Tag Archives: Interfaith

On Franklin Graham’s Facebook Post: Where is the Grace?

Where is the grace?

On Saturday Franklin Graham posted the following to his facebook page:

Franklin Graham

Billy Graham was a big part of my childhood. I remember seeing him speak in Columbus, Ohio as a young child at Clippers Stadium – Columbus’ minor league baseball stadium. I also remember watching him on television with my parents. Billy Graham had a significant role in the spiritual development of my dad and so I have always had fond feelings toward the Grahams in general.

Franklin Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse does wonderful humanitarian work around the world. I have friends who have worked for the organization and I find what they do inspiring. I love that Samaritan’s purse takes the Gospel’s call to serve “the least of these” seriously and uses the influence and privilege of the Graham name to raise financial support in order to serve more people.

In light of all of that, you can understand my disappointment in Franklin Graham’s now well-known Facebook post.

I’m not even going to address what he says in his post regarding the treatment of the Japanese by the U.S. government during World War II. Pointing out the audacity of this comparison would be redundant and unnecessary since American hindsight has shown how unjust the treatment of Japanese Americans was during that time.

Instead I wish to address the lack of grace found in my Christian brother’s words.

Where is the grace?

The most powerful and penetrating aspect of the Gospel, of Jesus’ life on Earth, or Christ’s saving reign, is grace.

What is grace?

Brandan Robertson recently wrote a piece called “What’s so Offensive about Grace?” in which he says the following about grace:

“[I]f we’re trying to our lives by Grace, we’re not only called to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us, but to go far beyond that.

Beyond merely absolving them of their wrongs.

Beyond merely letting go of the laundry list of offenses we have against them.

To blessing them. Not with mere words. But with lived action.

Grace not only forgives a thief, it let’s them keep everything that they stole and offer them the golden candlesticks as well.

Grace not only extends mercy to a murderer, it offers them the mental, spiritual, and financial support they need to reform their life and have a legitimate second chance.

Grace not only pardons a terrorist, but it helps them discover love, find hope, and begin a new life with a clean slate.

That’s what Grace does.

It’s radical.”

I love the way Brandan describes grace here. It points to the fact that grace transcends our natural human inclination to look out for ourselves, to claim everything as our own, and to otherize those whom are different or those with whom we disagree. Grace calls us to be bold and embrace the people we fear.

Mr. Graham’s Facebook post reeks of fear and it assumes that our citizenship in America is valuable. He seems to forget that as Christians, our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God which is both present and yet to come. In light of our Kingdom citizenship, we shouldn’t worry about who belongs in the U.S. and who doesn’t – we should be focused on bringing others to the Kingdom, or even bringing the Kingdom to others.

In many ways this seems to be what Samaritan’s Purse does. Under “About Us” on their homepage, it says,

“After sharing the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said “Go and do likewise.” That is the mission of Samaritan’s Purse—to follow the example of Christ by helping those in need and proclaiming the hope of the Gospel.”

For me, one of the lessons of the Good Samaritan is that as the “people of God” we constantly fail at being the face of God’s grace to others (especially to those of other faiths). Jesus recognized that those who are supposed to be the very best example of righteousness, of God’s work in the world, will fail.

In Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite – two people who are supposed to represent the epitome of God’s truth and light in the world – choose not to help a traveler who has been left for dead. Instead, a Samaritan, someone who is both an ethnic and religious “other” of Jesus, is the one who represents God’s grace in this story – the one that does right and cares for the stranger through the giving of himself, his time, and his money.

After Jesus finishes his story, he asks, “Which of these three [the Samaritan, the priest, or the Levite], in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” We hear the answer from those present, “The one who treated him with mercy.” To which Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.”

Where is the mercy in Franklin Graham’s post? Where is the grace?

Franklin Graham assumes that as Christians in the U.S. we have some kind of moral superiority over Muslims and that only Muslims have the potential to be radicalized. There is a lot of history that illustrates as Christians, we have that same potential. “Graham calls us to pray for men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.” Of course this is important – but why not call us to pray for our Muslim neighbors – to pray for their protection, as well? Where is the grace?

I am not discussing Franklin Graham’s Facebook post here as a way of holding him at arm’s length so that my Christian faith might not be identified with his. I am not criticizing Franklin Graham in order to chastise him.

Instead I offer Franklin Graham’s words to you, and to myself, as a mirror.

Who do we otherize? Who do we scapegoat? Who do we refuse to show mercy to? How often do we fail at breathing grace into the lives of others?

Don’t point the finger at others, or in this case Franklin Graham, in an effort to make yourself feel like a better Christian. Instead use this as an opportunity to ask yourself – are the words I say, and the actions I make, a reflection on the grace of the Gospel?

“But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving,” 2 Corinthians 8:7.

