“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
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. I 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
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.
First 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
Previous | Page 1 of 2 | Next
Josh Daneshforooz is an author and international speaker on leadership, peacemaking and personal development.