What Does Interfaith Engagement Mean from an Evangelical Perspective?
April 19, 2022
Evangelical Christians play a critical role in shaping American civil society and culture, yet evangelicals as an identity group are often stereotyped and weaponized in today’s polarized discourse. How do evangelicals understand their relationship with other religious and non-religious individuals and communities? What does interfaith engagement mean from an evangelical perspective? What are the barriers that often prevent evangelicals from participating in interfaith partnerships?
Michael and Melissa Wear’s new report, published in partnership with Interfaith Youth Core, addresses these questions and offers meaningful reflections on the future of evangelicals and interfaith engagement in America. The report also serves as a useful guide for leaders from diverse religious or philosophical traditions who are eager to reach out to their evangelical neighbors but don’t know where to start. The co-authors, and several evangelical leaders who participated in their research, explored key themes from the report and engage in an interactive conversation about evangelicals and interfaith engagement in America.
Here is the transcript of the conversation:
Eboo Patel 01:13
Shirley Hoogstra 02:06
And what I think about the way in which our groups interact, it’s this bridge building concept. It’s the ability to be a bridge builder that I think is needed now more than ever, that the work that we do with Interfaith Youth Core and Christian colleges and universities, is advanced. I’d like to just say a little bit about what I think being a bridge builder is, and how I think those are the qualities we would want to see in Americans and in Christian college graduates. There are really four words that I think describe it: respect, humility, trustworthiness and love. Respect, humility, trustworthiness and love. Those four qualities are the way, the qualities we see arise when we’re doing work with Interfaith Youth Core.
So first of all, with respect, when you are out to understand and, and perhaps get to know someone better, this is the kind of posture you want to have when you want to respect somebody else, that the person on the other side of a chasm, someone you may not know, well, or some may, someone who may agree with more than not disagree. But the idea of having this posture of wanting to understand respect also presumes that you have a high view of human beings. And I think when we believe that each person is an image bearer of God, this idea of respecting the other person comes with a belief that they have a high view of a person. Now, respect doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything, someone that you respect, says. I think that sometimes we think that if we’re just kind and open and listening, somehow we are conveying that we are always in agreement with everything. I think the key with respect is understanding, listening, and then keeping your own sense of self, where you respect the other.
Second one is humility. Humility presumes that you are willing to be a learner. Maybe I don’t know everything about the situation. What don’t I know, what can I learn. And when you bring that sort of humility of posture, it just opens the world to becoming a fuller and more interesting and more curious person. Being a person, that’s that starts with humility actually means that you have some patience, that you’re not eager to tell everything you know, that that you can sit back and presume that someone else has something to teach you. I think that humility comes from a belief that God has treated us with such grace and patience, and as an image bear, and as a person who was a Christ follower, I want to do the same.
The third word is a bridge builders are trustworthy. I would hope all of the Christian college graduates that come out of our institutions are trustworthy. If you can’t count on a Christian, who can you count on? And this is the idea that you will defend somebody if they’re not in the room. And they can count on you to do it.
And then of course, love – love God, love your neighbor. And this is based, of course on how much God has loved us in sending His Son into the world in order to bear our shortcomings and our sins, and how is it that if we’re Christ followers, we too want to love like God loves. So I think that when we talk about the skills of bridge building, there is no better way than to do that with a such an honorable and respected organization like Interfaith Youth Core, where we can come together, have respect, out of humility, be trustworthy with each other, and then love each other well, which is a Gospel command.
Megan Hughes Johnson 10:40
So quick plug for anyone listening and joining us today from a CCCU campus. We have $10,000 grants available to support your work next year around interfaith engagement and racial justice. So we’ll drop a link in the chat to the RFP, but we’d love to see an application inform you. So let’s turn to our conversation today. As part of IFYC ongoing work to explore what effective interfaith engagement looks like from an evangelical Christian perspective, we were so pleased to invite Michael and Melissa Weir to produce a report exploring just these questions: how evangelicals think about interfaith engagement, and in particular to point out what are the opportunities we see here, and also where there barriers that we need to overcome and the report that they produced is just excellent. And we are so excited to explore it with you all today.
One note on audience for today’s webinar, we think the report is really valuable both to evangelicals who might be skeptical about engaging in interfaith partnerships, for good reason, have some questions, what is the ultimate aim here? What is it asking of me? Right? And they want to learn more about how evangelicals might benefit from Interfaith engagement. And then the second group that we think will find this report really valuable are people coming from, leaders coming from other religious or secular traditions who are interested in working with evangelicals, to invite them to join their interfaith efforts, but don’t quite know where to start. And looking at our registration questions that came in for today, we know we have both audiences here. So you are all welcome. We are really excited to have you. And we’re just pleased to explore these themes and make these themes usable for you in your work and in your communities.
