WRF Member Kraig Kelly Reports on Global Faith Forum

January 16, 2011

Pure, Distinctive Faith in a Multi-Faith Globalized World: A Report of the 2010 Global Faith Forum in Keller, Texas at Northwood Church, November 11-13, 2010.

By Rev. Kraig Kelly, Director of Evangelism and Church Planting of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Texas, USA and the World Reformed Fellowship

The 2010 Global Faith Forum, was perhaps, a great next step in the United States’ Buckle of the Bible Belt in relation “to the heals” of the Cape Town 2010 Lausanne World Evangelization Conference. This was a relatively quietly held event by some fairly globally influential people of many different faiths. Many of the secular media who tend to covet social responsibility were invited to come, but none from that camp really were seen. This was, perhaps, one of the most profound and relevant events that many (including Evangelicals) allowed to pass by unaware. If readers follow this article closely, then, they will likely begin to see how to start engaging in meaningful ways, into a faith dialogue, especially amongst Christians and Muslims. Yet, there are many points applicable in any faith discussion towards any other faith. Or, this may provide helpful reminders and insights for faithful evangelists (every Christian ought to be one or they need one) already attempting to be a witness of Jesus Christ to Muslims.

Due to the unique history of the formation of the United States – a country formed, removed of racial originating/preservation purposes, but rather, by ideology by multi-ethnic and racial backgrounds and multiple faith traditions, one would assume the United States faith communities would be a leader in the world in civil faith discussions.  Truly, the United States was formed largely by various European ethnic and racial groups that had a tendency towards rivalry and hate. We were formed by British, Irish, Scottish, German, Dutch, Italian, Czechoslovakian, and Jewish, on and on. All these race groups had their representative ethnic practices and faith expressions. Not only did various faith communities segregate, but various “church” groups segregated from one another and preached segregation and superiority.

Did they lovingly embrace and tolerate one another? Absolutely not, they hated and despised each other – individually and collectively. Occasionally, some people actually looked beyond the differences, talked and wrote about the differences in non-condescending ways and set examples and challenges to be civil, respectful, consistent, trustworthy, honest and truthful.  But, there was a continuous vein of circumventing justice, politicizing, out-casting, killing and burning people of different ethnic and racial groups throughout our nation’s history. There was for example, a very real objection that a Catholic could be President one day. There was once a very real objection that an African American would be the top leader as well. All of this, like the country, existed in our churches and to some extent, still does.  These struggles are rooted in sin, and as sinful as it was then, it still is now, no matter where it surfaces on the globe.

Ultimately, this sin, when left unacknowledged, un-checked, or unaddressed masks or buries The Church’s call and mandate to evangelize. This begs at least a few vital questions: what is evangelism? How important are the methods by which we evangelize?

In a nutshell, evangelism is literally sharing “good news.” Often, in the West, our Evangelical evangelism squeezes a lot of good out of the message. Sure, it is necessary at times to point out the bad in order to be thirsty or open to hearing that there is a “better way” than what the current reality or condition of a human soul may be experiencing.  As Evangelicals, our good news is supposed to be centered on the person of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. Jesus is the hope of the world - nothing else. From our perspective, it is not religion, it is not church, it is not capturing a full understanding and legal description of sin. Rather, if Evangelicals are “knowing” God and Jesus, whom he sent, then they will be better equipped to relate to humanity and dialogue with humanity about her brokenness and even be a conduit to address it. Superiority, lack of humility and respect disrupts our ability to be trustworthy voices for good news.

The 2010 Global Faith Forum hosted by Rev., Dr. Bob Roberts , Jr. in Keller, Texas (a suburb of Dallas, Ft. Worth), was a forum where Christians could literally talk with other significant segments of the world which comprises other faiths. If Lausanne in Cape Town was about refocusing on Jesus Christ, praying and interceding for those far from faith in Christ, then the Global Faith Forum, was a great way for Evangelical leaders to model truthful, faithful, and respectful dialogue with people of different beliefs. And in an occasional comment or two, people of other faiths were revealing how they can be reached (or at least have an honest and civil faith discussion).

