daily recommended value of stress, writer’s block and sleepless nights.

Yet as busy as we have been, the time has never been more crucial for our attention to the interfaith movement.

And it’s not just because Tebow-Mania gave way to Linsanity before I really noticed that the NFL season was over or because we’re starting to feel the heat of an election year and faith identity continues to be a central issue. Instead, it’s because of the things that are happening on college campuses right now that are going to shape the way we talk about devout athletes and presidential candidates in 5, 10, 15 years.

While I was sweating away the hours between clinics and hospitals in a cramped van on dirt roads in southern Ghana, hundreds of undergraduate student leaders gathered at Emory University in Atlanta for another Interfaith Leadership Institute – learning to lead a conversation about cooperation on their campuses, suggesting that people of diverse faith backgrounds are Better Together when we gather around issues that we all care about, like fighting hunger or speaking out against human trafficking.

As an evangelical Christian watching the discourse around Jeremy Lin take place, I realized that I am not interested in a popular culture where being passionate about Jesus just adds spectacle to an already bizarre situation, like stepping up from bench-warmer to break-out star in a matter of days. But the student leaders who gathered in Atlanta this winter are having a different kind of conversation, where they are talking about building respect and understanding, and talking about similarities and differences in a way that better enables us to address great human need.

And I’ve heard from some of those young leaders, including a student at North Park University and another at Gordon College. While both institutions are rooted in Christian traditions, their students are diverse and I am excited to see the ways that the interfaith movement takes hold on those campuses.

Of course Cameron and I have ambitious plans to build on the conversation on FLP this semester including featuring some new voices and perspectives. But what’s got us really excited is where all these inspiring student leaders are going to be at the end of this semester, more specifically April 20-22nd.

They’re going to be here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the first ever Illinois Conference on Interfaith Cooperation. And so will Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Core and Jim Wallis of Sojourners, as well as several other special guests here to talk about interfaith cooperation on college campuses, best practices, challenges and successes in the work we’ve been a part of.

So you can look forward to that as well. Actually, you could even be there. Check out www.illinoisinterfaithservice.org to register.

There is good stuff coming, so stay tuned –

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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.

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5 types of Christians: The culture warriors (part 2 of 6)

This article is part 2 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 check back here for part 3 of this series!

The Culture Warriors

Do you remember what Nicholas Kristof had to say about evangelicals in the wake of Rev. John Stott’s death? Kristof demonstrated an incredible sense of insight as he compared and contrasted the compassionate, gentle work of Stott’s ministry with the blowhards of the Christian Right like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

To me, Falwell and Robertson epitomize the culture warriors.

Gabe Lyons gives another example – the protestors who fought to retain “Roy’s Rock,” a monument of the Ten Commandments that met controversy outside of an Alabama courthouse several years ago. He explains in Next Christians:

“Culture warriors, many of whom are sincere and well-intentioned, simply don’t know how else to promote the ideals of their faith in the public square. Yet they are often unaware of how their tactics are perceived by others. This view motivates many of them—like the Roy’s Rock angry supporters—to ensure that societal values and cultural artifacts reflect Christian beliefs. Even when society no longer behaves, thinks, or seeks the Christian God.”

As I am reminded of the rhetoric of such an approach to “living Christian in a religiously diverse world” (as our tagline reads), and am often concerned by what I hear (remember the Falwell-Robertson explanation for 9/11)?” I pray that the next generation of conservative leaders can find another way, as Gabe Lyons’ puts it, “to promote the ideals of their faith in the public square” (although we’ve had a few scares).

Not surprisingly, when it comes to the interfaith movement, the culture warriors seem more interested in debate than dialogue. But when you consider the goals of evangelicals — to communicate the message of the Christian faith — does it communicate the message of the Kingdom of God to blame the suffering for their pain or to refuse to acknowledge other traditions and worldviews in the public square?