Before I hand it over to Michael Wear to dive right in, I want to review some quick tech for our webinar. So throughout the conversation, the speakers will be using live video and audio and you can view Closed Captioning by selecting the CC button at the bottom of your screen. You can view messages from IFYC, including bios of our speakers in the chat box, also at the bottom of your screen. We’ll do some brief q&a at the end of the panel conversation, so please submit questions for the panelists using the q&a box. And lastly, if you’re joining us on Facebook or engaged on Twitter, you can tag at IFYC or #IFYC to share your own questions and reflections. We will be sending out a recording of this conversation to all registrants in your inbox tomorrow.
Great, well, it is my pleasure to turn it over to Michael Wear to guide our panel conversation. Michael is a leading strategist, speaker and practitioner at the intersection of faith politics and public life. He is the founder of Public Square Strategies. And he and his wife Melissa co authored the report that we are exploring today. Michael, over to you.
Michael Wear 14:16
Before I bring them on, I just want to be able to talk much more about sort of the findings of the report, and would love to unpack the report through conversation. But I want to raise two points to sort of start us and that is, we found great evidence that there is this kind of virtuous cycle when it comes to evangelicals and interfaith engagement, that interfaith engagement, both benefits from a deeper, more secure faith on the part of evangelicals, while also interfaith engagement has the potential and the capacity to deepen one’s faith. And so this wonderful sort of synergy gets created when evangelicals of deep faith engaged with those of other faiths, and have their faith deepened even further in the process. And we think that’s really important.
And then the second thing is, we just came across and became more convicted about both the generational mandate and the generational opportunity when it comes to Interfaith engagement that for especially young people, young evangelicals, are yearning both for opportunities and resources for interfaith engagement, in large part because they live in a multi-faith world. And and so hopefully, we’ll be able to unpack that a bit more as we move into this conversation. And at this point, I would love to bring on the panelists for this conversation. Mark, Steve, Kendra, and Shirley would love to welcome you back.
Before we dive into questions, would love for each of you and I believe full bios will be in the chat, but we’d love for each of you to just introduce yourselves briefly and then we’ll, we’ll break into our conversation. But before we I would just like to thank you Mark, Steve, Kendra, for your participation in this report. It simply would not have happened without you, and surely for really what feels like a lifelong friendship between us and so grateful for your work and your leadership. But maybe MNark would, would you would you like to introduce yourself briefly and we’ll go around.
Mark DeYmaz 18:09
Michael Wear 19:00
Thank you so much, Mark. Kendra, would you introduce yourself?
Kendra Bunke 19:04
Michael Wear 19:29
Thank you so much, Kendra and Anselm is just an incredible, incredible organization that I would really encourage folks to check out they’re doing great work in the lives of students and in the life of University of Minnesota. Uh, Steve, would you would you introduce yourself?
Steve Bezner 19:46
Michael Wear 21:10
Yeah, thank you so much, Steve. And surely you’ve been introduced? Is there any? Is there anything we don’t know about you that we should that we should know?
Shirley Hoogstra 21:18
Nothing that we can put on this webinar.
Michael Wear 21:22
Great, thank you so much. Steve, I’d love to start with you. How have you seen as a as a pastor who’s been involved, a pastor of a local congregation that’s been involved with this work? How have you seen interfaith engagement deepen the faith of those in your congregation?
Steve Bezner 21:41
Absolutely, I think that one of the things that typically precedes any sort of multi faith engagement is a sense of fear. Predominantly because of two reasons that we found: number one, is that your church will be labeled as heterodox, or, in some way, compromising theologically. And so historically, evangelicals wanting to maintain theological purity have in essence, lived in isolation away from members of other faiths. So we had to address that initially. I think, also, there was a little bit of a fear, oddly enough, that if we engage with other faiths, that people from our own congregation would be converted out and join into other faiths. And so what we discovered was that in this conversation, and in working together through a number of projects, and visiting one another’s houses of worship, people began to realize, number one commonalities, we had a lot of common values, that for whatever reason, were assumed to be suspect prior to spending time together. Secondly, what we began to discover was that our people’s theological knowledge and faith went deeper because as they built those relationships and discovered differences, they wanted to understand the reasoning behind those differences. And so we would return back to our congregation and they would say, Pastor Steve, why is it that we believe this while our Muslim neighbors believe this, or our Jewish neighbors believe this about any number of topics, and so instead of it being something that would result in a watering down of theology, and actually ended up in a deepening of theological convictions and understanding. I think the, the accusation of being heterodox in some way is probably something that does exist. In certain parts of the evangelical world, people have certainly questioned our reasoning, for engaging in this sort of behavior. But we have found within our church, that we have fallen more in love with our city, fallen more in love with our neighbors. And we found that it’s actually been a more effective tool for our witness in the city. So I think the final way that it’s deepened our faith is that our people feel much more comfortable being members in a global city, and that as a result, they end up wanting to participate in the actions of the city overall, and in doing so in a faithful way. So while some people have certainly been derisive in some of your comments, we have had nothing but a positive experience within our congregation by engaging and we’ve seen a deepening of faith on many levels. So it’s been beautiful.