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3 Goals for the New Year

I know that New Year’s was last week, but if you’re like me, you might be little late setting goals for 2015. Many people commit to losing weight or being more active at the start of a New Year, but I think there is also a great opportunity to reflect on our lives as Christians and set goals for walking more closely with God.

Here are three goals from scripture that I hope to follow in the New Year:

1)    Do not put the LORD your God to the test (Matt 4:7)

When we set specific expectations for God to help us in particular ways, or bring us new opportunities, or make something better in our lives, we are testing God and setting ourselves up for disappointment. As Christians, we know that Jesus did not abandon us in his death on the cross, but rose to new life so that we might also share in the promises of the Kingdom of Heaven. We celebrated God’s coming into the world on Christmas and we know that God continues to be with us in all moments and in all aspects of our lives through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet we often test the presence and work of God by praying for specific outcomes or solutions–I know I do. And testing God in this way can make us blind to the unexpected and remarkable ways God works in the world.

As a seminary student, I can sometimes feel confused or conflicted about the things I learn and the conversations I have with my classmates. For a long time this semester I was praying for God to move in my courses and to help me find ways to feel more connected to my classmates. I didn’t feel like God was responding to my prayers and I felt frustrated. It wasn’t until I had a long phone conversation with a Jewish friend of mine from college. She and I vented together about our struggles in graduate school and laughed out loud about some of the ridiculous (and frustrating) experiences we were having. For whatever reason, that conversation lifted something in me that allowed me to go back to school with renewed energy and fresh insight. Nothing actually changed in my school life, but I realized later that God had answered my prayers in an unexpected way. I wonder how many times God has worked in my life and I have missed it because I have been testing, or waiting for God to respond my way.

2)    Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven (Matt 5:16)

As a student it is easy for me to theorize and theologize, but it is much harder to put my thoughts and beliefs into action. The question I want to ask myself this year is: how will I share my Christian faith with others? If it is only by the cross around my neck, or my attendance at church, or what I know about Christian thought and practice, then I have missed a big part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We should be able to show our faith through our actions and how we treat others. I think about the story of the Good Samaritan and I wonder how often I have passed by opportunities to help others because of racial, religious, or cultural differences. I wonder what opportunities I have missed to receive help from others because of those same differences.

Jesus seems to imply that when we do good, the people around us will recognize the power and grace of God. This year I want to commit to letting my actions speak louder than my thoughts and words. Whether it is standing in solidarity with people of color who are targets of police brutality, or smiling at a Muslim woman wearing a hijab on the subway who is receiving skeptical stares from other passengers, or listening with care and sincerity to the stories of people who are radically different than myself–I want to strive to do good for the sake of bringing greater glory to God.

3)    Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt 11:28)

Life is tiring and sometimes school work, regular work, friends, family, and all of the challenges of life can feel overwhelming. Sometimes I have so many questions and concerns that it is hard to fall asleep at night. This year, I want to commit to giving my questions and my burdens to God. You might be thinking: easier said than done. I feel like that a lot. But God promises us to give us rest from our hardships. Jesus offers himself to us and allows us to rest in the knowledge that he can handle even our most difficult situations. Jesus invites us to fall into his arms and rest. I want to commit to accepting God’s grace and resisting the pride that makes me feel as if I can handle everything on my own. For many around the globe, 2014 was a year of tragedy, loss, and frustration. What to do in the face of unexplainable, or insurmountable struggle is not easy to figure out on one’s own.

At my school last semester, students strived to figure out how to respond to the threats of police brutality in black and brown communities in our city, New York. As I watched students pray and cry and ask God for guidance, I realized how little I am sometimes willing to do this in my own life. Eventually what was born on our campus was a thoughtful and coordinated response of peaceful organizing, bold action, and open dialogue. Students did not just give their problems to God and pray for peace of mind; they offered their sadness and anger to God and received insight and renewed energy for action.

I wonder how I can seek rest and refuge in the knowledge of God’s grace and how God might take my burdens and offer me opportunities or new perspectives and new action in 2015.

So these are some of my goals for the New Year. What are your goals? How do you hope to strengthen your relationship to God this year? How will you commit to embracing God’s creation, striving for God’s justice on earth, and seeking the personal strength to let the light of Christ shine in you in all that you do? This year, 2015, will be different for each of us, but the mission of knowing God, serving God, and striving for God’s Kingdom is the same for all of us–sometimes setting goals can make our path a little clear.

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Take the #ScriptureChallenge

Today’s Guest Post on Faithline Protestants is by Nick Price and a follow-up piece to a couple of posts Nick wrote in the last few weeks. Nick is currently a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and is a former staff member for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. As an Evangelical Christian, Nick feels called by his faith to encourage Evangelical Christian participation in the interfaith movement. Nick was profiled in a video by 30 Good Minutes, in which he discusses his faith as an Evangelical and his commitment to interfaith work. He was also invited to write series for RELEVANT Magazine, in which he shared his Christian convictions for doing interfaith work. Nick is also the author of Prodigal Preacher, a blog that explores his experiences in seminary, where he wrote a 3 part series outlining his own theology of interfaith cooperation.

