Tag Archives: headlines

Charles Worley Shows Us What Jesus Wouldn’t Do

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-damhorst/charles-worley-and-what-jesus-wouldnt-do_b_1559209.html.

I found it painful to watch the video (also below) that hit the web last week of North Carolina pastor Charles L. Worley expressing his particular view on President Obama’s recent announcement about same-sex marriage. Perhaps most disturbing is Worley’s suggestion that “lesbians, queers and homosexuals” be quarantined until they eventually die off from a lack of ability to reproduce — an idea that reeks of hate and contains echoes of genocide.

Gay marriage is an issue that divides our country, and President Obama’s new position on the matter promises to make it a central issue in the upcoming presidential election. But it’s also an issue that divides American Christianity.

Through my experiences as an interfaith organizer and a Christian, I have been blessed with relationships with people from many different traditions, perspectives and backgrounds. It’s also given me a unique perspective on my own tradition as I’ve worked with Christian ministries boasting political positions on both ends of the spectrum. As a result, I am witness to some congregations that are open and affirming and others which remain conservatively quiet.

To me, the matter at hand is not about whether I agree or disagree with a particular ministry’s position. However, the ministries I respect and admire are those which approach all people with a posture of love — a position antithetic to Charles L. Worley’s ideas.

It’s too often that the Christian perspectives heard around the world — whether as viral media or on the front page of the news — are those of radically bigoted leaders who fail to represent the Christ that I know. And Charles Worley reminds me of some of those embarrassments, like Terry Jones, the Florida Family Association or even Harold Camping. These instances in which my faith is so badly misrepresented remind me why the world needs interfaith cooperation.

Worley, as a matter of fact, gives me two reasons.

First, the face of Christianity that many see today is not an accurate picture of a compassionate Christ. If I and other Christians want to better represent our faith, we can only do so in a world where opinions are based on real relationships, not viral bigotry. The interfaith movement seeks to create such a world. This means increased opportunity for Christians to demonstrate, through dialogue and common action, that what Charles Worley is suggesting is exactly what Jesus wouldn’t do.

Second, Worley’s hate misrepresents Christians on both sides of the political debate over gay marriage. I’m not convinced that every denomination of Christianity will ever come to unanimous agreement on the morality question. However, at moments like this, the Christian Church must be prepared for intra-religious cooperation that seeks to overcome the language of hate with a language of love. Once again, we need the tools of the interfaith movement.

If you look in the right place, you’ll find many Christians apologizing for Charles Worley’s comments on behalf of our faith tradition. I, too, wish to echo this apology. But many also recognize that this incident is a call to action, and that we must reach across divides to practice radical hospitality.

Now is a time in which we are reminded that, as human beings, differences are not only present in our theological perspectives or the texts we consider sacred, but at many levels in human existence. And although we will not agree with each other on many levels, we must agree that bigotry cannot be tolerated. This instance is yet another reminder that an example of hate is a call to practice love.

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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.

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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 Harold Camping Taught me About Being a Christian

Harold Camping is still here.  For that matter, so am I.

The world’s population of Christians wasn’t “raptured” last Saturday night as 89-year-old civil engineer-turned Bible numerologist Harold Camping predicted, which leaves at least a few Christians dumbfounded, embarrassed, and several thousand dollars poorer.

Naturally, I didn’t buy-in to Camping’s game, which is seemingly directly contrary to Matthew 24:36, and I even took the time for a chuckle on Friday when a friend pointed out the post-rapture service Eternal Earthbound Pets.

But sadly, several believers were featured in the media this weekend as having spent their life savings on placards and advertisements to warn the world of a “Bible-guaranteed” May 21, 2011 apocalypse that Camping was “utterly, absolutely… absolutely convinced” was going to happen.

As a Christian, I’m embarrassed.  Here at Faith Line Protestants, Cameron and I like to talk about evangelism and our relationships with people of other faiths – opening a can of worms that we don’t necessarily know how to close.  But the sad demonstration by Camping and his followers this week has pointed once again to the thesis that Cameron and I are trying to articulate to other Christians:

It’s missing the point.

For all the media buzz and interviews I saw leading up to May 21, 2011, not once do I remember hearing the message of the kingdom of God – the message that Jesus was preaching.

It’s not a message that denies Jesus’ second coming or the notion of judgment.  It’s not a message that ignores the need to recognize one’s imperfections, the requirement of repentance, or the truth that redemption is found only in Christ.

But it is a message that talks about restoration, about compassion, about forgiveness.  It means restoration for the individual soul and the whole world.  And it’s so much more than a ticket to heaven (whether you’re boarding that train at Jesus’ second coming or via the more… traditional method).

