Some Evangelicals Are Living a Neighborly Faith 21 January 2018

What would it take for people of other religions to know evangelical Christians as the most hospitable members of their society? This is question that we have been asking at Neighborly Faith since its founding in 2014, while we were studying at Wheaton College Graduate School. We realized that religious diversity simply wasn’t on the radar for the average evangelical church. This worried us.

After a years of attending interfaith conferences, talking to evangelical and interfaith leaders, and closely following the evangelical world, we discovered that evangelicals lack role models of faithful interreligious engagement that they can aspire to follow. There simply are no known “interfaith” heroes in our tradition. We were concerned that the blind could be leading the blind into America’s future.

Historically, when you consider the emergence of various diversities in America–ethnic, gender, sexual, etc., evangelicals have the reputation to feel threatened and become the bully on the playground. We resolved to try to preempt this possibility by preparing our fellow evangelicals for the impending reality of religious diversity in America.

This is not to say there is no status quo for Evangelical interreligious engagement. Unfortunately, the existing options are either antiquated or controversial. Evangelicals listen to plenty of Christian apologists hellbent on proving how other religions are inferior, demonic, or making people “work their way to salvation.” We also occasionally listen to evangelical voices from the fringe who are content with subverting traditional commitments. However, the mainstream mostly ignores these because they are too divergent from our tradition.

Neither of these options offer much of substance to evangelicals who want to be good religious neighbors without giving up their beliefs.

At Neighborly Faith, we are asking Evangelical leaders what they are doing to act like Jesus in situations of religious diversity. What we have discovered has surprised us. On our Podcast, we interviewed six Evangelical leaders in higher education who are actively engaging with religious diversity.

We asked them basic questions like: “How did you get involved in this work?” and “Why do you engage other religions?” We also asked them tough questions like: “What about evangelism?” and “Why should other Evangelicals get engaged in what you are doing?” We were amazed to discover Evangelicals living a Neighborly Faith in a variety of ways.

Matthew Kaemingk, who is the associate dean of Fuller Seminary Texas, questions how evangelical hospitality can contribute to our thinking toward religious freedom for Muslims. He told us that in his recent book on the topic, he asks: “What would it look like for us to argue for the religious freedom of another religion; to speak on behalf of a faith that we do not particularly agree with? … What resources in the Christian faith might I draw upon?”

Another guest, Victoria Greenwald, who is a senior at Wheaton College and former editor of the Wheaton Record shared with us that interfaith dialogues helped her to better live out her faith. She said: “Purposely entering into dialogues that make you uncomfortable…with people who think differently than us is of the utmost importance just to learn how to love other people better…That is pretty much our number one call as evangelicals, to love with a radical love.”

Gina Zurlo, the Assistant Director of Gordon-Conwell Seminary Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, challenged Evangelicals’ singular focus on conversion when engaging other religions: “If your motive in being friends with people of other religions is just conversion, that’s not authentic friendship; that is what I think “love your neighbor” is about, is authentic friendship.”

Christy Craft, Associate Professor of Student Affairs and College Student Development at Kansas State University told us that in her engagement with other faiths, she works to be a good listener, even if she disagrees: “I want to honestly and whole-heartedly listen to other people as they share about their beliefs and experiences. I’ve found that that’s lacking — we just don’t take the time to honestly and whole-heartedly listen — to hear what they believe and why they believe.”

This is just a snapshot of the many ways Evangelical leaders shared with us how they were trailblazing a Neighborly Faith. Our vision is that by featuring the inspiring stories of these trailblazers we can inspire other evangelicals to follow in their footsteps. We believe that the future may be bright, as more and more Christians learn how to be good neighbors as religious diversity grows.

If you are inspired by Neighborly Faith’s question: “What would it take for people of other religions to know evangelical Christians as the most hospitable members of their society?” check out our Podcast or website online.

About Kevin Singer and Chris Stackaruk

Kevin Singer resides in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he is pursuing a PhD in higher education at North Carolina State University. His graduate assistantship is with the IDEALS project, which explores how college students are responding to the worldview diversity on their campuses. Kevin is also an adjunct faculty member in religious studies at two Chicagoland-area community colleges. Chris Stackaruk lives in Toronto, Canada, where he is pursuing a PhD in theology at the University of Toronto (St. Michael’s College). His research interests revolve around Vatican II. Chris is also a curriculum designer for Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

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