Rule No. 1 of Interfaith Relations: Faith is Required
I know that effective blog posts require some kind of news hook to get people interested, so, take your pick:
- Nearly two weeks ago, 24 Copts died in Egypt.
- The most common word association with Mitt Romney is "Mormon,".
- In Iran, a Christian leader was sentenced to death for apostasy.
- Tensions among Israelis and Palestinians remain high.
My point? Religious tension is real and the need for cooperation across religious, spiritual, and philosophical lines is more important now than ever.
In some of the recent news I've mentioned, Christians have been the targets of religious persecution. But we Christians have our own long history of persecuting others as well.
So, when will it all stop?
Interfaith cooperation is the goal, but the road there requires something slightly different. Above all else, interfaith relationships require faith.
During my second year in college, I was part of the Interfaith Youth Core's Fellows Alliance -- a program designed to support 20 college students across the country in building stronger interfaith communities on their campuses. I began fully expecting to receive all the tools and resources I needed to be an effective interfaith advocate. What I didn't anticipate was how many of those tools couldn't be handed to me, they would have to be cultivated within.
As I tried to bring together Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus for discussions and service projects on my campus, I encountered many challenges. At times I questioned whether I was compromising my own faith by making so much space for other faith traditions. Was I losing part of myself as I learned to appreciate the traditions of others?
The biggest challenge came in extending my work to "non-religious" -- atheists, humanists, agnostics, and "spiritual-but-not-religious" folks. I worried that my faith would be disparaged by people who just didn't "get it" -- that I would have to make too many concessions as I translated from religious to non-faith-based terms.
But the "non-religious" kept showing up to events; they recognized the danger of religious conflict in our world and had themselves felt marginalized at times because their beliefs -- or the lack therof. They cared about real pluralism and wanted a place in the interfaith work I was doing.
I decided to lean for guidance on the often trivialized, but incredibly relevant question -- what would Jesus do? And, what then would Jesus have me do?
Did Jesus ever withhold love or healing for fear that he would give up too much of himself?
Did Jesus ever worry that the nature of God would change if he ate at certain tables, or touched certain kinds of people?
Of course not.
The Bible tells us that Jesus continually stepped out of the normative comfort zones of his day to extend his message of radical reconciliation.
I realized that my hesitation to embrace all people interested in an interfaith vision was mostly about my own fear, my own lack of faith. There was nothing Christ-like about it. Eventually, I changed the flyers I put up around school to use more inclusive language and specifically sought out students from the Free-Thought-Alliance and other philosophical groups on campus.
When I read about religious conflict in the news today, especially conflict perpetrated by Christians, I mourn the fact that we are such a faithless people. We are called to love and serve our neighbors -- not just our brothers and sisters in Christ, but all people, because God is that big.
If I can learn to love my neighbors who are Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, and Humanist then I will be a better Christian for it. We must have faith that Jesus didn't come to Earth merely to show us some overly idealistic vision for the world, but that today we can also love as Jesus loved.
To get involved in interfaith work, check out the upcoming Interfaith Leadership Institute sponsored by the Interfaith Youth Core.
Anne Marie Roderick is an editorial assistant for Sojourners.