Tonight, I'm scheduled to appear on The Stream, a 30 minute news program on the Al Jazeera America Network. In the past several weeks I've gotten to know some great people working in their Washington, D.C. studios, and they have asked me to contribute to a discussion that I think is essential for peace, liberty, and the advance of the Christian Gospel.
The subject is interfaith relationships, and how they can help bring understanding of each other and even cooperation in areas where we agree. I'll have the honor of sharing this conversation with Dr. Ingrid Mattson, and Rabbi Kilel Rose. Dr. Mattson is a former Catholic who converted to Islam in her 20s, and has since become a highly respected Muslim scholar. Among other things, she has been a passionate advocate of interfaith understanding and multi-faith activism.
Rabbi Rose leads the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Edmonton, Alberta, and has actively sought relationships with leaders in other faith traditions in his area, as well as his prior assignment as a Rabbi in Nashville.
So why did this evangelical Christian agree to participate in a show like this? In short, because I think Jesus would have!
The Scriptures call for followers of Jesus to be separated, not isolated. How on earth can followers of other religions know Jesus if they don't know us? And how can they know us when we refuse to associate with them because we fear "what that might look like?"
I understand some of the fear. I've heard from some in my own tribe who fear that we will compromise our faith, and I get that concern. The last thing I want to do is dishonor Jesus. But when I think about how He incarnated Himself among people not like Him, lived perfectly among them, gave His life for them, and post-resurrection calls us to live our lives after Him (John 20:21), I can't help but think that dialogue with people of other religions isn't a compromise of our faith. On the contrary, its practicing our faith at its highest level.
Jesus told us "blessed are the peacemakers." No one argues that there is a lot of unnecessary violence in the world--much of it caused by misunderstanding. We need leaders who are committed to overcome that misunderstanding and model for the rest of the world what it looks like to wrestle through differences with others toward genuine friendship. Tonight, a Jewish leader and a Muslim leader have offered to have one of those conversations. And given what I understand about the nature of the Great Commission, pastors should be among those who lead the way in accepting those opportunities!
Of course, doing this must involve clarity and honesty. There is a lot of talk today about "tolerance." Personally, I'm not interested in tolerance. Tolerance is what I give the TSA every time I'm in line at the airport, and honestly, I think my friends in other faiths deserve more than that. What I want with them is friendship. But friendship requires a few things:
1. Honesty: We have to be honest about our differences, and understand that those differences are over the most important issues--issues of eternal consequence.
2. Commitment: We need unconditional friendships that are not contingent on whether our non-Christian friends ever become Christian.
3. Freedom: One of the things we can work together on with our friends is the effort to ensure that we all remain free to believe what we want, worship as we choose, and share our message with others.
4. Understanding: And honestly, you can't have that unless you listen as well as talk. Accenting areas where we agree with one another is not the same as saying we agree on everything. Additionally, the best way to learn about another faith is to build a relationship with someone who follows it, and listen to why they follow it.
If you are interested in watching, you can find a channel guide here to see if AJA is available in your area and/or offered by your cable provider. And please pray for me, and for the discussion tonight. Pray that the message of Jesus is made clear, and that deeper relationships can be forged between Christians and non-Christians who are committed to peace.