Tag Archives: Interfaith Cooperation

Communicating Christ: Reflections from Northwestern University

Last Thursday, I had the great privilege of sharing my passion for interfaith cooperation with a group of evangelical students at Northwestern University’s Multi-Ethnic InterVarsity.

As I described the need for interfaith relationships to combat religious violence and tension, the barriers that keep evangelicals from engaging in interfaith work, and the ways in which interfaith cooperation allows us as Christians to communicate Christ with others, I was met with an encouraging response.

Afterwards, I chatted with one student who desires to build a sustainable project to serve the homeless in Northwestern’s surrounding community of Evanston, IL.  We talked about the great opportunity to grow the impact of one campus fellowship’s efforts by reaching out to student organizations of other faith traditions and creating an interfaith project to serve the homeless.

Another student reminded me of Jesus’ words in the New Testament: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” reflecting the notion in my faith tradition that, because I am a Christian, my life reflects a quality that no other’s does, and that simply living a life motivated by the example of Christ, I am providing a witness to the core values of my faith.  How exciting, then, to follow the example of Christ by serving others in an interfaith context?

These conversations are the first steps in changing the broader evangelical perspective on a religiously diverse world.  We must tell the stories of positive interaction between faith communities, cast the vision for a world where inter-religious conflict is overcome by enriching relationships, and encourage opportunities to show Christ to the world through our actions.

This gets me thinking.  How would the global church be different if our youth groups organized service projects in their communities with groups from the nearby mosque or temple?  What if our campus fellowships coordinated social events with religious student organizations from other faith traditions?  What if our churches were more hospitable to their neighboring congregations?  What if religious leaders, clergy, and secular leaders alike were getting together to talk about how we can better meet the needs of our communities?

Would we, as Christians, be seen differently?  Would we spend less time quarreling about church budgets and communion practices and more time living, serving, and loving?  Would we be communicating the love of Jesus in a clearer, more effective way?

I think so.  What do you think?

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Where We’re Headed: Beginning a Conversation on Evangelism and Interfaith Work

Faith Line Protestants was born early one Friday morning at a coffee shop at the University of Illinois.  Cameron and I had just represented the U of I at the IFYC‘s Interfaith Leadership Institute in Washington D.C., and had realized we had something in common– an evangelical perspective on interfaith work.

So as we talked over coffee, we shared our experiences: church congregations that quarreled amongst themselves more than they served others, evangelism strategies that made sharing the gospel seem unnatural and awkward, and the excitement of interfaith work as a new arena for living out our faith.

Hoping to change the discussion regarding interfaith and the evangelical Christian community, we decided to start writing about our thoughts and experiences.  But that’s not because we have it all figured it out.  Cameron and I have discovered something exciting in interfaith work: a practical model for inter-religious cooperation which suggests that religious violence can be ended, social issues can be addressed, and meaningful relationships can be established between disparate peoples.

Though at first we thought we’d be simply making the case for interfaith involvement, we’re really beginning a journey of exploring the intersection of interfaith work and evangelism.  There seems to be an unnecessary tension between the Biblical imperatives to “make disciples of all nations” and to “love your neighbor,” to proselytize and to practice respect.  Individually convinced by the reasons for interfaith involvement discussed in our previous posts, we’ve dived in and have been unpacking this tension along the way.

While we don’t yet have a thorough way of articulating our discoveries, we realize that we are compelled to be not just participants, but leaders of interfaith cooperation.  And we would like to suggest that honest participation in interfaith work might even be a better witness than many of the “best practices” for evangelism which we have been taught through our Christian education.

This is a call to other evangelicals who are sick of seeing the man on the quad, holding a sign that says “God hates gays” and yelling about an impending hell.  It is a call to those who struggle with the awkwardness of forced spiritual discussions and cold-turkey proselytization.  It is a call to those who desire to make known the love of Christ in a genuine way.

We move forward with further discussion on the evangelism-interfaith tension; we have stories of relationships and convictions, frustrations and inspirations.  We’ll look to current events and Biblical themes for an understanding of how and why we approach interfaith work as evangelicals.  You are invited to respond, to argue, and to discover with us.

