Tag Archives: Reasons

Thinking Theologically About Interfaith Work (Part 1)

This blog is a re-post from ProdigalPreacher, a blog by Nicholas Price. Thanks to Nick for allowing us to re-post his piece. We’ll close comments for this piece on our site so you can join us in the discussion on the original post at http://prodigalpreacher.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/thinking-theologically-about-interfaith-work-part-1/

INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES

Since college, my path has regularly crossed those of interfaith workers.  I’ve had a chance to work with leaders and pioneers like Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, as well as up-and-coming leaders like Gregory Damhorst, former president of Interfaith in Action and writer at “Faith Line Protestants”.  I’ve also written on the subject at a couple of points, primarily to talk about what interfaith work is and the role it can play in our increasingly inter-related world.

Over the past few years I’ve been immersed in working with InterVarsity, an evangelical Christian movement among college students, so my primary focus has been there.  However, in recent weeks the subject of interfaith work has come up again, specifically from evangelicals asking if they should be involved and, if so, at what level.  In the past I’ve written as an evangelical outsider looking into interfaith circles as well as addressed the practical reasons why evangelicals should be involved in interfaith work.  However, I’ve never really given interfaith work a theological treatment before.

What follows is a three-part series called, “Thinking Theologically About Interfaith Work”.  The first part will deal with some of the biblical passages that I believe provide a Christian framework for interfaith engagement.  The second part will address both the opportunities and the barriers to interfaith work from an evangelical perspective.  Finally, the third part will address my personal hopes for evangelical Christian involvement in interfaith work.

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS

But before I dive into the theological reasons for being involved in interfaith work, I want to briefly address some of my assumptions.  First, I am writing as an evangelical Christian.  That being said, I do not claim to speak for all evangelicals. Some of what I have to say will probably be uncomfortable for interfaith practitioners who are not evangelicals.  Likewise, other points will probably be challenging for my fellow evangelicals.  What I provide here are my own thoughts as a member of this faith tradition and my readers are free to disagree with me on these points.

Second, I am already assuming that evangelicals should be involved in interfaith work.  For my reasons for this, I would direct you to my CrossCurrents article from 2005 (republished on this blog).

Third, I draw my definition of interfaith work and practice from the definition and model articulated by the Interfaith Youth Core and it’s founder, Eboo Patel.  Along with Cassie Meyer, Dr. Patel says that interfaith work, “seeks to bring people of different faiths together in a way that respects different religious identities, builds mutually inspiring relationships, and engages in common action around issues of shared social concern” (Patel & Meyer, 2010).  At points I will both affirm and critique this definition, but it is one of the best that I have seen for positive inter-religious engagement.

My hope for this series is to contribute to the conversation about interfaith engagement.  It is not my desire to be the only word or the final word on the subject.  So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the biblical reasons for evangelicals to be involved in interfaith work.

BIBLICAL REASONS FOR INTERFAITH ENGAGEMENT

What follows is a brief survey of several biblical passages which I believe provide a helpful framework for evangelical engagement in interfaith work.  My reasons for doing this is because of the role the Bible plays in the life of the evangelical community.  We believe that it is God’s authoritative word and that it is trustworthy in its entirety.  As such, we look to it for guidance in every area of life and this includes how we relate to those of other faith traditions.  While there is no explicit passage that I believe encourages interfaith work in the way defined above, there are several passages which lay out principles which point to the need for positive engagement with other faith communities.  While this survey is not exhaustive, I hope it will be helpful for both my fellow evangelicals as well as for those from other faith communities who seek to understand the evangelical community.  For the sake of space, I will point out three texts which I think are instructive, though there are several others that I could cite.

Jeremiah 29:  Beyond Isolationism in Bablyon

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exiles, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7, see also vv.4-6).

This letter from the prophet Jeremiah was addressed to the nation of Israel during a time of great religious and cultural anxiety.  They have been exiled to the enemy nation of Babylon.     Surrounded by a foreign culture, facing incredible pressure to assimilate, and immersed in a religious environment that was very different from their own, the temptation for this community would have been to turn inward:  choosing isolationism as a way of protecting themselves as best they could.

Into these dark circumstances Jeremiah sends the exiles a powerful message:  engage.  God calls his people to engage the surrounding culture and to seek the good and the well-being of their new neighbors, with all of their cultural, political, and religious differences.