As a Christian, I feel a responsibility to communicate to people of other faiths and traditions (including those of no faith at all) that the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was a message far greater than what Family Radio billboards were preaching.  In fact, I believe that when this message is communicated clearly and effectively, people of other faiths and traditions (including those of no faith at all) may even be interested in knowing more.  When it’s a message presented through scare-tactics however…

Gabe Lyons and Jonathan Merritt said it well in their reaction piece on the Washington Post’s On Faith:

It seems this charade provides both Christians and the watching world with a teachable moment. Christians need to recognize that fear-based conversion tactics may work on young children, but they rarely resolve rational thinkers’ long-term concerns about faith. Those who went running for the rapture must now sit to wrestle with the serious questions that plagued them before. We must learn that it’s easy to rile people up with future headlines of destruction, but it’s better to inspire people with God’s will for our lives in the present.

When Christians succumb to thinking that sees escape as the answer to the world’s brokenness, we know we’ve taken a wrong turn. Jesus didn’t shrink from talking about future realities, but it’s hard to ignore that he spent the majority of his life restoring brokenness, rather than running from it. Christians often become so focused on the afterlife that they stop investing in their current life. Harold Camping will have done us all a favor if this serves as a wake-up call to Christian escapists and fear-peddlers.

Restoring the brokenness, not running from it.  That’s the message I want my life to preach.

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Reflecting on the Death of Osama bin Laden

Screen capture from digital edition of The Daily Illini. May 2, 2011.

 

Sunday night found me fixed to my computer.  A friend’s email tipped me off to breaking news, so, naturally, I turned to the authority in up-to-the-minute news: Facebook.

A few hints of Osama bin Laden’s death had already leaked, and a Google search confirmed the rumor by sheer magnitude even before I landed on something reputable.  When I finally came to the live stream at whitehouse.gov and waited for the President to speak on the matter, I pondered what this means to our country – a symbol of terror and extremism finally put to rest.

Later, as I watched celebrations unfold in major cities across the country and on Facebook profiles around the globe, I quickly began to search for a place of deeper understanding in light of mixed emotions.

My faith teaches me to love my enemies.

Jesus said:
“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, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48.
So while my thoughts jump between September 11, 2001 and May 1, 2011, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve missed the point. 

The death of Osama Bin Laden is certainly a significant development in the global war on terror.  It is an incident that was long ago deemed necessary by those responsible for making such decisions, a task for which I thank God I am not responsible.  But we must not allow ourselves to believe that another murder is going to solve the problem.  There was no victory on May 1, 2011.

Destruction of our enemy, although perhaps necessary to quell the threat of terrorism in the present day, will only motivate a violent response and serve as fuel for the voices of evil that teach young children to kill others out of national pride or religion.  It will not prevent terrorism in the future.

If we want to destroy terrorism, our fight does not involve a gun or a missile.  It involves relationships. I have often mentioned Terry Jones, a Florida “pastor” who put the Koran on trial.  And often I ask — what if he had a Muslim friend?  How would his actions be different?

The same must be granted Osama bin Laden.  What if he had lived in a world where no one is portrayed as the “other,” where all are granted respect by default, where bigotry and prejudice did not exist?  What if he had a friend who could put a face, a name, a personality, or a life to the populations he has dedicated his life to destroying?  For a man who had become so evil, it would have had to begin early – before the ideology of extremism claimed him.

If you cut off the head, another will take its place.  But if you teach a generation the language of cooperation, the technique of service, and the power of love, then you train an army that will change our world to a more peaceful place.

As a Christian, I believe that the love Christ demonstrated is the key to bringing peace to the world.  And in Jesus that love manifested as compassionate service, was communicated through a story, and ultimately, profoundly demonstrated in personal sacrifice.  So let’s start in the same way – with acts of service, with compassion, with stories.  Let’s reach across faith lines and show the disciples of extremism that the differences which led them to destroy can inspire us to work together.

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To Bigotry, No Sanction

Image from the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm006.html)

A video hit the web like a brick last week: Orange County residents rallying outside of a Muslim fundraising dinner, shouting “go home,” “why don’t you go home and beat your wife?” and “Muhammad was a pervert.”  (The actual video has been removed from YouTube on copyright claims, but here’s an informative blog entry with a screen shot)

Equally astounding are the public officials shown speaking at events related to the protests – encouraging the voices of intolerance, billing it as American patriotism.

And while there are claims that some of the speeches were taken out of context, it doesn’t detract from the severity of this demonstration.  This is a demonstration of hate.

At one point in the video, a demonstrator yells: “never forget 9/11!”

Yet the faith of the Muslim Americans I know is no more similar to the faith of Islamic extremists than my faith is to that of Eric Rudolph or to other terrorists who have killed in the name of the God of the Bible.  And consider the children who are subject to the jeering–children who are American, who have never known another home but Orange County, California, USA, and who were now being called terrorists by their neighbors.

On the other side of the country, we watch as Peter King prepares to stage “radicalization hearings” on Capitol Hill, putting an entire faith community on trial.