Michael Wear 24:21
Yeah, and Steve, that really came across in the listening section we did with members of your church, which is just a wonderful and moving. Shirley, you talked in your sort of opening comments a bit about sort of how Christians should approach interfaith engagement but I’m interested, you know, from your perch, you know, you have an institutional responsibility, you’re cultivating the next generation of Christian leaders and citizens. Why do you think interfaith engagement is important for Christians? What, what value think it brings for them?
Shirley Hoogstra 25:05
You know the same, so many of the same things that you Steve were talking about for your own congregation and for the way in which they engage their city. I was very impressed that it sounded to me like your congregants were being imitators of Christ, which was to go out and maybe even be slandered a bit, which we know that, of course, Jesus was called on the carpet for some behaviors as well. I believe, Michael, that this idea of interfaith engagement fulfills a Gospel imperative. This week, I was reading Philippians 4, and in it Paul writes, he says, make it clear, as make it as clear as you can to all that you are on their side, working with them and not against them. You know, and I don’t think that there was a caveat there to saying only people that believe as you do, I think there’s something about that kind of Christian person, that when you have them on your team, they help you believe because they experience that you are working with them and not against them. And I have always said that I hoped people would say if you can’t rely on a Christian, who can you rely on. So when there is an a harassment if people are being harassed or ostracized, and we see it in the newspapers yet today, because they are different, I would want to be that someone who would make it clear that I was on their side. Now that that can happen at a cost. And so one of the things I want young people, we know that at Christian colleges and universities, in fact, all of higher ed, one of the best ways to learn something is through experiential education. So that’s why I like working with Interfaith Youth Core, because it gives students an opportunity to actually have an experience where they can build the skills of bridge building that I said before, but also they can sort of test this out, are you willing to be for the other at a cost to yourself? So from the higher education perspective, I think that Christian college students should lead the way in this kind of extravagant defending of a neighbor. I think it also is extravagant hospitality about saying, for instance, like Steve was saying in his city. Michael, let me just give you two other reasons. Second of all, I think that, um, education wants to prepare world-ready students for any vocation that they’re called into. So healthcare, business, law, the arts, what we know today is you might, you might be in Arkansas, or Houston, or Minnesota, or Chicago, New York, almost every city that has an Amazon warehouse is an international city. And what we know is that we want that provider, that healthcare provider, that business person, we want them to be able to represent who they are in relationship to the calling they have as a whole person. So for instance, if you’re a lawyer, your client is a Sikh Hindu, you should be able to represent that person in the wholeness of who they are. And that comes from understanding and respecting the other. Now, thirdly, what you have already proven with your report is that Christians when they encounter other faiths, when they engage across faith lines, you become attentive to what you believe. So if you’re hanging out with all the same people, you might not ask the questions you will ask if you’re hanging out with people who believe differently than you, again, back to experiential education, that’s what helps you really own your faith. So that’s why we really think this is an opportunity for us.
Michael Wear 28:40
Yeah, yeah. So appreciate that, Shirley, we’ll dig in a bit more into some of the ideas you raised. But we’d love to turn to Mark. Mark, I’ve known you for years, and you’ve done sort of bridge building work for much of your life across all kinds of divides. And I’m interested in what resources you believe the Christian faith offers for that kind of work generally. You got to hear from Shirley and her thoughts on bridge building. But when it comes to interfaith engagement, specifically, as well as bridge building work broadly, what have you found the Christian faith offers that actually is a boon to that kind of work?
Mark DeYmaz 29:19
Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, first, just at a macro level, we’re obviously I’m all for and what Steve, Bob Roberts of course and Glocalnet, in my opinion, just at the top of the list within the evangelical world for engagement. But really, you know, just a little bit of a different tack. Although I have been and very much committed to interfaith involvement. We’ve got a problem in the American church within our own faith. How can we even engage interfaiths meaning Jews, Muslims, etc. We can’t even engage ourselves. We cannot even engage ourselves in terms of our own Christianity, let alone across color, class, and culture. So of course, as you know, Michael, my work in this regard is for particularly within Christianity, and within the American church trying to bring diverse people together, to will themselves to walk, work, worship God together as one beyond the distinctions of this world that otherwise divide. And I think that certainly is a part of this discussion if we can’t even do that within our own houses of faith, how in the world are we going to do that effectively beyond Christianity in general, which again, I’m all for. When you think about a resource, the first thought I thought was Jesus himself. Shirley is alluding to that as well, right? I think it’s important.
And Steve, you brought up fear. Christ, in my opinion, Jesus does not need us to defend him. What he needs is us to represent him well. And by the way, as we talked about, Steve, common ground, right, you think about Jesus common the Jewish faith common to the Muslim faith common to Christianity, we start there were humans first, right and then beyond that Jesus becomes a common ground. Even though we here share different opinions or views about him, he is to all three of those major faiths, of course, common ground, so I looked at Christ as the key resources. Again, he doesn’t need us to defend him, but rather represent him well, which he defines in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” we’re talking about bridgebuilding the term I would use as peacemaking. But “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called,” that is identified, “as the very sons and daughters of God.” In the Beatitudes, in every Beatitude, you get something for what you do, except for one. In Matthew 5:9, you are identified with someone for what you do, and again, that’s peacemaking. So that’s, that’s the metaphor, if you will, the resources is Christ and the resource and when I think about Jesus on the cross arms outstretched, right, He died for all people hope for all, not just some, right, so Republicans on the right hand, the Democrats on the left, blacks, whites, Asian, Hispanic, and we can expand that to the interfaith dialogue. He does not want us to let go of one hand to cater to the other side, right? This is part of the parable of reaching the one beyond the 99. So of course, Christ is that resource.