In this passage I find a word of encouragment for the evangelical community.  Historically the posture of the evangelical world has been to reject and retreat from the surrounding culture.  While this trend has been changing in the past 20 years, evangelicals have still been reluctant to engage in dialogue and positive social engagement with other faith communities.  However, what we see in Scripture is the call to be involved in the surrounding culture for its benefit, living with and among those we are called to serve.  In fact, the religiously plural environment of ancient Babylon, as well as that of the Roman Empire during the years of the early church, was just as religiously diverse as our present-day American society, if not more so.  And in both the Old and New Testaments, we find the people of God engaging and interacting with their surrounding culture.

During the Babylonian exile alone we encounter examples like that of the prophet Daniel, who actually worked for and served the dictatorship which carried his people off into captivity.  While it is obvious that Daniel did not support every policy, belief, or directive that he was given, he nonetheless worked alongside the Babylonian government, serving it where he felt he could, as a faithful believer in God (you can read his story in the book of Daniel).  His goal was to use his influence for the betterment of the society in which he lived.

We live in an increasingly diverse world and, more and more, our culture is defined by the interactions between various communities and subgroups, not least of which include those of faith.  While there is much difference between these communities, there is also much we hold in common, especially as regards our calling to share and care for the common spaces which we share (communities, schools, political systems, businesses, parks, etc).  Evangelicals should adopt an attitude of creative engagement with these spheres and learn ways to work with their neighbors of various backgrounds for the common good.  For example, if Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus all send their children to the same schools, it would be in their interest to work together for the improvement and betterment of that common space.  Creative engagement, not isolation, should characterize our approach when it comes to interacting with various religious communities and people groups.

Matthew 5:  Living as Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
(Matthew 5:9)

In a world that is characterized by the “clash of civilizations”, religious conflict seems to be a disturbingly common occurrence.  Too often religion has been used as a weapon against those who are different.

Interfaith work provides a corrective to this.  With its emphasis on growing in relationships with people of other faith traditions, sharing stories, and working together for the common good, interfaith work provides an alternative story to that put forth by religious extremists and builds relationships across faith lines that can serve as avenues of trust and dialogue when inter-religious conflict rears its head.

As people called to be peacemakers in a violent world, evangelical Christians should be on the front lines of this movement.  Building relationships and working together for peace does not mean we have to sacrifice our religious convictions.  As such, our posture in interfaith work should be one of building bridges and advocating for peace where there is religious conflict.  In doing so, we are able to stay true to our own religious beliefs while also living out this beatitude in regard to our neighbors of other faith backgrounds.

Acts 17:  Religious Literacy in Athens

“People of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious…”
(Acts 17:22, see vv.16-34)

Another instructive text for evangelical engagement in interfaith work is found in Acts 17.  In verses 16-34, the apostle Paul is spending time in the Greek city of Athens, a place with a wide variety of religious beliefs and worldviews present.  During his stay there he is invited to share about his own faith with one of the leading intellectual bodies of the city:  the Areopagus.  What follows is an incredible exchange in which Paul demonstrates his own literacy in the religious traditions of the Athenians while also remaining true to his convictions as a Christian evangelist.

While this encounter is a brillant example of humble apologetics and evangelism, it also teaches us something about how we are to approach other religious traditions.  During his defense of the Gospel, Paul quotes two Greek philosophers in his argument:  Epimenides and Aratus.  What is surprising is that he not only quotes them, but affirms the viewpoints that they espoused, using them as a way to build his own case for the Gospel.  While Paul did not agree wholesale with the worldviews of either of these philosophers, he acknowledged that there was some truth to what they taught and he wanted to affirm that.

In Paul, we see that it is possible for evangelicals to affirm some of the truth claims of other faith traditions where those claims align with our own.  This can be a building block toward mutual understanding and respect, as well as a platform from which to begin working together.  Again, it is important not to compromise the Gospel message, but it is also possible to affirm areas of commonality.

As such, evangelicals should have a curiosity about and a desire to grow in their understanding of other world religions.  Interfaith dialogue is a brillant place to start because it begins with a place of sharing and is born out of a desire to increase understanding across faith lines.  As such, evangelicals should not fear entering into such spaces, but can do so with a desire to learn.

CONCLUSION

Again, these were only a few passages among several that I believe can given evangelicals a basis for positive interfaith engagement.  What we see here is that it is possible to remain true to one’s religious convictions while also seeking understanding and building relationships with people from other faith backgrounds.  Furthermore, it is a part of our calling to work together for the betterment of society around us.  Again, doing so does not compromise our core obedience to the Gospel, but can actually serve as a springboard for living it out more faithfully (more on this in coming posts).