 

Religious illiteracy is a problem. Books and research have shown that a majority of Americans are becoming increasingly illiterate when it comes not only to their own faith traditions, but also when it comes to the religion of others. The result is increasing fear and mistrust of people from other faith traditions as well as an inability to articulate your own faith to those from other religious backgrounds.

So this is my small attempt to correct this problem. Welcome to the #ScriptureChallenge!!!

Like the famous (infamous?) #IceBucketChallenge, the #ScriptureChallenge is a chance to raise awareness. But this time it is a chance to raise awareness about another faith tradition. Here is how the #ScriptureChallenge works.

Step 1: Commit to reading through your own Scriptures within a year. For my fellow Christians, this means reading through 3 chapters of the Bible a day. This should get you most of the way through the Bible in 365 days.

Why is this important? It is important to have a robust understanding of your own faith tradition as you interact with those of other religious traditions. It allows you to find common ground as well as know how to articulate your differences.

Step 2:   Read through the Scriptures of another faith tradition within a year, pairing it with another book from that tradition to provide you with some context.

For example, I have decided that, in order to better understand my Muslim neighbors, I am going to read through the Qur’an. As my partner book, I will also read through Farid Esack’s The Qur’an: A User’s Guide in order to better acquaint myself with this rich text.

For those who want to learn about my own faith tradition, I would recommend reading through the Bible and pairing it with, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth or How to Read the Bible Book-By-Book: A Guided Tour.

Step 3: Nominate some friends to do it with you. Personally, I’m nominating the rest of the Faithline Protestants writers to take this challenge with me. Make sure you encourage them to write down what they are reading.

Step 4:  Tweet, Facebook, and hashtag it!!! #ScriptureChallenge

My hope is that we will all learn something, both about our own faith traditions, but also about the faith traditions of those around us. Let the challenge begin!!!

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Reframing our view of Religious Terrorism

Today’s Guest Post on Faithline Protestants is by Nick Price and a follow-up piece to a post Nick wrote last week. Nick is currently a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and is a former staff member for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. As an Evangelical Christian, Nick feels called by his faith to encourage Evangelical Christian participation in the interfaith movement. Nick was profiled in a video by 30 Good Minutes, in which he discusses his faith as an Evangelical and his commitment to interfaith work. He was also invited to write series for RELEVANT Magazine, in which he shared his Christian convictions for doing interfaith work. Nick is also the author of Prodigal Preacher, a blog that explores his experiences in seminary, where he wrote a 3 part series outlining his own theology of interfaith cooperation.

SETTING THE STAGE
There is a major world religion that very few of us have spent any time studying. Though it has made a profound impact on world history, it is often ignored or overlooked. Over 1500 years old, it has spread from the Middle East to such far-flung places as Africa, Asia, and Europe. And while its adherents can be found in almost every major country, many of them live below the poverty line, fighting to survive on day-to-day subsistence living.

A monotheistic faith, it has rich theological, philosophical, and artistic expressions. Sadly, most of its followers live in ignorance of this fact, believing God to be a harsh and angry judge who punishes unbelievers and sinners in the afterlife. This ignorance is further reinforced by the fact that both its Scriptures and its worship are read and carried out in a language that most of its own people cannot read or understand. As such, the majority of this religion’s followers rely on the interpretations and teaching from a few educated religious leaders.

In abuse of their position of influence, several of these leaders have preached a version of the faith that encourages violence against those of other faith traditions. They impose harsh taxes on those of other monotheistic faiths and crowd them into ghettos and restricted communities. They execute those deemed heretics and burn their writings in an effort to purify the faith.

But these power hungry clerics are not content. So they rally their followers to wage a holy war against another sovereign nation, one that is rich and whose citizens include people from a variety of religious traditions, cultures, and people groups. These violent clerics’ goal is, ultimately, to overthrow this country and impose their own harsh view of their religion upon its inhabitants, even upon their fellow believers who do not share their own narrow and violent views. Their rallying cry is, “Convert or die!”

Sadly, many of this religion’s followers have taken up the battle cry, having been told that dying in this holy war guarantees them eternal life in paradise and the blessings of God in heaven. And so they march off to battle—men from every socio-economic and cultural background—united by their zeal for holy war.

The religion is Christianity during the Middle Ages. The target is Jerusalem.

Why do I bring this up? Earlier this week I posted a column entitled ISIS & The War on Islam. Not surprisingly it caused a bit of stir. One of the common responses that I received was from fellow Christians who continued to argue that Islam is an inherently violent religion and that ISIS is nothing more than the latest expression of this ingrained hostility.