 

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Photo by pop catalin (http://www.sxc.hu/profile/catalin82)

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Feeding the Hungry: an Example that Compels us Toward Interfaith Work

Just over a year ago I was on a train home to visit my parents in the Chicago suburbs when my cell phone rang. It was my mother, who was calling to gauge my interest in a family service project packaging meals for Haiti.

Envisioning a room somewhere in a church basement with a pile of canned goods, miscellaneous boxes, and a junior high youth group, I was shocked when we walked into a former hardware store in Elgin, IL to roughly 1,000 energized volunteers filling box after box with packages of a nutritious rice, soy, vegetable, and vitamin blend – all the while chatting and dancing excitedly.

Somewhere along the way, the excitement caught me. Coming from a student organization at the University of Illinois–Interfaith in Action–with a rich history of organizing service projects, I wanted to see such an endeavor staged on my campus.

This is where the story of interfaith cooperation catches fire.

I brought the idea to a small group of friends – the “executive committee” that organized Interfaith in Action’s programs. We were an Evangelical Christian, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and a Humanist, and we set out to plan an event at which our campus could package these meals for Haiti.

I got a hold of the cell phone number for Rick McNary, founder of Numana, Inc., with whom I discussed the logistics of the project. We started a search for facilities to host the event, the money to fund the event, and the volunteers to staff the event. During the process, we connected with the regional office of the Salvation Army who connected us with the local corps at the same time that a phone call from Washington, D.C. out of the Salvation Army World Service Office confirmed that a federal grant was going to fund our project.

With that, a community-wide, multi-faith endeavor was born. The event was moved to an abandoned Hobby Lobby building on the west side of Champaign and staff from Numana, Inc. flew in prepare for the event.

In a single weekend, 5,112 volunteers from every walk of life, faith and philosophical tradition passed through that site to lend a hand. In less than 12 hours, 1,012,640 meals were packaged for shipment to Haiti where they were protected by the 82nd airborne and distributed by Salvation Army humanitarian workers.

This is a story of coming together, it’s a story of cooperation, and it’s a story of interfaith work. As an evangelical, this is a snapshot of how I desire to live out my faith. To do so alongside people who I desire to show the compassion of Jesus makes it an even more compelling endeavor.

Jesus said “I was hungry and you brought me something to eat.” Consider the significance of inviting others to join in such an activity. If you ask me, this is a simple yet profound way to communicate the compassion of Christ, meet the needs of the world, and build a better community.

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More photos of the Million Meals for Haiti event in Champaign,  IL can be found here or by navigating www.uiucinterfaith.org.

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What Being a Peacemaker Really Looks Like

In the introduction to his book, Acts of Faith, Eboo Patel opens with an account of the trial of Eric Rudolph.  Though perhaps most known for detonating bombs at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Rudolph also bombed several other sites in the two years following the Olympics before he went into hiding in the Appalachian wilderness.  Patel describes how Rudolph showed no remorse for his actions:

“In fact, Rudolph is proud and defiant.  He lectures the judge on the righteousness of his actions.  He gloats as he recalls federal agents passing within steps of his hiding place.  He unabashedly states that abortion, homosexuality, and all hints of ‘global socialism’ still need to be ‘ruthlessly opposed.’  He does this in the name of Christianity, quoting from the New Testament: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’”

Rudolph faced a world different from the one he had constructed in his mind.  The moral code he had internalized didn’t match with what he saw going on around him.  And he decided that the way to reconcile these differences was to murder and destroy.

I believe we all face the crisis that Eric Rudolph faced.  When our faith traditions provide guidelines for what is right and wrong, we will encounter others who live by a different standard.  We will find those with whom we disagree.  The tension may be moral, theological, or preferential.

So how do we respond?  Thankfully, very few respond the way Eric Rudolph did.  For Christians, the Bible provides clear direction on why Rudolph’s actions were wrong.  But I know many Christians who would respond with violence of another form.  A violence that others do not see, but exists nonetheless.  I know because I’m guilty of such violence as well.

