Evangelical Christians in Interfaith Cooperation
Example from the field
A few years ago, my IFYC colleagues visited a campus that was interested in how they could build and sustain interfaith initiatives in their community. During that visit, we met with several campus groups, students, and staff. A Christian colleague met with a conservative student evangelical group that requested a meeting with us; they heard we were coming to campus and were skeptical about our intentions. As we spoke, the leaders of the group shared their reservations about interfaith work: the way they understood it, interfaith seemed to require watering-down religious commitments and letting go of the particularities of their beliefs. They were worried, therefore, that they couldn’t be their authentic selves while doing interfaith work. My colleague emphasized that interfaith work was only authentic if it brought together those with real disagreements and created space for participants to talk about what mattered most to them in their traditions.
After reflecting on this, the student leaders replied: “If you want us to help organize an event bringing together people of different faiths to do a service project, we can do that. And afterwards if you want us to talk about how Jesus inspires us to serve, and listen to why others from different backgrounds are called to service…we can definitely do that. We’re just not sure we want to call it ‘interfaith.’” We now understood that the barrier to participation wasn’t about not wanting to engage with those who held different beliefs, but instead was rooted in a concern about whether or not ‘interfaith’ was actually inclusive of those of deep religious and secular commitments. Because service was deeply important to their understanding of their evangelical Christian commitment, and because they felt like serving and sharing with others would allow them to remain true to their identities, they were eager to be involved, even if the language of ‘interfaith’ was still uncomfortable for them.