Tag Archives: Interfaith Engagement

Living the Gospel through Interfaith Cooperation

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I work in the Interfaith Center at University of North Florida in Jacksonville, FL. Several months back my boss and I met with a leader in the local LGBT community looking for ways to collaborate on student programming. In the meeting this leader was trying to better understand the purpose and vision of the Interfaith Center. In the process she asked how I identify myself religiously. I hesitated a moment before answering, then responded, “I identify as an Evangelical Christian.”
Why hesitate? Well, I wasn’t quite “out” at work as an Evangelical. Certainly my boss was mostly aware, but many of my students weren’t. For the most part my Evangelicalism wasn’t something I went around advertising – I don’t have a Jesus fish on my car nor do I wear cross necklace and I don’t (usually) blast Chris Tomlin from my office.

The LGBT community leader then stunned me with her follow up question: “What do you mean when you say you’re an ‘evangelical?'”

Why stunned? Well, I had never been asked this question before. Certainly I’d thought about it in my frantic attempt at articulating identity in seminary, but had certainly never been asked. So I hesitated, again, then said,

“When I say I’m an Evangelical, I mean that I believe there’s good news in Jesus for everyone.”

I admit that I was nervous about how this would be received as it was not my intention to proselytize in any way. But because I believe there’s good news in Jesus for everyone, if I’m being really honest with myself and others, I also want everyone to know Jesus.

We can get into questions about the meaning of salvation and eternity, the cross and the resurrection, grace, covenant, and all of that another time, but when I whittle it down to the lowest common denominator, everything (well okay, I’m a sinner so not everything) I do comes from my love for Jesus and my desire for others to know Christ.

Evangelical comes from the Greek evangelion which means “good news,” or gospel, so to be Evangelical is to be “of the good news” in word, deed and being.

What is the Good News?

The Good News, for me, is that God loves us.

We can make it more complicated than that, but for me the greatest news of all is that I am loved unconditionally by the creator of the universe simply for being; thus in being of that good news it is my responsibility to reflect the love of God to the best of my limited ability in all I do.

It is easy to generalize about any group of people and I am aware that Evangelicals have a reputation of being close-minded, hateful, ignorant, condescending and self-righteous. Assuming an individual person fits the generalized understanding about a group is much easier than building relationships and getting to know someone for who he or she truly is, but in my meeting with the LGBT community leader I was given the opportunity to speak for myself.

I felt loved and cared for when I was asked, “What do you mean when you say you’re an Evangelical?” I was put at ease and made more comfortable to enter into a conversation – and even friendship – with another person simply by being asked a question about my own self-understanding. It would have been quite easy to assume many things about me as and Evangelical as well as my views, beliefs, and understandings – but instead of holding onto potential presumptions, I was invited to speak for myself.

Jesus invites us into relationship with him because his love, his gospel, is relational. As a follower of Christ, I aim to do the same with others. Interfaith engagement provides me with ample opportunity to enter into relationships with people who are different from me, and to love others while existing in that difference.

Knowing that I feel loved when I’m given the space and opportunity to be known for who I am and who I understand myself to be, rather than be known by another’s presumption, motivates me to do the same for others.

That’s why I have joined the FLP ranks. I want to be part of a wider conversation that empowers Evangelicals to actively engage with this religiously diverse world in an authentic and open way, and invites all people – Christian and otherwise – to an honest conversation about religious and secular identity, and interfaith engagement. Thank you for reading FLP and I am excited to hear more about you!

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What My Southern Baptist Past Says About My Episcopal Present

cameron_cropI’ll confess: If I listed my relationship with Evangelicalism on my Facebook page, it would probably read “It’s Complicated.”

I grew up a Southern Baptist just outside Nashville, TN—the de facto headquarters for evangelical culture. In addition to being the home of country music, Nashville also lays claim to the Christian music industry, as well as other forms of Christian media such as Christian publishing houses Thomas Nelson, Abingdon Press, and LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Both the Southern Baptist Convention and most of the administrative offices of the United Methodist Church call Nashville home, as do the National Association of Free Will Baptists. The Gideons International—those guys who put Bibles in every hotel room—is also headquartered there. All this has earned it the nicknames “the Protestant Vatican” and the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.”

It’s not surprising, then, that I grew up enmeshed in the evangelical Christian subculture. I played in a band, and we toured around various churches leading “worship nights,” interspersing our own material in between the Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United covers. I’ve even worked at the Dove Awards—the contemporary Christian music version of the Grammys— multiple times and have met a good many artists in the Christian music industry.

If anyone was (by appearances, at least) a thoroughgoing evangelical, I was. Yet from a young age I wasn’t sure I completely owned the identity I had spent so much time embodying.

Just as college came knocking, I felt a call to ordained ministry. Naturally I assumed that this call included a trip to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lousiville, KY before heading into a life as an aspiring megachurch pastor—a prospect I did not find altogether inspiring. Disenchanted with the Southern Baptist church and the evangelical subculture itself, I stepped back from a possible vocation as a minister and instead focused my energies on my writing and my studies.

I then began to wander. I devoured as much as I could about other denominations and even other religious traditions. At the University of Illinois I floated from church to church, but nowhere really felt like home. I became involved in interfaith work and encountered for the first time a cross-section of the world’s diverse religious traditions.

It was in the midst of this tumultuous time in my life that I fell in love with the liturgy (and I’ll admit even some of the theology) of the Roman Catholic Church. But this was during the thick of the sex abuse scandals, and in addition to some other misgivings regarding Roman Catholic belief I could not so easily jettison my Protestant convictions.

The Episcopal Church filled this void for me, providing the richness of the liturgy with theology of the Reformation. It seemed like a “big tent” where evangelicals (such as the newly-consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby) could exist alongside progressives and where “high church” worship styles could intermingle with guitars and pianos. Though still informed and influenced by my evangelical roots, my faith has also been strengthened and enriched by the incorporation of Anglo-Catholic theology and practice propagated by the 19th century Oxford Movement.

This interesting combination is a part of my story—my own journey and perspective—that I hope to bring to the pages of FLP.

Perhaps because of my own meandering journey I possess a passion for building bridges of understanding between different communities, and jumped at the chance to found FLP with Greg back in 2010 to encourage the evangelical community to participate in interfaith engagement. How we share the gospel with others, how we live out the gospel in our lives—these are central to part of the Christian faith, whatever your stripe. I’m excited about FLP’s re-launch and the new conversations we hope to foster!

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