And you’ve mentioned listening, of course, I didn’t know I, I guess I was listening before listening cool, was cool, because in the mid 90s, I’m looking at my church and something’s not right. And I began to get with, particularly African Americans here in the city and to listen, I found that listening, as we all know, it requires proximity, you can’t listen if you’re not close and in proximity with someone else, which it also assumes relationship, right. So it requires proximity, assumes relationship. And Shirley, you touched on this in Philippians 4, back up to Philippians chapter two. What it requires of me is to have this attitude in me, which was also in Christ Jesus was the attitude of humility and obedience. What Christ did in Philippians 2 in terms of empty himself was he didn’t stop being God, as we believe in the Christian faith. He was 100% God, 100% man. What he emptied himself up was power, position and privilege. He leveraged these things, he was all powerful by our faith, he’s all powerful, right, position seated at the right hand of God, privilege, throw yourself off the temple, angels will catch you. What Christ did is he emptied himself, he didn’t come to be king of the hill, like the old school yard game, the way you stay king of the hill is to keep others down. No, he came down to be king of the world. And if you want to be king of the world, you’ve got to come down leverage, empty yourself of your power, whatever you have in whatever measure of life that’s been afforded to you or that you’ve otherwise earned, you empty yourself, you leverage that to go down and push others up, if you will. And this is what he did in emptying himself a power, position, and privilege.
So again, I look to the resource of Christ himself and to model to follow his example. Of course, we should understand theology is I, I love to get into sociology, history, right? All of that. And in terms of practice, again, in the evangelical world, a great resource, our good friend, Bob Roberts, Glocalnet, I think there’s even a conference coming up, Steve, where they are, again, bringing Jews, Muslims, and others together. And Bob just models this and he has a structure for that as well, in terms of Glocalnet.
Michael Wear 34:12
Thank you so much, Mark, really appreciate that. Kendra up, we had the most remarkable conversation with you and your peers at the University of Minnesota. And to be honest, it like deeply influenced the report, the direction of this report and our thinking that interfaith engagement is both a generational mandate and a generational opportunity. I’m wondering what you think young Christians have to offer to the church when it comes to approaching interfaith, multifaith engagement?
Kendra Bunke 34:43
Yeah, um, I think my generation finds themselves in a really unique place right now. I think many of us are very present online, which means like, we’re also very engaged with popular culture. And so I know for myself I attended public school here in Minneapolis, I grew up here and was around people who are very different than me. And I was also attending youth group pretty consistently, I was very involved in church growing up. And so I think due to these things like I think many similar Christians have developed this kind of cultural literacy, which allows us to comfortably engage with those from different backgrounds and yeah, just different people that we encounter who are different from us and have different faiths. So I think young people are very open to new ideas and other people’s experiences and learning and listening, I hope. So, yeah, overall, I do feel like very optimistic for my generation and the future of interfaith engagement.
Michael Wear 35:51
Oh, really appreciate that, Kendra. Next few questions, just kind of want to open up to all of you. Interesting, sort of concern or observation came up several times in our research in our conversations. You know, some folks said, and Mark actually kind of kind of raised this in his comment, you know, they would say, you know, I don’t know that we should be talking about engaging and finding common ground with other faiths, when we haven’t figured out how to see eye to eye with other Christians yet. And so in a time of polarization, a significant amount of attention and resources directed toward issues of racial justice and reconciliation within the church. Can Christian leaders and institutions afford to devote attention to interfaith relations? And why should sort of space be made for this kind of, this kind of work?
Shirley Hoogstra 36:49
Well, I always think just because you’re not doing it well in one arena, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try in another arena. We can’t get it all right, in the right sequence, per se, but I would posture that we need all the practice we could get. And I I completely agree with Mark, that he has pointed out, your question is pointed out that this is hard work. And I have found the Interfaith Youth Core experiences to be a good on ramp for learning the skills that we need, both intra our religion and then intra-interfaith religious ways.
Mark DeYmaz 37:33
Yeah, Michael and Shirley I would just add it to both and like we talked about, or I said earlier, it’s not one or the other, It’s a both and. I think as a pastor, and Steve, you I have no doubt know this as well, oftentimes pastors are confronted with one issue or another, right? So in this particular conversation, intra faith, Shirley to use your term, or interfaith, which one, right, and they get overwhelmed with all the other needs of producing Sunday to Sunday, count all the things that pastors involved. What I believe to be true, and what I try to encourage pastors, now that I’m 60, and been in this a long time trying to pass it on while I got time is you don’t have to do everything, right. You don’t have to do everything.