A good example of where this attitude hits home can be found in the various mosque controversies that have sprung up around the country over the past year. When it comes to the way that the Christian community behaves toward communities of other faiths, is it more loving to vehemently oppose our neighbors, or to welcome them? It seems that the culture warrior mentality says making a welcoming gesture is not the Christian thing to do. But which response better reflects the attitude of Jesus?

As Cameron and I have attempted to describe numerous times on this site, it is possible to show kindness to people of other faiths without compromising one’s own beliefs. To the culture warrior, however, kindness seems out of the question – and that’s why interfaith relationships won’t mesh.

My hope is that the culture warriors aren’t the image by which the general public stereotypes the evangelical Christian tradition. After all, here’s one follower of Jesus who is willing to trade a granite monument for relationships – because relationships are how I get to show others what my faith is really about.

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

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Flavored Salt

(Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/519605)

 

(What follows is a guest post written by Rev. Tim Baranoski, who hails from Cameron’s hometown. We came across Rev. Tim because of a post he wrote over at Non-Prophet Status, and are delighted to have him here at FLP. Please see his bio at the end of the this post for links to his own blog and Twitter. The second part of Cameron’s “What does it mean to be evangelical?” will be posted later this week, as will the end to Greg’s “Kingdom” series. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy FLP’s first guest blog!)

What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in our country? This is a question that is bound to elicit a variety of answers depending on whom you ask. Possible answers would include: the mass media, popular culture, materialism, bad government policies, other religions, etc. A missionary had the occasion to put this very question to the great Mahatma Gandhi, “What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?” His answer was swift and decisive: “Christians.” It is said that the world would be a more Christian place today were it not for the Christians. The Christians that constitute a hindrance to Christianity are not the real and committed ones, of course, but those who bear the name Christian but, judging from the way they talk and behave, no one would suspect they have anything to do with Christ.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” – Mark 9:50 (NIV)

I like to think of the numerous Christian denominations as simply flavored salt. We all have the same goal and the same basic beliefs – though we do tend to argue over minor nuances of things like baptism and the Eucharist. We are the same faith but then we are simply different flavors.

But then I have to wonder – are we really the salt of earth? Our theological differences lend themselves to exclusion from churches and public criticism of one another. It is no wonder Christians are criticized from those who the outside – if I was an outsider I am not sure I would want to be part of this group either.

Worse than how we treat each other is how we treat people in faith traditions. Of course, I am referring to Muslims especially. For reasons that stem from the events of September 11, we have lumped anyone who prescribes to the Islamic faith as a “terrorist”. We shun them, criticize them, and exclude them from as much as possible. We work hard to prevent Mosques from being built in our communities out of fear and ignorance. Is this what Jesus would want?

Now before you begin to stone me for being a heretic, I need to clarify that I am a Jesus-follower. I am an ordained minister in a Presbyterian denomination. I believe the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I will not waver in this belief. It is a conviction and the one according to which my life is lived.

However, that does not mean I need to hate non-Christians. Jesus went out of his way to reach out to sinners and non-Jews. He ate with them. He talked with them. He loved them. I can do the same as well. In my ministry, I have had the opportunity to share in Friday prayers at a local mosque. It was an incredible experience but I do not think for one moment that I compromised my beliefs. Instead, I believe I planted the seed that as a Christian, I am willing to engage in conversation and to learn from one another. I believe showing respect to other beliefs is important because it allows a dialogue to continue. If I am too busy hating people for what they believe then I cannot show the love of Jesus to them. Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you cannot love them.” We as Christians are too busy judging others rather than loving them.

It’s one thing to criticize and another to share solutions. I think there are many things we can do as Christians. I strive to live my life according to words that St. Francis of Assisi is purported to have spoken, “Preach Jesus always and when necessary use words.” As I said earlier, I have participated in Friday prayers at a local mosque on several occasions. I look forward to participating them in the future. The result of my participation? An open dialogue between myself and Muslims. I have learned more about the Islamic faith through these conversations then I ever knew. I appreciate their faith to the point that I have developed a new respect for their beliefs. Earlier, I stated clearly my beliefs but that doesn’t mean that I cannot respect another person’s beliefs either. Instead, I have a better understanding in which to engage in conversation.