In my next entry, I will highlight some of the opportunities and barriers that I see, as an evangelical, to interfaith work.  So stay tuned.

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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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Making Our Appeal: The Significance of Interfaith Work as Christ’s Ambassadors

Just a few days ago, Greg and I both wrote a reflection about a photo tweeted around the web depicting young Egyptian Christians linking arms in protection of Muslims praying behind them. A common theme ran through both our posts—that such a display of love demonstrated quite poignantly the love of Christ for humanity. It was a sacrificial love, and in both of our reflections we touched on what we felt to be one of the most important aspects of their actions: that they were representing this love to the world.

The Muslim community in Egypt, who began this exchange of prayer protection over Christmas, are now once again returning this act of love by protecting the Christians while they pray. One act of kindness bore another.

Having grown up in the church, I often hear the term “ambassadors of Christ” used to describe Christians’ social identity. Indeed, Greg and I have even employed the term at various times on this very site. Though perhaps a rather awkward way of referring to a Christian individual to modern ears, the concept makes a lot of sense, and has a lot to bear on interfaith interaction.

The expression itself comes from 2 Corinthians 5:20, which says:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

These words (like usual) belong to St. Paul, who writes this in his second letter to the early church in Corinth. If you are like most introspective Christians, the question becomes: But what does it mean to be Christ’s ambassador, exactly?

Being ambassadors of Christ requires something more of us than simply attending church services or calling ourselves “Christian.” Instead it necessitates action, doing. The act of being an ambassador means representing another party—“represent” is a verb.

Though I touched on this briefly in my recent post on evangelism and interfaith work, and will address it again in our upcoming series that focuses on evangelism specifically, all I will say here is that these Egyptians demonstrated what it means to be an ambassador of Christ: they showed that they were willing to act on Christ’s behalf to bring peace into the world, to show the world what the Kingdom of God looks like.

I think the prominent New Testament scholar (and former Bishop of Durham, UK) NT Wright has the right idea regarding what it means to represent Christ as his ambassador. Essentially, he talks about the Kingdom of God as being on earth now, enacted through us as believers, as well as the Kingdom of God as a future event worthy of aspiration. This view makes a lot of sense when you look at Pauline theology (which Wright does a great deal) and understand that this rubric compels us to live a faith in action, a faith that moves here and now to represent the ideal that we hope for in heaven.

All of this is a protracted way of saying that interfaith cooperation presents a perfect opportunity to enact our faith, to live it as those Egyptians lived theirs (both Muslim and Christian). Indeed, interfaith cooperation is the very definition of ambassadorial work—representing Christ to those who do not share your religious tradition. How does the notion of representing Christ affect your life? Does it move you? Does it impact your actions? What does it look like, in your eyes, to be an Christ’s ambassador?

Please join in the conversation, either by leaving a comment here or finding Faith Line Protestants on Facebook!

 

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Photo by sanja gjenero (http://www.sxc.hu/profile/lusi)

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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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Questioning Our Assumptions: Reasons for Interfaith Involvement (Intro)

Why should we want to participate in interfaith efforts? What’s the need for a web site like Faith Line Protestants? Why is interfaith cooperation even important in the first place?

No, this isn’t our first existential crisis. They’re fair questions.

In the past few posts, Greg and I have discussed a number of things that we feel are the commonest barriers between the Christian community and interfaith cooperation. But simply enumerating barriers isn’t enough. For our next series of posts, we will give four reasons why interfaith cooperation is important—and, more specifically, why the Christian community should become involved.

Greg and I believe that the reasons for Christians’ involvement yield tangible and positive results both for the church and the world. Some of the things we’ll discuss are:

  • the ability for the church to act as peacemakers in a world of strife and disagreement
  • what being Ambassadors of Christ has to do with interfaith cooperation
  • the practical and tangible benefits of mobilizing faith groups in service
  • interfaith cooperation’s potential for building local (and global) community, and how interfaith cooperation can work to build religious literacy and promote understanding in religiously diverse world

We’ll also be posting with increasing frequency on topics outside of our series’ scope, hopefully fostering more discussions on different topics that have interfaith implications.

The Christian church has much to offer in the discourse surrounding interfaith cooperation. Join us as we step into a new series making a case for our participation in interfaith work.

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