In other words, I don’t have to be the one who leads out in interfaith dialogue, I don’t have to be the one to evil lead out in terms of intra-faith dialogue, I just have to understand the importance of it, the significance of it, and then empower diverse others around me, and empower them, again, raise them to the level of responsible authority, et cetera, within my church, within our team and empower them to go lead out on that. But when it bottlenecks with the pastor, number one, is that the bottleneck right, but the other thing is, I feel overwhelmed, and that’s what forces me to say, I can only prioritize this, or I can only prioritize that. And again, I think this is the 20th century is that kind of general down senior pastor, the 21st, it’s team based management, and pastors have to get beyond themselves to empower diverse others in all of these respects, in order to broaden their impact that is broaden the collective Church’s impact in society.
Steve Bezner 39:15
If I can just add a couple of things I agree with, with everything that that Shirley and Mark have already said. I would say that, to sort of go back to what I said in the beginning, Michael, whenever we find disagreements internally, most of the time, I would say that’s because we have probably forgotten who we are as a Christian. And whenever we engage with other faiths, we’re reminded of that, that we discover what really is essential to the faith. Whenever we’re engaging with people who come at life from a completely different perspective. And as a result, then whenever I find myself back in my internal discussions within Christianity, I’m reminded of what’s essential. And I’m also able to more clearly identify what’s extraneous. And so I think that one of the best arguments for interfaith engagement is the fact that it actually helps me know more clearly, what faithful Christian witness and what essential Christian witness is and where I can more readily identify what’s extraneous to the faith.
Michael Wear 40:22
Yeah, yeah. Kendra anything to add on this question?
Kendra Bunke 40:27
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s very worthwhile. And I think finding common area will help all of us collectively reconciling heal. And I’ll just say Anselm House, again, the organization that I’ve been a part of, for last three years, which is a Christian student study center, we greatly value bringing Christians from many different traditions together to experience community and delve deeper into our respective faiths. So there are evangelical students, their Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, the list goes on. And while all these like are different Christian denominations, but are still a part of the Christian faith, each tradition looks a little differently, but we can all find this common ground like interfaith and I think that’s really valuable, and I’ve personally benefited a lot from having those conversations there.
Michael Wear 41:21
Yeah, yeah, thanks, Kendra. A novel, I think, recommendation in this report, came out of the stories and concerns that we heard during our listening sessions, is this idea that to include evangelicals in interfaith engagement, the table, our recommendation is that the table should be set in a way that doesn’t prohibit the sharing of one’s faith. Meanwhile, evangelicals should approach interfaith engagement with a vision of what successful worthwhile engagement looks like, aside from or in addition to, or sort of, even in the absence of a success, quote, unquote, “successful evangelism.” Am interested in any response to that specific recommendation? And in your experience with interfaith work how salient is that question of sort of evangelicals, wondering if you know if this is an appropriate environment in which to be themselves? And can they share their faith, but in what way? It came up throughout our listening session, so I wanted to make sure we discussed it here on this panel.
Steve Bezner 42:40
You know, Michael, one of the things that’s been interesting has been that as we have worked with other faiths in Houston, towards what we would call common good projects. So for instance, right now, we’re working on a community garden that’ll work to address hunger needs, and food deserts in the city, together, that’s one of the projects we’re working on. What we find is that then the friendships that are built across that provide interesting opportunity for faith discussion. It’s, you know, too long of a story to tell, but at this point, I’ve now had the opportunity to speak in two different mosques in the city of Houston, or three different mosques in the city of Houston, had the opportunity to speak in a synagogue. And they want to know what I believe in these very public forums. So from an evangelism perspective, I think that I’m getting to share who Jesus is in spaces that I never would have imagined prior to this sort of work. But the also the real truth is, oh, and by the way, we’ve had multiple members from other mosques, come to Easter services, etc., you know, and have interesting conversations. But I think, too, that the truth is, is that it forces evangelicals to look at their neighbors, less as projects and more as neighbors. And so evangelism, speaking the truth about who we believe Jesus to be, is happening, I don’t know that we’re always going to see what evangelicals have historically coined or decided, is, quote, unquote, “successful.” So to me, it’s been successful, but others it might be viewed as something other than that.
Michael Wear 44:12
Yeah. Thanks, Steve. Any other comments on that point?
Kendra Bunke 44:19
Yeah, also, I’ll say, thanks. Like, I’m a huge advocate for that approach, and engaging in conversations about religion with those who come from different faith backgrounds are no fake backgrounds at all. And I think like there’s absolutely a place for evangelism. But I think it’s also important to remain detached in some way from the outcome when you’re sharing your perspectives. Yeah, I found that to be crucial in those conversations. Because you you only have so much control, and I think people can feel it when you’re trying to change their mind and that just shouldn’t be the goal and having Interfaith conversations. But yeah, I think that’s helpful to remember takes the pressure off and hopefully it makes engaging and interfaith conversations less intimidating too.