As such, I thought it would be worthwhile to respond to some of these criticisms by reminding us, as Christians, of our own background and noting some of the parallels between what we see in groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda and what happened during the Middle Ages with Christianity and the Crusades.

SIDENOTE: STOP COMPARING HOLY WARS

Now, before I get too far into this comparison, let me start by addressing a common objection that I have heard over and over again. It goes something like this: “The [medieval] Muslims struck first and conquered the vast majority of the Mediterranean. Besides, they attacked and conquered far more territory than the Christians ever did.” Yes, yes, I have seen your YouTube videos and I have heard this argument.

But let’s get down to brass tax; holy war is holy war, whether being waged by Christians or Muslims. It is all-around bad news. While some people may want to make the Muslims seem like the only bad guys, keep in mind that the Christians of medieval Europe were just as bent on destroying Muslims in the Middle Ages as the Muslims were on conquering the Christians. The only difference is that the Muslim armies were better trained, unified, and led than the ragtag Christian forces that marched off to the Middle East. So it wasn’t for a lack of zeal that the Crusades never ultimately succeeded.

So rather than arguing in circles about who started what and how much territory so-and-so conquered, let’s focus on the bigger picture. The truth is that most Christians (maybe with the exception of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson) think that the Crusades were a bad idea. We, as Christians, recognize that the Crusades were not reflective of what it means to be a follower of Christ, and we are right to repudiate and denounce this dark chapter in our history. We recognize that what spurred on the Crusader mentality was a lot of ignorance, fear, bad theology, economic distress, and the propaganda campaigns of some of the clergy.

ISIS IS NOT ISLAM

So what does this have to do with groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda? Well, quite a bit actually. Muslims number over 1.6 billion. That is roughly 23% of the world’s population. Yet the vast majority does not even live in the Middle East. In fact, the country with the largest number of Muslims is India and the nation with the largest Muslim majority, by percentage, is Indonesia. Islam’s central Scripture, the Qur’an, is written in Arabic. Yet, for most Muslims, Arabic is not their primary language. Finally, if figures are accurate, then the majority of Muslims live in underdeveloped or developing nations. They make ends meet on less that $1 a day, like much of the rest of the world.

So what happens when you have well-funded clerics from more extremist countries telling the rest of the Muslim world that what it means to be faithful to the teachings of Islam is to participate in open war against the West? You get groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda: organizations that actively recruit young people who are disgruntled, often economically poor, or just looking for purpose in an increasingly complex and confusing world.

But this does not mean that this is the truest expression of Islam. Islam is a faith tradition that is rich and complex. It has made a profound impact on world history, enriching the arts and the sciences, even during the medieval period. As such, we must become conversant with the rich history and legacy of this faith tradition. It is worth it to spend some time studying books about Islamic history and theology. It is important to learn from and read well-educated Muslim leaders and scholars as they articulate their faith to the world in ways that are reflective of their religious tradition.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that the majority of Muslims are not violent. They are doctors, business owners, policemen, professors, peace activists, and politicians. They are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters who love their families and who serve their neighborhoods. They are our neighbors and our friends, our co-workers, clients, and service providers.

So let’s not lump them in with the psychopaths that we see on television. Let’s not step on their faith tradition by equating it with those terrorists who would seek to hijack the name “Islam” for their own sordid ends. Rather, let us let them define what Islam truly looks like. Let’s listen to their stories and seek to understand their faith tradition through their own eyes.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a theology professor who said, “One of the greatest disciplines you can pursue is learning to see the world from someone else’s perspective.” I would encourage us to do likewise with our Muslim neighbors by honestly asking ourselves the question, “What is it about Islam that makes it so attractive that it would make people like my friends and neighbors want to follow it?”

SHIFTING THE PARADIGM: CALLING TERRORISM WHAT IT IS

One of the common objections that I have heard from people goes something like this: “Well yeah, there are nonviolent Muslims, but these people aren’t really being true to the religion of Muhammad. They are the liberals.”

First of all, not only is this insulting to the majority of Muslims around the world, but it is also not true. I’m hesitant to label the temperate movements within Islam “liberal” because there are many conservative Muslims who are non-violent as well. I think a wonderful example of this is the work that Sheikh Hamza Yusuf is doing through Zaytuna College in Berkley, California.

Zaytuna was founded “to help revive Islam’s educational and intellectual legacy and to popularize traditional learning among Western Muslims.” Its goal is to develop Muslim leaders “with the cultural literacy to tend to the spiritual and pastoral needs of American Muslims.” They do this by teaching the traditional Islamic sciences. It is a conservative institution through and through. Yet its founder, Sheikh Hamza, has also been an outspoken critic against groups like ISIS and has actively worked for peace and nonviolence over the course of his distinguished career. What this shows us is that just as there are liberal and conservative Christians who are nonviolent, there are also liberal and conservative Muslims who are nonviolent.

