|With Ayatollah Ahmad Iravani in 2013|
We evangelicals in the west are a bi-polar bunch. We declare God's love for the whole world while simultaneously acting as though certain parts of the world--or certain peoples in that world--are exempt. We recite the beatitudes as we throw unquestioned support behind war. And when it comes to missions, we are all too happy to reach people just like us over here--and pay someone else to deal with the people we don't like over there. Alan Hirsch sadly reports that 80% of the churches in North America are after the same 20% of the American population--that part of the population that has already been largely reached!
What I'm seeing in the world that is emerging are the actions of a God who is ready for us to actually obey Him!
Inexpensive travel, available technology and historically unprecedented global migration patterns mean that everyone now lives everywhere! As a result, nearly every major city in North America is now an active experiment in how radically diverse worldviews and lifestyles can coexist in the same small space. Globally, that means the prospect for increased tensions is higher. Locally, that means the best way to alleviate those tensions is to get to know your neighbor--whoever they are!
This is precisely why I was honored to be invited to be part of the Spreading Peace Convocation this weekend, and why I'm taking a large number of our Network pastors with me. Its because peace doesn't happen naturally. It must be made. And I believe faith leaders should be the catalysts for ensuring that our society doesn't devolve into unnecessary conflict.
This is most evident in the global relationship between Christians and Muslims. Ignorance, distrust, and paranoia on both sides of this discussion have led to persecution, bigotry, and hatred of the worst kind. A member of the Christian minority is persecuted or killed for his faith in Afghanistan. Word quickly reaches American shores, and the result is bigotry and broad-brushing against muslims, which in turn increases violence overseas. What happens here directly affects what happens there, which in turn affects what happens here. This is a vicious cycle of violence, hatred and distrust that can only be stopped by faith leaders.
Thursday and Friday of this week, I will be part of the first ever national meeting between Evangelical pastors and Muslim imams who will stand together and say "enough!" The meeting will culminate on Friday morning at the National Cathedral, when participants can sign a pledge to defend global religious freedom.
If you are a pastor, you should join us. You won't have to compromise your faith in the least to be part of something like this. In fact, this event may help you model for your people what it looks like to live out your faith in a multi-faith world. We aren't coming together to pretend our differences don't exist. (though I suspect the accusation of "promoting Chrislam" will be leveled by a few watch bloggers!) The truth is that we all hold to very strong conviction. I don't know of a single imam who will be in attendance who thinks I can get to heaven as long as I worship Jesus as God. Conversely, there won't be a single evangelical pastor there who believes their Muslim friends can get to heaven unless they start worshipping Him as God!
This isn't a meeting to minimize differences. Its a meeting where we commit not to kill each other over those differences! We have an historic opportunity to clear up misunderstandings, alleviate stereotypes about each other, and commit together to a lasting peace. That will require Muslim leaders in Muslim-majority nations committing to the protection of the religious minorities among them--including our Christian brothers and sisters. It will also require Christian leaders here committing to stand against ignorance, stereotyping, and bigotry toward our Muslim neighbors--respecting religious freedom for all.
My friend Bob Roberts, who is coordinating this meeting, says it best: The best way for a pastor to foster global peace in our time is to build a relationship with an imam! Thursday night at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, and Friday at the National Cathedral in Washington, you will have that opportunity. Join us!