Mark DeYmaz 45:12
Kendra, that’s such a good, such an important point you bring up and Michael, I just add to that conversation typical, or as I was sharing before, if we’re talking interfaith at a high level, the next level is that intrafaith, and what Steve’s describing, of course, is that relational or experiential, the proximity getting involved, but what I have found is a resource Dave Livermore, his work cultural intelligence, CQ, we have to be intentional individually, to understand where we are at any given moment, in terms of our own cross cultural intelligence, as well as structurally in organizations churches. By the way, Shirley, our CQ work, we were just down in sponsoring your conference. We’re working with Pepperdine, Westmont, John Brown University, and in helping using Dave Livermore tool of the Cultural Intelligence Center helping individuals as well as organizations, not just take the guesswork out, right, take the guesswork out and get empirical data as to where he or she is an individual and or the organization sits at any given moment in terms of its cross cultural intelligence, getting that empirical information and empirical data coupled with the experiential relational side that Steve’s talking about is kind of a one, two punch heads and tails to make us much more informed, and that we would take intentional steps where we’re related as an individual or organization at a macro level of faith, which ultimately, in my opinion, will have a great impact, a positive impact on our attempt to be cross culturally competent in terms of engaging interfaith.
Michael Wear 46:48
Yeah, yeah, thanks, Mark. This report has a lot of different kinds of recommendations and insights into how evangelicals approach interfaith engagement. I’m wondering that this is sort of an opportunity for you all, not the only opportunity, but this is one sort of, what advice would you have to civic leaders to university presidents to elected office holders to mean, secular nonprofits that are doing interfaith work? What advice would you have to them about how to set the table in a way that is more likely to be inclusive of evangelicals?
Shirley Hoogstra 47:44
I think that the core of the model that the Interfaith Youth Core organization uses is that you are not the enemy. Right, and, and so that models for Christians, towards Muslims, towards Hindus to anyone else that doesn’t see the world the way you do, that you are not the enemy, and that you have something to offer. And I think that we can’t see religious people as the enemy. Now, there may be some things that are in culture that secular groups do not appreciate or don’t admire, and may downright think is despicable. But that posture is not going to build the flourishing communities that we want. So to use the model of Interfaith Youth Core and evangelical engagement, is to say that I don’t start with you’re the enemy and are not invited at the table. I start with you are someone who may have something to offer me if I can have the posture of an open mind and a listening heart.
Michael Wear 48:47
Yeah, thank you, Shirley. Any other any other thoughts on that question?
Mark DeYmaz 48:54
Yeah, I would just say earlier as we discuss Philippians 2, emptying yourself a power, position, and privilege, leveraging whatever, you have to invite others to the table to lift them up to get into dialogue. Beyond that, as Steve mentioned earlier, I would encourage those of us within Christianity to understand that we are the people of faith, not of fear. And fear is what drives so much of the decisions of pastors and ministry leaders, even probably college presidents, etc.
Fear of loss, fear of people walking away, as Steve mentioned, even from the faith or particularly from a congregation, and if I can just say that what goes with that is money, economics. And at the root, it’s, it’s the little thing no one wants to talk about. They don’t want to lose people, and they don’t want to lose money. And what is required in the 21st century is to change the metric. It’s not about size, it’s about influence. And the greater your cross cultural intelligence, the greater the diversity of your organization, not for diversity’s sake, but because it’s biblical, it’s right. It’s not just nice, it’s necessary. It’s not optional, it’s Biblical. Revelation 7:9. If we understand it, it’s not about size. It’s about influence and we play and pitch our organizations to the future. And we don’t just play to the present. What that requires is us to change the metrics. And when it comes to money, the economics at the root of all that fear is loss of money. And I won’t be able to sustain an organization, we have to develop multiple streams of income in this age.
So in the church, tithes and offerings in schools, you know, tuitions, right? And then you go beyond that to grants and donations, even a for profit business income, we’re gonna have to develop multiple streams of income to deal with the potential loss of people not buying into what it is you’re selling, so to speak, so as we are not pulled off the higher metric of representing Christ well. Yeah, yeah. Appreciate that. Have just one more question before we turn to q&a. And I’d love for each of you to take a shot at this, which is just what is your greatest hope for, for evangelicals and interfaith engagement in the in the months and years ahead? What do you think the potential is, if we do this work well?
Shirley Hoogstra 51:14
My hope is that we could be a role model.
Steve Bezner 51:20
I think that it sort of goes back to some of the opening comments, I would, I would love to see interfaith engagement actually help us understand our identity more in Christ, which would lead to greater unity within the faith, and then the ultimate hope for flourishing communities. And whenever we just some of the previous comments, I was thinking about the fact that one of the recommendations towards other folks is to work side by side. Whenever people understand one another, they work shoulder to shoulder towards a common goal, whether that be something centered on virtue or something improving their community, whenever they whenever they do those sorts of things, they develop a mutual respect and that helps build a healthier community. So I would think that, that maybe the the end project or the end goal would be that that we would have greater unity within the faith and then we would end up really being able to build these healthier, flourishing communities.