A better distinction would be to learn the common threads that all violent religious groups share in common and label them for what they are: terrorists. There is a huge body of literature out there that highlights the fact that religious extremists of every stripe—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.—share many of the same characteristics in terms of their values and aims. Someone who has done some great research on this is Jessica Stern in her book Terror in the Name of God. Likewise, it is worth it to read Landscapes of Jihad by Faisal Devji, as he paints a powerful picture of what actually drives extremists like Al-Qaeda and how they actively recruit people into their movement.

Again, my hope is that we can redefine this struggle as one that is not between Islam and everyone else, but rather as that between terrorists and the rest of the world. This is not about Islam. This is not about Muslims. This is about a group of violent psychopaths who want to destroy anyone—including Muslims—who does not agree with their own narrow brand of pseudo-religion.

My hope and prayer is that we, as Christians, would begin to stand with our Muslim neighbors in denouncing these violent fanatics and do so in a way that does not demonize and ostracize our friends.

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3 Reasons Evangelicals Don’t Do Interfaith Dialogue & 3 Ways Forward

FLP is excited to feature a guest blog by Josh Daneshforooz. Josh is an author and international speaker on leadership, peacemaking and personal development. Author of the Loving Our Religious Neighbors curriculum, he spearheads social change campaigns between disparate religious communities. Josh is also founding partner at East Africa Property Partners and founder of All Nations Education, an organization that empowers young adults through mentorship and higher education in developing countries.

“Evangelicals are consistently the most difficult community with whom we attempt to collaborate,” an executive of a well-respected interfaith organization recently told me on a phone call.

As I’ve become increasingly engaged in the movement for peace among different faith communities, I’ve noticed there’s one regularly absent Christian community: evangelicals.

Most people who attend the big interfaith conferences such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions, who co-organize local community service projects and who participate in dialogue sessions are of a liberal persuasion—both Christian and non-Christian alike.

But what about the more conservative types, like me? More specifically, and more relevant for this post, what about the 100 million evangelicals in the US and the other 400 million around the world? Why has our seat at the table remained empty for so long?

With an American evangelical mother and an Iranian Muslim father, I grew up straddling two worlds. Though I was shaped in certain ways by both sides, the main spiritual community that shaped my values and beliefs was a large evangelical church in Las Vegas.

As a child I developed a subconscious fear that intentionally building relationships of mutual respect and learning across religious boundaries was somehow not consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Throughout the past ten years, I’ve attempted to understand this fear. Along the way, I’ve met many other evangelicals who share my concerns.

After learning to overcome my own fears, I created the Loving Our Religious Neighbors (LORN) curriculum as a resource to enable others to overcome theirs too. Today LORN empowers evangelical communities to build lasting relationships of conviction and respect with non-Christian religious communities as they work together to serve the poor and tackle social problems.

Leading LORN campaigns throughout the United States has taught me that evangelicals typically don’t do interfaith work for three reasons. In response to these three concerns, I’ve developed approaches in LORN for equipping evangelicals to take their place at the table of peace.

1. Don’t Want to Compromise the Teachings of Jesus

“When you hear the phrase ‘interfaith’ or ‘interreligious dialogue’, what usually comes to mind?” This is the question I ask at the beginning of every LORN campaign.

Krista, a member at a church in Boston, responded, “The first thing that comes to mind when I hear those phrases is that all religions lead to the same mountaintop. All religions are the same. Mixing theologies. But I just don’t believe that. So I don’t usually get involved in interfaith initiatives. I don’t want to compromise my faith.”

Evangelicals often equate interfaith work with theological relativism, and as a result, those who do participate are frequently faced with judgment from their own community.

The essence of evangelicalism teaches that faith is life and life is faith. Asking an evangelical to put her faith, her life, aside in the name of dialogue is like asking the body to remove the heart and continue to circulate blood.

How Do We Overcome This Concern? 

Establish a biblical foundation. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In LORN campaigns, we are empowering evangelicals not to water down their faith but to put it into practice as peacemakers as we take ownership of our title as “children of God.” The LORN curriculum also lays a biblical foundation in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

2. Don’t Want To Abandon Sharing the Good News

Evangelism, or sharing the Good News of the Gospel, is a pillar of the message of Jesus: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Pastors and leaders are constantly strategizing new ways of inviting people into authentic community, growing the Church and ultimately spreading the news that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 10:7).

This message is the foundation of the evangelical growth paradigm and, I hope and pray, the major motivation for expansion. Today many megachurches have multiple campuses. Central Christian Church where I grew up, for example, has grown from one thousand members and one campus when I was 10 years old to 15 thousand weekly attendees and 10 campuses not only in the Las Vegas valley but also across the U.S. and around the world.

The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word meaning “good news.” Asking an evangelical to put aside sharing the Gospel in the name of dialogue is like asking an Olympian to stop competing in the middle of the Olympics. Sharing the good news is just what we do—because Jesus teaches us to.