The other global faiths represented at this forum were Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Agnostic. Included in the discussion were communist leaders from Viet Nam, which typically are identified as Atheists or Buddhists. Without question, the 3 Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) were center stage the entire weekend.

 Across the board, the various panel of speakers and facilitators were impressive and included Eboo Patel (named by US News and World Report as one of America’s Best leaders in 2009 and served on President Obama’s Advisory Council of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships); HRH Sheik Turki Faisal (Former Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States and Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic studies) ;  Os Guiness (author, EastWest Institute Fellow, WRF member and philosopher);  John Esposito (Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and the Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service);  Viet Nam’s impressive diplomat and political leader, He Le Cong Phung; Najeeba Syeed-Miller, who is an Assistant Professor of Interreligious Education at Claremont School  of Theology and recognized authority and expert on multi-faith conflict resolution and problem solving; Mara Vanderslice (Deputy Director and Senior Policy Advisor to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships); Ed Stetzer, (a Lifeway Research executive, a North American expert on Church Planting, Contributing Editor to Christianity Today and Columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Today); , Suhail Kahn (who served as Policy Director and Press Secretary for U.S. Congressman Tom Campbell [R-CA] where he worked closely on a variety of legislative initiatives, including religious freedom. More recently, Khan served as a senior political appointee with the Bush Administration) and Christianity Today’s Senior Editor Mark Galli.

Various segments of this conference can be found by following the stream online under http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVUDOJcP4kQ&feature=related.

It was quite evident that many of the speakers and leaders who came, had a personal relationship beyond mere acquaintance with host, Bob Roberts, and this was conveyed several times over.

Ultimately, as Roberts explained, this is a new platform where honest dialogue can take place. Many of the other speakers, representing other faiths, including Islam were unified in the consensus: This was not a platform for political correctness or syncretism for the sake of unity often found in Western “Inter-faith” forums and discussions. Further, as Roberts suggested, conservative Evangelicals are often harsh and wrong in how we present truth or in how we treat others: harsh and cold.

“We are here [at this forum] because as followers of Christ, I believe God wants everyone to get along [with one another]. Why are we here? The world is small and we have religions everywhere…Everything we do around here is a story, not a rule book and not “how-to” principles…We start with [reaching out] the hand, not Theology. We may not be able to collaborate on building churches and mosques…but we need a new platform: Multi-faith….We may not be in agreement, but we should not allow our Theology to keep us from working together…Everything is public – we have one [continuous] conversation. Be honest even if it ‘hurts me. We serve not to convert, but because we are converted. We begin by seeking justice first.’”

The “Multi-faith” forum is distinctive from inter-faith in that deep distinctive convictions about truth and perspectives are desired and could be discussed no matter of the theological differences, without dismissing or diluting the differences.  As, EastWest Institute Fellow and WRF member, Os Guiness explained: “The Inter-faith dialogue philosophy believes if we talk long enough we will find unity…[however,] the right to believe anything doesn’t mean that anything and everything is right…civil platforms means upholding the same rights for Christians, Jews and Muslims…[for Christians] freedom of conscience is a right, but it is not a right to believe everything.”

This tone was set from the beginning by Rev. Roberts, who grew up Reformed in East Texas, a place known for ultra-conservative religion and racist strong-holds especially during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s:

“I didn’t like what I saw growing up, it was elitist and was not Christ-like in my era...The focus of my worship is placed, as an Evangelical, upon the Lord Jesus Christ. I love him with all my heart but I worship with people every Sunday who call themselves Christians, yet, they do not know him.  People view church as a Sunday event, a religious experience, but it has not changed them.  This is not just a conversation.”

Roberts continued:

“I do not like religious conversations…what you are seeing (at the Global Faith Forum) are my friends…people that I am very close to, people that I love, people that I pray for, people that are not Christians, some that are, some that are agnostic, some that are secular, some that are atheist, some that are Muslim, some that are Jews. I am not intimidated by that because I know my faith and my Creator. I think the reason sometimes we are so nervous about coming together…the truth of the matter is… is that we are not very secure in our faith. We are afraid to talk about – what if someone makes me question something? What does it mean to know what your faith is and to be secure in your faith?”