I’m referring to the violence we commit in our hearts – the judgment we pass as we perceive someone in an act of “wrongdoing,” the pride we feel when we interpret our lives to be more excellent than another’s, the righteousness upon which we gloat as others fall below our personal standards.  While such responses are devoid of the violence that placed Rudolph in prison with four consecutive life terms, they also lack the quality that could have caused Rudolph to build bridges instead of bombs: love.

The Bible tells the story of Jesus and a man named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).  Zacchaeus was a tax collector (and possibly a cheating one at that) and the sort of man about whom others muttered under their breath (Luke 19:7).  Whether it was his fault or not, you might say that Zacchaeus was the kind of person with whom religious people disagreed.  But instead of joining in the muttering, Jesus invited himself to be Zacchaeus’ guest, shocking those around him who would rather criticize Zacchaeus than associate with him.

What if Eric Rudolph had a real understanding of the Christian faith instead of a warped understanding of justice?  Imagine how this world would be different if he had pursued peace instead of violence, but with the same determination.  Instead of building bombs, he would have been building relationships, instead of lashing out with violence, he would have been reaching out through service.

In a famous sermon depicted in the New Testament, Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).  I believe that when Christians build relationships instead of condemning those with whom we don’t agree (whether it is morally or theologically), we are being peacemakers.  In a world where violence is used too often to solve issues of religious difference, our faith compels us to be at the forefront of making peace.

Thus, we are also compelled to be interfaith leaders.  And remarkably, when we create interfaith relationships, we find that there is plenty about which we do agree.  These are not realizations that blur the boundaries between religions, but understandings that we are better working together for positive change.  When we are building bridges instead of bombs – that is when we are peacemakers.

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Bridge photo by ivanmarn (http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ivanmarn)

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A Love Like Christ, a Reflection: What We Can Learn From Egypt’s Uprising

originally posted by @NevineZaki on Twitter.

The media has swollen with stories about the protests in Egypt—millions marching for freedom and peace, the internet being shut down, and, most recently, Anderson Cooper bludgeoned by angry Mubarak-supporters. Even to a reader who likes to keep abreast of world affairs, I must admit that I still don’t fully understand the complex cultural workings that led to this enormous protest, being admittedly rather ignorant to Egyptian political life. It seems that every five minutes, a new take on the whole affair appears on the news sites I follow.

But, while skimming through my Twitter feed a couple of days ago, I caught the image above sent in a link by one of my friends at the IFYC, and it had a profound impact on me. It was an image of poignant truth, yet simple to understand. Regardless of the political motivations behind the movement, the implication of US diplomacy, or the expected outcome of all that has occurred, I could not help but be moved.

Greg’s post on this photo mentioned his great appreciation for Jesus’ exhortation to “Love your neighbor.” These words come from Luke 10:27, in which Jesus says that the two most important commandments from God are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Later, St. Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, echoes love’s importance when he describes its qualities, saying:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

It was Jesus who loved us so deeply that he died for our sins—the demonstration of a love that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In the outstretched arms of these young Egyptian Christians I see the same kind of love. And, in a way, they stand in imitation of Christ, bearing their hearts to the world.

What is more profound than this—Christians mimicking the sacrificial love of Christ in such a poignant way?

The people in this photo look my age. As I reflected on what they were doing, I had to ask myself: would I do that, too? Faced with the threat of violence and death, would I link arms with my fellow believers in order to let those of another faith pray to their god? Though I fear my cowardice, I should hope I would rise to the occasion, and I would hope they would do the same. In fact, as Greg mentioned in his post, they already did, back at Christmas when Muslims stood as human shields outside of an Alexandrian church in solidarity against militant extremists.

The love demonstrated in this photograph is a powerful one, one that moves me and motivates me. The bonds of such a love are strong, elemental, transcendent. What compelled the Muslims to defend their Christian neighbors later compelled Christians to reciprocate. How does this motivate you? Does it cause you to reflect on your faith as it did me?

Paul continues in his letter to the Corinthians. His words ring powerfully in my mind as I consider the photograph above:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

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