Michael Wear 52:23
Mark, Kendra, anything that to add on?
Mark DeYmaz 52:30
Yeah, I’ll just say that, my hope is to establish for the reasons I’ve already shared, healthy, multi ethnic, economically diverse, socially just, culturally intelligent, financially sustainable churches, in which diverse men and women will will themselves to walk, work, worship God together as one, and the outflow of that, again, impacts this very important conversation that we’re having. Because at the end of the day, my hope and my belief, and you know, at 60 years old, I won’t be here for this, but with the dawn of AI in the next 30/40 years, eventually, we’re going to play together much better, we’re going to be forced to do that, due to AI and to recognize the common humanity. It won’t be so much black, white, this that we’re going to be humans against machines in a certain way. And I don’t mean that in a sci fi way, but I’m just saying, the society is gonna force us in a lot of ways to connect and to relate as Shirley said, my hope is that we’re proactive in that and we are leaders in that we don’t wait to be forced into what we should have already been doing anyway, is playing nice in the sandbox as common human beings, right. But I believe society will force that at some point. My hope is that we’re ahead of that in a proactive way to the degree that Shirley was talking about.
Kendra Bunke 53:46
Yeah, I would say my answers pretty short, but that we learn how to listen better. And we remain bold, in what we believe and in loving others as well.
Michael Wear 53:57
Yeah, really wonderful. I’ll just, we, the final section of the report, is the biggest, the biggest opportunities for interfaith cooperation. And I’ll just sort of throw in several folks in listening, several of our listening session participants highlighted sort of the capacity for mutual advocacy, this idea that when we get to know one another better, and there will be opportunities where we’ll be able to advocate for one another, publicly in ways that that could be really helpful and sort of the flip side of that is less hate. We’ve seen of course, a rise, and Steve, you’ve been right in the thick of it over the last few months, a rise of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and to cultivate an environment where there’s less religious hatred as well and many identified but at would, at really thank you all, for this conversation. I believe we have some time for q&a. And I believe Megan’s gonna help us with that.
Megan Hughes Johnson 55:07
Thank you all. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, everyone, for this great conversation already. We have a few minutes for some q&a here before we close, and I’m just gonna read a few questions that have come in, and then leave it to you all to choose which ones feel like the most relevant for you to pick up in about three or four minutes that we have left. So one is talking about how does this work in a rural area where you might not have diversity in your neighborhood? So what does interfaith engagement look like when you’re in a more homogenous area of the country? Another is asking, digging in a bit more to this question around evangelism and asking panelists to elaborate on what does it mean to offer a Christian witness? What’s the most important part of that to share? And then a question around higher level investments? So should there be initiatives or policy at a higher level that might encourage interfaith engagement in evangelical circles? And then lastly, and this could be its own webinar, looking at the approach of looking at Christianity as an identity versus as a set of beliefs? And what are the barriers or opportunities there? So I’m going to throw that all at you and see what sticks what feels like something you’d like to pick up in our remaining minutes?
Mark DeYmaz 56:24
Megan, I can jump in on that first question on the rural question. In the rural area, because again, he’s talking or she whoever asked the question, about the interfaith dialogue that may be absent in a number of rural areas. Again, it goes back to blooming, where you’re planting starting where you’re at, even in, in every, in every county and every small town and every rural area, somebody owns a shop and somebody sweeps it, okay, and so even at the base level, just getting beyond yourself, beyond your thought silos, beyond your economic class, is a basis because in each of these areas, we learn something that we can extrapolate to go beyond. So again, there’s economic diversity, there’s often diversity of potentially, I’m just making this up in a rural area in Iowa and the farming Hispanics, or what have you. So going from an economic side to kind of the color, class, culture divides. Again, the learning that goes on at those at those micro levels can later be extrapolated when opportunity arises to the interfaith level. So bloom where you’re planted, but don’t just look at diversity as interfaith it’s also again, color, class, and culture.
Michael Wear 57:35
Yeah. Any of those? Yeah, yes, Shirley, do you have something to speak into?
Shirley Hoogstra 57:43
Yeah. Well, I always like the question about what do you have to share about your faith that is so essential? And there’s that phrase that talks about, you know, preach Christ sometimes use words. While that’s true in one way, I think, actually, I really saying what the difference is about why we have the hope that we have is really important. And I think it takes words to do it. And I think it’s a really special message. So I look for opportunities to really explain this. When I look in the mirror, I see a person who’s really flawed. And I know that there is an afterlife. And I know that there’s going to be justice in that afterlife. And I know that I’m going to come up short. But I know that Jesus has come down and bridge that chasm between my shortcomings and what I think eternal life is going to require, which is a justice and a mercy and grace and Jesus has done that for me. That’s why I love being a Christian, and that’s why I have the hope that I have. So I think when you are proximate and when you get to know people, people are interested in the big questions of life. It’s not what I would start with, but I think when you get to know people, I’d like to know, what is your security when you die? Then I’ll just quickly say that I’ve known a Jewish woman for 20 years, we’ve been close friends, we’ve worked together. And it was just this year that she said, “Shirley, I’m not sure what’s going to happen when I die.” And she’s 80. And that is that was the opening for us to sit down at her invitation because she knew that I had a security about what would happen when I die and she wanted it too.
