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Interfaith Leadership

October 12, 2015

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core speak at GVSU. Here are a few highlights of his talk.eboo patel2

The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in human history. And the US is the most religiously devout nation in the western world. We, in the US have a choice about how we will live in an interfaith nation and and interfaith world- war or cooperation. Neither option is predetermined.

If we want cooperation we will need a critical mass of interfaith bridge builders and that is the work of the Interfaith Youth Core.

Interfaith leaders need three main skills. These skills are not primarily about thinking but are primarily about doing.

  1. The ability to recognize and develop and tell a public narrative. Future interfaith leaders will need to tell a story. They will need to be able to tell why interfaith work is important. This is not a philosophical argument for interfaith work. This is telling the story of real people with the real struggles and blessings of life in an interfaith nation and world.
  2. The ability to create activities that people of different religious orientations can do together. One value most, if not all, faith and non faith traditions hold is that of service. Serving others, helping others is a shared value. Our reasons for holding that value may be different but the value itself is what we have in common. When people from different religious orientations have the chance to work together, stereotypes and fears lessen.
  3. The ability to facilitate  deeply felt and meaningful conversation.  Leaders will need to be able to create a safe place where people can talk. They will need to ask the right questions and to identify areas of dialogue. These conversations should not focus immediately on deep differences. Deep differences exist and need to be addressed, but not right away. First people need to get to know each other, explain what is important about their faith and so on. eboo patel1eboo patel3As someone involved in campus ministry, I find that many students do not have any of these leadership skills. This is not the student’s fault, we as a society and as churches have not practiced this, have not modeled this and have not taught this.

Students are not the only ones who lack this abilities. Sadly many people have little experience talking with and being friends with someone outside their immediate faith tradition.

I am interested in hearing what your experiences have been. Do you know people from different faith traditions, or who have some different beliefs within your own tradition? How do you manage differences in belief and practice?

What do you think?

Who’s in, Who’s out: PC(USA) edition

July 25, 2015

In some PC(USA) circles there is a certain amount of- shall we say- dismay at the revelation that Donald Trump and Ann Coulter are Presbyterian. To be honest, my first reaction to that information also contains just a little bit of dismay.

Honestly, Trump and Coulter? How did that happen?

Well, Jesus. Because Jesus is the head of the church and therefore our model. And Jesus welcomed all.

And then there is PC(USA) polity.

From our constitution, The Book of Order

G-1.0302 Welcome and Openness

A congregation shall welcome all persons who trust in God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the fellowship and ministry of his Church. No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith. The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel.

So, we have no choice. People decide they want to join us, we don’t choose them.

These are the questions potential members are asked (with the answers, because it’s not a quiz)

  • Who is your Lord and Savior?     Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
  • Do you trust him?     I do.
  • Do you intend to be his disciple, to obey his Word, and to show his love?     I do.
  • Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, giving of yourself in every way, and will you seek the fellowship of the church wherever you may be?       I will.

Four questions.

We don’t expect sophisticated theological answers.  All we ask is that you trust Jesus and are willing to be his disciple in this particular congregation.   We begin there and together we figure out what being Jesus’ disciple means.

There are no guidelines for appropriate congregants. There are no particular standards.  Which explains how Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, Fred Rogers and I all end up Presbyterian. We’ll take anybody.  Which is both awkward and wonderful. I suspect if Donald and Ann knew me, they would be as dismayed about me being Presbyterian as I am about them being Presbyterian. But that doesn’t matter. We don’t choose each other. Christ chooses each of us. We have to figure out how to be the church together.

My hunch is Jesus finds all this very amusing and he’s telling us, “Okay kids, figure out how you’re going to get along. And then show the world how to do the same, because that’s part of your work as the church. But don’t worry, you aren’t doing it alone, I’m always here to help.




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