How Do We Overcome This Concern? 

Imagine new ways of sharing the Gospel. Instead of using older forms of evangelism, LORN, among other things, equips Christians to share their “Public Testimonies.” I define public testimony in LORN as the “skill of communicating your faith with conviction and respect (1 Pet. 3:15) in a multi-religious society.”

3. Fear of Violence 

Sam is an active member at an evangelical church in Texas. After hearing his senior pastor talk about the importance of building respectful relationships with local Muslims, Sam became fearful and asked, “Why would I become friends with them? They blew us up. I’m not going to let them anywhere near my family.”

Many evangelicals like Sam have never met a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Sikh or even a Catholic or liberal Protestant. The only Muslims they know are the suicide bombers whom they see in the media daily. So they make generalizations such as, “They blew us up.”

Our ignorance often breeds fear, and our fear can cause us to express violent attitudes and use violent speech. This is often true of human beings in general, conservative Christians not being an exception. Some evangelicals fear violent and forceful Muslims, yet they project violent and forceful attitudes out of fear.

How Do We Overcome This Concern? 

Meet your religious neighbors. I’ve learned that the single most powerful way to overcome misunderstanding and prejudice is to develop lasting friendships.

After Sam met Muslim families in his suburb, he said, “I get it. These people are normal, just like my family. They’re not violent. Now I’m on board with what our pastor is teaching: We can remain committed Christians while being friends with our neighbors who come from all over the world.” This is precisely why LORN is not simply a book; it’s a curriculum that’s used in a 5-week campaign that culminates in a day of multi-faith community service and relationship building with our religious neighbors.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” If we respond out of fear to our religious neighbors, we are not responding out of our faith. Instead we are reacting out of our fallen humanity because we have not been perfected in love. When the waves of fear come crashing down on the seashore of multi-faith engagement, let us stand on the rock of the One who casts out all fear.

Will You Join Us?
Start A Loving Our Religious Neighbors Campaign Today
 

LORN is now available! We are in the process of launching in evangelical churches and on college campuses across the United States. Go to the following link for the 3 Steps to Start a LORN Campaign.

Also, click here for a video on “How to Launch and Sustain a LORN College Campus Team.”

And click here for a video on “How to Launch LORN at a Church or in a Christian Organization.”

Or email me directly to get involved: josh@lorneighbors.com.

Visit www.LORNeighbors.com to get a copy of the curriculum.

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Lord Bring your Kingdom: A Holy Week Reflection on Overland Park

Palm Sunday inaugurates Christian Holy Week each year. It commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem the week before his death and subsequent resurrection. I love Palm Sunday because it is not only the beginning of my favorite time in the Christian liturgical calendar, but because it celebrates peace. It celebrates that Jesus was not only the incarnation of eternal Love, but that he was the full embodiment of peace. Palm Sunday not only initiates the events of Holy Week, but foreshadows the eternal Kingdom – a Kingdom of peace, where redemption, mercy, justice, and of course love, are ever-present in the world, and darkness is cast away. As Christians, we believe it is Jesus, the Christ – our messiah – who initiated this Kingdom into being with his resurrection, and will eventually bring the Kingdom to its fullness when he returns in his Second Coming. So, on Palm Sunday, we wave our palm branches and shout, “Hosanna, blessed is the One who comes in the name of The Lord,” in recognition that Christ is our King who shall one day reign forever in the name of peace.

This past Sunday, as in every Palm Sunday that I can remember prior, I did just that: I celebrated the peace that is present, and fullness of peace that is coming. I waved my palm branch and sang Hosanna alongside my husband and brothers and sisters in Christ at First United Methodist Church in St. Augustine. On the walk home in the warm Florida sun I felt optimistic and hopeful, and full of love.

It was a normal, peaceful Sunday until a Twitter notification told me that several people I follow tweeted the same news story – the headline read “Shootings reported at two Jewish Centers in Overland Park, Kansas.” As I continued reading I learned that 3 people had been killed, and that the shootings were being investigated as a hate crime. Reports say the man yelled “heil, Hitler” as he was arrested, and that he has a long history of bigoted hatred.

When I guest teach college courses on religious pluralism, I often start by talking about religious intolerance. I define religious intolerance very generally. It could be stereotyping, discrimination, verbal abuse, or even violence of a person or people because of their religious or non-religious identity. I often do an exercise to illustrate all the ways different groups experience religious intolerance. I explain that in 6 different states Atheists are prohibited from running for public office; Christians experience misrepresentation in the media; Muslims often have to show up at the airport earlier than other folks because the know they’re going to be extra screening at “random,” while many a Muslim girl has had her hijab ripped off her head in a high school hallway; more than one Sikh has been killed or brutally beaten in the United States because they were wearing a turban after 9/11; Jews are ridiculed for being greedy and often experience vandalism of their synagogues and temples. I could go on and on and on. Students are often shocked to hear about the level of religious intolerance that exists in the United States. Many of them have experienced religious intolerance themselves, but believed that it was only their group that experienced hatred, fear or misunderstanding because of what they believed. Religious intolerance in the United States, believe it or not, is actually a common thread among all of our religi
ous/non-religious identities.

