Evangelicals Engaging Our Multi-Faith Neighbors
American Christianity is experiencing decline in areas such as mainline Protestantism, and even among conservative evangelicals where losses are seen among Millennials, as well as some of the most committed members of congregations. While Christianity still retains majority status numerically, Christianity has lost its hold as the religiously defining center of America, and the growing multiplicity of religious faiths in America is clearly evident. Various religions are asserting their presence in the public square, and increasingly Christians are encountering their adherents not only on the Internet, but also in workplaces, neighborhoods, and sometimes even families as the number of interfaith marriages continues to rise. This brings evangelicals into daily contact with a multi-faith world. Our neighbors are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Pagans, Atheists, and more.
Of course, these challenges are not limited to America. Across the world the presence of religious differences cause tension, violence, contribute to terrorism, fuel the international refugee crisis, and pose a threat to religious liberty. A positive evangelical engagement of a multi-faith world is desperately needed.
Yet in the face of this need, evangelical perceptions of other religions are many times negative. In a 2011 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life global survey of Evangelical leaders, two findings are especially important in this regard. First, evangelical perspectives of other religions were largely unfavorable. Pew states, “Of the evangelical leaders who express opinions on other religious groups, most say they hold generally unfavorable views of Hindus (65%), Buddhists (65%) and Muslims (67%).” Second, Pew also considered evangelical assumptions about how other religions act toward us. The world religions are viewed as significantly unfriendly with Hindus at 41%, Buddhists at 39%, Muslims at 69%, and the non-religious at 45%. Perhaps it’s not surprising that evangelical leaders would hold unfavorable views about those in other religious traditions with whom they fundamentally disagree. In one sense “unfavorable” might refer to concerns about the truth claims related to alternative beliefs and practices, or the eternal destinies of adherents of non-Christian religions. However, this lack of favor is also apparent in stereotypical and negative attitudes toward the adherents themselves. It is our conviction that evangelicals must work hard to address such attitudes.
In order to address the challenges of a multi-faith world, the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy helps evangelicals practice a neighborhood theology of multi-faith engagement that embraces the Christian practices of love of neighbor and enemy, and hospitality, while maintaining faithfulness to evangelical convictions.
By following our approach to multi-faith engagement evangelicals will better:
Follow the example of Christ
Grow in love for multi-faith neighbors
Grow in the fruit of the Spirit
Become more persuasive in witness
Put faith into practice as peacemakers
Our approach is grounded in the teachings and example of Jesus who said his disciples were to love their neighbors (Mark 12:30-31), as well as their enemies (Matthew 5:44). This is the basis for Jesus' teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and it was demonstrated in his life as he interacted with Gentiles, such as with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26), and his participation in table fellowship and hospitality with outcasts and Gentiles (Luke 15:1-2). Jesus also taught his disciples to be involved in peacemaking (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18).
Areas of Concentration
The Evangelical Chapter focuses on five main areas of activity:
1) Helping Christians utilize positive emotions about people in other religions: In addition to concern for right doctrine (orthodoxy), we also need to have the right emotions (orthopathy) toward others. Drawing upon the right emotions in relation toward others allows us to maintain our firm theological commitments, but in a way that opens the door for fruitful engagement with people of other religions.
2) Telling the stories of Christians loving their multi-faith neighbors: We are discovering the amazing stories of Christians engaging their multi-faith neighbors in love. We share these stories with evangelicals so that they might become an inspiring model for others to emulate and ultimately become the way in which we engage others.
3) Bringing Christians and multi-faith neighbors into shared spaces: In order to foster understanding, develop relationships, and build trust, we help set up contexts where Christians can share relationship space with those in other religions. This includes Diplomacy Dinners, collaborative service activities in local communities, and other forms of multi-faith trust-building in relationships.
4) Raising awareness, changing attitudes, and shaping thought: The Chapter writes articles and essays, produces podcasts, compiles a collection of suggested resources, and speaks in various venues, each as a way of raising awareness, changing the way we feel about others, and shaping thinking among evangelicals on multi-faith engagement.
5) Conducting research and producing scholarship: In addition to work on a popular level, the Evangelical Chapter also conducts research and produces academic scholarship related multi-faith engagement, religious diplomacy, and peacemaking. Special areas of research interest include moral psychology (concerns for purity), in-group/out-group tensions, dehumanization, and cognitive linguistics in the use of conceptual metaphors to understand those in other religions. The venues for this scholarship include research projects, journals and books, as well as academic conferences. The results of the Chapter's academic work are shared with the evangelical academic community, and also incorporated into our work on a popular level.
It’s Both/And Not Either/Or
Evangelicals put a lot of emphasis on missions and evangelism, but tend to see dialogue and peacemaking as the activities of liberals. At the Evangelical Chapter of FRD we believe this is a false dichotomy. Evangelicals can and should be just as involved with multi-faith relationships, conversations, and peacemaking as we are evangelism and missions.
Religious Diplomacy is Different
In order to be clear, we pursue a very different approach to dealing with religious differences and conflict. Our chapter works within the evangelical community as a part of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. It’s purpose and approach is not like traditional methods of dealing with religious differences. FRD is not focused on dialogue or civility, although we believe in and practice both of these. Neither does it involve tolerance, ecumenism, interfaith, or co-existence ways of dealing with religious conflict that tend to focus on commonality while shying away from discussion of differences. Instead, it involves a new approach of religious diplomacy that builds trust by honestly facing irresolvable religious or ideological differences in a respectful manner. The Foundation provides the means to replace suspicion and ill will with trust and friendship when people with irreconcilably different beliefs see the wisdom and good will in each other even while disagreeing about ultimate truth. In this way trust is built and religious enemies are transformed into trustworthy rivals.
Risk-Taking and Rewarding Investment
Some Evangelicals have concerns about the possibility of spiritual contamination that comes through interreligious engagement. Evangelicals and fundamentalists have long debated whether we should stay separate from the world or engage it. While recognizing the risks, we believe that they are low and the rewards are high. Statistics indicate that very few people convert after interacting with someone from another religious tradition. More likely is that evangelical faith is strengthened when looked at in contrast with the faith of another. Beyond that, the New Testament teaches that we are called to critical engagement with the world. Christ called the church to be salt and light, and to carry the gospel to the world. In addition, in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:15-28) it is the disciple who takes risks in the investment and use of the talents who is rewarded most liberally, rather than the one who plays it safe and buries the talents in the ground. The church is called to engage in risk in the use of the talents God has entrusted us with as we engage the world's religions.
You can learn more about the Evangelical Chapter of FRD by contacting the Director, John Morehead.
 Daniel Burke, “Millennials leaving church in droves, study finds. “ CNN. May 15, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/12/living/pew-religion-study/.
 Joshua Packard, “Meet the ‘Dones.’” Leadership Journal. Summer 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2015/summer-2015/meet-dones.html.
 Caryle Murphy, “Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed.” Pew Research Center. June 2, 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/02/interfaith-marriage/.
 These respondents were affiliated with the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, and 19% of them came from North America. “Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders,” Pew Research on Religion & Public Life (June 22, 2011): http://www.pewforum.org/2011/06/22/global-survey-of-evangelical-protestant-leaders/.