It is the conversation that is the key to the whole issue. If we talk with one another, we begin to see as others see and we can no longer judge them in our ignorance. A remarkable thing happens – we understand them and we see that others, though they may believe differently, are really not that different from us.

The passage from Mark I quoted earlier comes in a larger periscope in which Jesus is teaching that it is okay if other people cast out demons in his name. After all, we are all salt just different flavors. What if we begin to see other faiths as yet another flavor of salt. I know there is only one way to God but there are many ways to Jesus.

In my mind interfaith relations are loving people – all people mind you – as Jesus did. It is through that love that we being to let the light of Jesus shine (the other part of the salt) and we begin to truly do the work of God in this world. Let’s not judge others but love others. Let our love shine as a light and let our salt of faith flavor all we do.

 

 

Timothy Baranoski is an ordained minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and a US Army Reserve Chaplain. He is happily married to Lisa with a 4 year old daughter. A lover of all things Starbucks, a history junkie and slightly irreverant, he blogs at thetimothyblog.wordpress.com and randomly tweets with @Timbski13.

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Dialogue or Debate?

Last spring, there was a public conversation between atheist John Loftus and Christian Dinesh D’Souza on my campus.  It was well-publicized and well-attended – packing the 1,936 seat auditorium with an audience from all walks of life.

Such a buzz, however, produced little.  It took the form of a debate: a minister-turned-atheist who attempted to use his vast education in the Christian tradition to legitimize his conclusions about the nonexistence of God and an academic Christian who presented his faith with an air of intelligence and logic.

Their banter got my thoughts churning about why I believe what I believe, but I walked out of the auditorium the same person I was when I entered – although perhaps a little more frustrated.  And at many points during the debate, especially when their exchange began to seep into ad hominem attacks instead of formal debate, I wondered what the hundreds of students here were hoping to accomplish by attending.

Interfaith work, rooted in respectful dialogue, presents a different kind of conversation about religion.  My friend Chris Stedman, a secular humanist, once said:

“This is the difference between dialogue and debate: debate is sharing in hopes of convincing; dialogue is sharing and listening in hopes of increasing understanding. In my opinion, we need more of the latter and less of the former.”

I agree with Chris.  And here’s why: history has shown us that little is accomplished in debate.  I’m willing to bet both sides of the issue, especially when that issue is the existence of God, walk out of the room more frustrated and annoyed than enlightened.  Dialogue, however, has the potential to inspire, build understanding, and develop relationships.

But let’s step back for a moment.  As an evangelical, I believe that the world needs to hear the message that my faith teaches.  I believe that it’s something of eternal consequence, and I believe that the loving approach to my neighbor is to communicate that message to them.  So when it comes to a choice between debate with the hope of convincing, and dialogue with the hope of increasing understanding, which do I choose?

For some time I would have chosen debate.  Naturally, an issue of eternal consequence carries a sense of urgency.  But since I began doing interfaith work, I have come to question the effectiveness of debate.  And I’ve heard it said that it is a symptom of insecurity that I’m not interested in arguing my faith’s validity against its greatest critics.  So is it a cop-out?

No, I choose dialogue because of my security in my faith.  I choose dialogue because it is an ally more powerful the soundest argument.  I choose dialogue because Jesus spread a message of love through listening, serving, and telling stories, not attacking, condemning or criticizing.  I choose dialogue because I believe that Jesus is the Truth and that understanding the truth is more powerful than being persuaded of it.

I have found that being a Christian in interfaith work does not mean putting evangelism on hold–no, it means understanding better what evangelism is all about, and taking the message of Jesus Christ to a table where ears are open and lives can be changed.

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