Last Saturday, I attended a dinner hosted by Muslim Americans in my community to talk about love for God and love for the neighbor.  Tomorrow, I will go to work in a lab with Muslim Americans – a lab where we are investigating health technologies to benefit people all over the world.  I will attend class with Muslim American medical students who are studying hard in order to heal, not destroy.  And when I drive home, I will pass a mosque that is one of the strongest voices in Champaign-Urbana for helping those in need and unifying our community.

Yet on Capitol Hill, they are being investigated for terror.

So what is the Christian church to do?  What is our response?

We follow a God who not only said “love you neighbor” but also “love your enemies“.  Yet so many have chosen to take hate for the enemy and project it on to their neighbor.  Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, yet so many have turned in fear on those who would build dialogue and peace.

I am reminded of the words of President George Washington to Moses Seixas, warden of the Jewish synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (actually echoing Seixas’ words from an earlier letter):

For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

As my Muslim friends reminded me at last Saturday night’s dinner, it is the love of one’s neighbor – as Jesus preached – that compels us to make the words of Washington a reality more than 200 years later.

How will you respond?

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Reflections on a Snapshot of Religious Cooperation in Egypt

originally posted by @NevineZaki on Twitter

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t pay enough attention to what is going on in the world around me.  Typically, my eyes are fixed on a pair of computer screens: coding a problem for class on one, a half-composed e-mail sitting open on the other.  Or I’m wrapped up in a textbook, trying to stay awake, note cards scattered around me, studying for that next exam.  I’m an MD/PhD student, so perhaps I have an excuse.  But then again, maybe I don’t.

I do what I can to catch glimpses of the reality beyond my routine.  Which, at best, means grabbing my phone during a free minute or a boring lecture to skim a series of RSS feeds, tweets, and headlines.  This week, one tweet in particular caught my eye and caused me to sit back for a moment to reflect.

At the church where I grew up, there were a few older gentleman who consistently reminded us to be praying for our troops.  It gave me the impression that these fellas sat around all day with nothing else to do, so they made a hobby of following the men and women serving our country and risking their lives outside the States, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But I think that they were actually on to something.  There are bigger things going on in the world – things that, at the very least, deserve our prayerful attention.

Amidst the unrest in Egypt, a picture was tweeted across the globe this week, often with an #interfaith hash tag, showing Christians joining arms to protect Muslims during prayer.  This almost seemed to reciprocate the human shield formed around a Coptic Christmas mass just a few weeks ago by Egyptian Muslims as a protest against Islamic militants.

As I paused for another “what would Jesus do?” reflection, I began to realize what this act represented.  In a society where order is crumbling to the ground and protests are escalating to violence, what is more profound than a bold reminder that many Egyptians dream of a country where people of diverse backgrounds work together to preserve freedom?

As we’ve started to build Faith Line Protestants over the past few weeks, one theme has remained persistent in my thoughts: love your neighbor.  To me, defending another’s freedom to practice their faith – even when that faith is not your own – is an act of love.  As a citizen of a nation built on ideas like religious freedom, I realize the significance of this notion which, depicted in the picture above, inspires me as I pray for safety and peace in Egypt during the days ahead.

How does this inspire you?  Let us know by commenting here or sharing with us on our Facebook page.

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Living Christian in a Diverse World

Take a look at the New York Times today*.  I’m willing to bet you can find something in the front section about religion.  A bombing at a church in Egypt.  Violence in the West Bank.  Members of a new Gay-Straight Alliance being called “satanists” and “diseased” in a largely religious Utah.

As a Christian, reading the headlines almost always proves disheartening.  Religion appears in the public discourse most often as the subject of bickering, the negative side of a controversial social issue, the motivation for violence and destruction.  Yet my faith emphasizes peace, compassion, and mercy.

Faith Line Protestants is meant to be a discussion of Christianity in the real world.  And the reality of the real world is that it’s a place of religious diversity.  As Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core says: religious diversity can tend one of two ways – cooperation or conflict.  As a Christian coming of age in the 21st century, my religious upbringing certainly did not teach me to resolve difference with conflict – but did it really teach me how to do cooperation across boundaries of religious difference?

Patel speculated that the problem of the 21st century was going to be the “Faith Line” (for more, read The Faith Line) – the line that divides our country and highlights our conflict.  So what does it mean to be a Christian in a religiously diverse world?  What relevancy does the Faith Line represent to a follower of Jesus?  How does an exclusivist theological tradition and a call to evangelism reconcile with a charge to love your neighbor and be a peacemaker?  To use a cliche of my childhood: what would Jesus do in a world where people are being killed and killing because of faith?

My friend Adam, an atheist, once said something to the effect of: I’m getting so sick of reading the headlines about violence, economic turmoil, and political bickering.  It’s time we do something.  It’s time we create headlines that are about peace, cooperation, and action for the common good.

I’m with Adam on this one.  And I believe that, as a Christian, I have a role to play.  Faith Line Protestants is a discussion as we journey to understand what that role looks like – and I invite you to join in along the way.

* – This post was originally written in early January, 2011

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