While I do full-time interfaith work, and religious intolerance is something I’m keenly aware of, it is still a shock when I see such ruthless violence because of religious hatred; particularly on a day when peace is to be celebrated. It reminds me that there is a long history of Holy Week related violence. In the Middle Ages in Europe, on Good Friday Christians would go out and beat or kill Jews after becoming impassioned by a Good Friday sermon, which taught them that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death (they were never reminded that Jesus himself was Jewish). While religious violence and hatred are nothings new, there are new ways to prevent and correct such hatred. The new Interfaith Movement can move us in the direction of religious peace and understanding in our country, and even world.

I am reminded this Palm Sunday about the WHY of Interfaith. Interfaith dialogue and cooperation is about promoting religious literacy; meaning, creating a world where we seek understanding about our religious and non-religious neighbors, rather that perpetuating assumption which often leads to fear, misunderstanding, and ultimately hatred. Scripture teaches us that what lives in our heart is just as important as what we act out in our lives (“Anyone who hates his brothers or sister is a murderer,” I John 3:15).

Maybe you’ve never pulled a trigger on someone because they were a different religion than you, but any time you have felt a hint of hatred, or judgment, or distaste about someone because of what they believed – you have sinned and sin is the Great Enemy of peace.

As Christians, it is our role to reflect the Kingdom we so eagerly look forward to. It is our duty to be embodiments of peace. I believe that Interfaith dialogue, relationships and cooperation is one avenue through which we can reflect God’s Kingdom of Peace.

Ask your Muslim or Jewish neighbor to coffee this week as an act of love and get to know them. Ask them what they believe – what is their religion all about? And not as a way to gather intel for conversion ammunition later on, but as a way to truly know them, and to truly love them. This is how we can make this a world where people don’t get shot because they’re Jewish, or Christian or Atheist, etc.

Let us meditate this Holy Week on Christ’s triumphal entry, which was an action sermon that preached peace. While we mourn the loss of life in Overland Park, and mourn the horrifying hatred demonstrated there, let us pray, “Lord bring you Kingdom.” And until that Kingdom comes in its fullness, let us act peace mediators by actively loving our diverse religious and non-religious neighbors.

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A Common Table?

One of my best friends from high school is Jewish. He’s not very religious at all, but being Jewish is an important part of his identity. As we’ve gotten older, our lives have taken us in different directions, but we’ve stayed close, in part (I think) because we share our traditions with one another—he celebrates Christmas with my family and I have celebrated Passover and Hanukkah with his. A few weeks ago, I invited Peter to come to a church service at which I would be preaching. I invited him as a friend—not as part of a missionary enterprise—and I was very touched when he agreed to come.

I meant to warn Peter before the service that there would be Communion. I wanted to tell him that Communion is for Christians who feel prepared in their hearts to receive the body and blood of Christ as holy sacrament. “No pressure,” I wanted to tell him—“you are still welcome here, even if you don’t take Communion.” But I was busy preparing for the service and we weren’t able to connect beforehand and so I never got to relay the message.

When it came time to celebrate the Eucharist I looked over at Peter. I had knots in my stomach. I hope he doesn’t feel uncomfortable; I hope he doesn’t feel pressure; I hope he understands what is going on.  As the thoughts ran through my head, I actually considered running over to him; but before I knew it, I saw that he was in line to receive Communion. And a moment later, he had received and returned to his seat.

Afterward, I asked him how it had felt to receive Communion in a Christian church. “I enjoyed it,” he said. “It felt personal.”

“You know you didn’t have to take it, right?”

“Yeah, I know” he said. “But I wanted to.”

At home that night I thought about what it meant that my Jewish friend had taken Eucharist. Was he a Christian now? No—not even close. He remains strongly rooted in his Jewish heritage and tradition. But I felt that this friend—someone who has known me for over 10 years and has seen significant changes take place in my life—knew me in a different way. I felt that even though we would not continue to worship together, we were more deeply connected. Receiving Communion is very important to me as a Christian; it is a major way that I connect with God and strengthen my faith. Being able to share Communion with Peter—even if it didn’t have any spiritual significance for him—allowed me to convey this very important part of my faith in a way that was deeper than words. I felt honored to have been able to invite Peter into a Christian worship service that welcomed him and included him, despite his differences from other congregants.