“I am a passionate believer that we can make a difference in the world even though we have some irreconcilable theological differences. The reason we can make a difference is that we already live in the same world, pay taxes to the same government, we go to the same public schools, [and] the same person at Ford that built yours is the same that built mine or Toyota or whatever car you drive. Whether we like it or not in this world, we collaborate, we get along, we hang out together. Shame on all of us: we call ourselves followers of Jesus, or whatever we follow, in our faith – instead of bringing us to people, [our faith] pushes us away…What does it mean to be confident enough in your faith that you can have friends [in different faiths]…If we become friends with people naturally, then we can begin to talk about faith – not about ‘religious-do-good-stuff…”

With the preponderance of Western media shaping Americans and American Pastors perspectives about Islam (see http://www.lifeway.com/article/163830 , scroll down to Pastors reaction to statement on Islam to access the Power Point or research) fear, skepticism, misunderstanding, and alienation tend to be the result between the two faith camps in the US.

Muslim Youth Activist and national Muslim leader, Eboo Patel shared at the forum: “The most powerful comment I heard from Bob Roberts a few years ago was – ‘You do what you do not to convert but because you are converted.’”

Ed Stetzer took a considerable amount of time going over the Lifeway-Zogby Research that revealed 44% of U.S. Pastors view Islam as dangerous and 42% as a religion that promotes violence.

Stetzer concluded: “You cannot simultaneously hate a people and reach a people. You cannot simultaneously fear a people and reach a people. Multi-faith is an acknowledgement that we are more than one faith…Don’t assert that we know their religion better than they do themselves…check their faith sources, don’t rely on biased media reports…Commit to healthy multi-faith dialogue…and develop a habit of talking with people about faiths – we tend to talk to broadly.”

The following notes are included below to help the reader stretch and re-think how their evangelism is reflecting and communicating the good news of Jesus Christ in a multi-faith and multi-ethnic environment.

Muslim voice, Najeeba Syeed-Miller, shared many recommendations to consider for Muslims and Christians when trying to “evangelize” one another:

·         She is never offended that someone proclaims their faith.

·         Muslims should be challenged, as well as Christians to bring tensions down.

·         “Start a faith conversation with mutual respect for each other.”

·         “It is more important to trust than to agree with one another.”

·         “Not only should clergy get together, but young people should to – but you cannot just throw people together.”

·         “One of the problems Christians have is engaging Muslims only in times of crisis – we need to have relationships in times of peace and order.”

·         Move beyond massive events and go towards person to person diplomacy.

·         As Muslims, we see as a sign of God for different tribes and communities to exist according to the Quran (Surah 2:62; 3:113-114; 29:46)

·         “We share a commonality of texts and some doctrines. Jews and Christians are seen as people of the book.”

·         She said she teaches at a school of Theology and always goes back to the text.

·         “All of us tend to project our own mindsets on our own religions. Sometimes the most learned person can be a violator.”

·         An impediment to the Multi-faith dialogue for Muslims is the lack of quality translation or agenda oriented translation.

Another Muslim voice, former President Bush Administration Appointee, Suhail Khan, who was born in the United States and whose parents were from India, shared the following points in moving forward with a Multi-faith discussion:

·         Muslims and Christians have many barriers on both sides that need to be addressed.

·         “I have to tell Muslim friends: ‘don’t judge Christian friends.’”

·         He was asked by New York Times about the NPR firing of Juan Williams: he didn’t agree with the firing – Mr. Williams was expressing honest feelings without hate.

·         Sharia Law is based on 3 things:

o   Quran – the revealed word of God, word for word

o   Traditions and sayings of Mohammed the prophet

o   Supreme Court rulings

·         Several things to consider:

o   Islamic Law is very situational

o   Muslims must obey the law of the land

o   When it comes to the United States, Islam is completely compatible

·         “Mulsims cannot take one innocent life, period, end of story.”

·         “Osama Bin Laden may try to Theologically justify his war, but he has no case whatsoever.”

·         “We all tend to look for the simple narrative in a complex ordeal.”