Megan Hughes Johnson 59:20
Thank you, Shirley. Thank you all unfortunately, we’re gonna have to wrap it here with our panel. But thank you so much for all of your thoughts and contributions. I do want to invite Michael Murray, who is the president of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and the key supporter for this partnership, this report and a stalwart supporter of this conversation and these topics in general. Michael, we’d love to hear some of your reflections on this conversation and to close us out today.
Michael Murray 59:47
It’s at a level of local congregations, some of you are probably familiar with organizations like the One America Movement, and the Colossian Forum that are building understanding and partnerships between diverse religious groups at the local level, in ways that not only defuse tensions, but also lead to positive social change for the communities that they inhabit. Campus based organizations like InterVarsity are responding to interest on the part of their students to engage specifically with Muslim students on their campuses. InterVarsity has just launched a series of what they call Peace Feasts this year, which bring together evangelical students and Muslim students to eat and talk together as a way of building understanding and relationship and community. Many of you are familiar with the work of the Veritas Forum, which highlights the value and importance of Christian belief in practice, especially on so-called elite college campuses. Veritas has recently launched a series of interfaith forums collaborating with student ministry groups on the host campuses to facilitate engagement between those students after the Veritas event is over.
And this isn’t limited to students on secular campuses. As we’ve heard on this on this webinar, CCCU schools have been partnering with IFYC to provide training for students and faculty on interfaith engagement across many campuses, which has led to numerous important programs and initiatives on those campuses. And organizations like Neighborly Faith have been working across numerous CCCU campuses to bring together Muslim students and evangelical students on those campuses to increase understanding and also to build positive relations.
Furthermore, I think they’re important emerging voices among Christian thought leaders that are making credible and really often well-received calls for pluralism and engagement across religious traditions, by reviving an interest in the importance of Christian hospitality. And here I have in mind work of people like Matt Kaemingk at Fuller Seminary and strongly encourage folks to take a look at his book, “Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear.” I think it’s important for evangelicals and for all of us to realize that engaging across lines of religious difference isn’t something that even requires moving in new circles. A Pew Research Center study on religious literacy recently showed that Americans have on average to at least two friends, and one extended family member who don’t share their faith. So learning how to engage across lines of difference, something that we’ll have to do even if we don’t make proactive efforts to do it. And while evangelicals might have many motivations for engaging across lines of religious difference, one motivation that emerges from that Pew study is that doing so helps to raise positive sentiment towards them. The study concludes, for instance, that gaining an evangelical friend leads to a warmer assessment of evangelicals by seven degrees on their feeling thermometer that they used to measure sentiment between individuals in different groups.
And all of these things can be done in ways that are consistent with retaining a confident commitment to the Christian faith and a posture of openness towards sharing one’s faith with others as you’ve heard from some of the panelists. If you want to see a couple of vivid examples of this, I would encourage you to take a look at a couple of online videos that I think provide models for how committed evangelicals can engage across lines of difference in ways that don’t involve a sort of compromise that many of them are concerned about. One is a discussion that took place between the former Southern Baptist Convention President JD Greer, and the Muslim leader Omar Suleiman at NC State in early 2020. And the other is a talk by Eboo Patel, who’s on the call with us today and president of Wheaton College Phil Ryken. Eboo gave a talk followed by a conversation in front of the entire Wheaton student body that I think provides a model for how innovative faith engagement of this work can take place. So let me just close by thanking Michael and Melissa again for the report and its insights to Shirley and the CCCU and IFYC, for their leadership on this front and to those of you on the call who are engaging in this work as well. I hope that those of you who are looking to expand this work will share that with us at the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and even submit funding requests so we can consider through our open submission process. So thanks to all of you and I’m glad to be with you today.
Megan Hughes Johnson 1:05:07
Wonderful, thank you so much, Michael, thank you for all of your support for this work for those closing thoughts, and saving the best for last, an invitation to reach out to you if people have interesting ideas and initiatives they’d like to talk with you about. Thank you to Shirley and CCCU for ongoing partnership. Thank you to our panelists today for all their wisdom. Lastly, a huge thank you again to Michael and Melissa for their partnership on this report. It is so excellent and we can’t wait to continue to use it and reference it in the months and years to come.
Be on the lookout everyone for an email from IFYC with ways to watch, listen or read this conversation again and share it with your networks. We will also share ways to stay involved in the exciting conversations, programs, and grants at IFYC including the campus grant we mentioned earlier for CCCU campuses. Thank you for joining us today. I hope you found the conversation as enriching as I did. We do hope that you will use the report in conversations that you have on your campuses and in your communities. Thanks all and be well.