Still, I wondered: Was it okay that he received? What if the celebrant had known that he wasn’t Christian—would he have been refused? I know that some churches have very strict rules about who can and cannot receive Communion—these are serious and contentious issues. In fact, disagreements about the Eucharist have led to major disputes and splits throughout Christian history. I myself have been kept from Communion in certain worship settings and I know others who have had to look on because they didn’t fit fellow Christians’ criteria. I don’t hope to build a compelling theological argument for the necessity of inclusive Eucharist in this blog post, but I do want to say that there is something very powerful about extending our tables, even to those who are not prepared to receive Christ into their hearts. After all, the gifts themselves have the power to transform each of us. What would happen if we didn’t require each person to be our ideal of a Christian before sharing in the bread and cup? If we didn’t hold onto these gifts so tightly, would we find both ourselves and others transformed?

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The One Where I Wear a Turban

A couple of weeks ago, through a collaborative effort between the University of North Florida’s Interfaith Center (where I work) and the Sikh Society of Northeast Florida, I was given the opportunity to wear a Turban. Wear a Turban Day @ UNF was planned for Wednesday, February 26 and in an effort to promote the event the Tuesday before, a reporter from our local news station came to the Interfaith Center for a turban tying demo. Two gentlemen from the Sikh community came with a bag full of turbans, ready and excited to share an important piece of their identity with the Jacksonville, FL community.

I arrived at my office that Tuesday morning groggy as usual when I was informed by my boss, “The Sikhs are going to tie a turban on your head for TV!” Having not yet caffeinated myself for the morning, I was too comatose to protest. Thankfully, the two Sikh men brightened the room with their brightly colored turbans and beard-clad smiles; their enthusiasm contagious enough for me to even feel excited to be the model for a turban tying demo. They picked a lovely salmon color for me to wear, and once the camera was rolling – got to work.

turban guys

I listened to them talk about the significance of the turban to Sikhs as they wrapped the 18 foot cloth around my head. While the colors and patterns of turbans are usually chosen based on fashion preference, the turban itself serves as an identifier for Sikhs. It is a way to set themselves apart and to remember that they are always representing Sikhism and the truths and ideals it promotes – peace, justice, mercy. “I know when I am in a public place that I stand out, I’m hard to miss because of my turban. So I must do my best to promote justice, and do good, wherever I go. The turban keeps me accountable to my values,” one of the Sikh men said.

I couldn’t help but feel a little convicted upon hearing this.

For years I have refused to put a Jesus fish on my car. Within Christianity, there aren’t a lot of visible makers of our faith. Some Catholics wear rosary beads, some Christians wear cross necklaces, some priests wear a white color, etc. It seems to me, in American Christian culture, the closest thing we have to a visible sign of our Christian faith is the Jesus fish. Some wear it on jewelry, some put them on their cars, and some even tattoo it permanently on their bodies. I’ve contemplated putting a Jesus fish on my car from time to time (when I was a young college student I even considered a Jesus fish tattoo), but I could never quite bring myself to get one. I was always afraid that I would misrepresent Christianity, or worse, Jesus himself. What if I stuck a Jesus fish on my car then rudely cut someone off on the intestate? What if I “let the bird fly’ when some irritating motorcycle sped by at 100 miles per hour (not that I would ever do such a thing)? I haven’t worn a cross necklace in years – I’ve been afraid that I would not live up to the standards of the truths that the cross represents for me.

What these Sikh men were telling me is that they feel just the opposite. Clad with a symbol of their faith, they are held accountable. If they fall short, it’s on them, and they understand they aren’t perfect. If they don’t act in love, or peace, or justice, they have to answer for their actions not only to themselves, or to God, but to all people. More than boldness, wearing the turban seems to take deep devotion and commitment to one’s faith.

As Christians we are called to live holy lives. To be holy means to be set apart. We are to set ourselves apart through our faith, and through our faith put into action. It seems Sikhs similarly feel called. As I wore the turban the rest of the day I wondered what I do on other days to set myself apart as a Christian. Of course wearing a cross around my neck, or sticking a Jesus fish on my car would serve as a visible sign to others that I am indeed a Christian – but I want to know how my actions, my words, my life serve as signs of my faith. Would I be able to don the physical visible signs of my faith (a cross, a fish, etc) in humility – as a way of humbly setting myself apart? Would I be able to wear these markers and live into the ideals they promise?

I suppose the question isn’t if I’m able, because perhaps I am not – maybe no one is – but perhaps the question is, am I willing to try?

I think that’s what I most admired about these Sikh men who were so excited for me to experience turban wearing – they seemed to understand what a great responsibility it was for them to tie their turbans every morning. They seemed to understand that they won’t always live up to the ideals the turban symbolizes – but they were so humbly proud to try. It seems to me that every day, as the tie their turban, they’re making a choice to, at least for one more day, to be a Sikh.

This reminds me that every morning it is up to me to make a choice when I wake up in the morning to spend another day serving God, and serving others.

Then he said to them all, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily, and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

me in turban

 

 

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