·         “We can disagree on how we see salvation and yet agree on how we bring righteousness on the Earth.”

·         “In having a conversation about faith, we must know each other, but go for it, maybe we will convert them.”

·         First, get to know a local Muslim. Get together with a couple of families over meals. Start small and build relationships. Doesn’t recommend getting entire congregations together. Each person loving another person and caring for another person.

 

Mark Galli, Senior Editor of Christianity Today:

·         How do we communicate without being denigrating and inflammatory?

·         Online world is not known as a civil forum

·         What would Jesus do in a time when Christians, Jews, and Muslims look at one another with fear and terror?

·         In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus may have a completely different view of peacemaking than we might.

·         Jesus recognizes “the religious” are seeking for opportunity to catch him breaking a law.

o   Jesus even heals a man on the Sabbath who wasn’t asking for healing.

o   We are going to find ourselves in the same type of trouble that Jesus found himself in when we engage in conversation with others.

·         How do I respond when someone else says something that offends me?

·         Our tendency is to dwell on ‘how do I not offend’ when we should spend more time on the above question.

·         Listen before speaking

·         Don’t globalize groups

·         It seems as though God is forcing all of us to live together in the same “bed room!”

·         A lot of our talk is condemning

·         Wherever we say “we are chosen and they are not” and “we are the ‘apple of God’s eye’ and they are not,” we are committing ‘religious terrorizing.’

·         God is pursuing all of us in his love. All of us are sinners – even the Christians stand at the foot of The Cross condemned, needing a savior.

·         God was in the world and Christ is reconciling the world to himself.

Mark DeYmaz, Founding Pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, which is a multi-ethnic and economically diverse church where significant percentages of Black and White Americans, along with people from 30 different nations worship God together.

·         Who is my neighbor? It is someone very different from us.

·         Many Pastors and churches do not embody the Samaritan model of neighbor as presented by the Christ.

·         By 2042, one in two people in the US will not be white.

·         1 in 7 marriages today are inter-racial.

·         Multi-ethnic churches seem to be a solution to reach racially integrated cultures.

·         It seems we can’t even engage multi-ethnic people in our own churches.

·         The future of The Church does not rest with simply becoming a bridge for the community…it rests with becoming the community.

·         In the US, churches are 10 times more racially segregated than the communities and they are 20 times more racially segregated than public schools.

·         Diversity is obeying the gospel and the right thing to do.

·         Christ envisions the multi-ethnic church.

·         In John 17, the night before Jesus died speaks of the most effective means for reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

·         Acts 16 is the “healthy” church, not Acts 2.

·         Antioch was the third largest city of Roman Empire (like Houston is in the US).

·         Acts 20 is where the world called The Church in Antioch “Christians” – they didn’t give this title to Jerusalem, Peter, James, John.

·         Apostle Paul tells Ephesian Church to unite for the sake of reaching the world.

·         The city needs to see a diverse church, multi-ethnic and multi-economic, unite.

·         “Manifold” in the “Manifold wisdom of God” means “many colors.”

·         Important in The Church is civility, no self-righteousness, and inclusive of multi-ethnicities and multi-economic people.

John Esposito, PhD., Temple University, Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

·         When he was in college [decades ago], the Christians taught they were on the “cutting-edge” in engaging the world.

·         We are now moving backwards.

·         American engagement with Islam began with Iranian hostage crisis in the late 1970’s.

·         The challenge in a post 9-11 world is to see where we are headed…but that is not ‘good news.’

·         We need ‘bad news’ before we tell the ‘good news.’ We need a ‘prophetic’ voice.

·         We do not deal with something until we name it – i.e. – “racism;” “Islamaphobia;” “hate; ” etc.

·         We have fears – how do we get around that? It starts with relationships.

·         We are not the only people with a “lock” on truth.

·         In a globally interconnected world, we are not going to agree on everything, but we need to move forward.

·         We can move forward if Christians talk more about Jesus than doctrine and Muslims should talk more about the Quran than Islam.

·         High profile government leader “wannabes” comparing New York mosque at Ground-zero in New York City to “Nazi’s.”