The American Society of Missiology has a theme for this year's conference that dovetails with my own interests. The conference description and call for papers is reproduced below. I sent a presentation proposal abstract copied below the conference information. I will be notified in March on possible acceptance. I encourage those involved in evangelical multi-faith work to submit a proposal.
ASM 2018 Conference Theme
In an article in the IBMR honoring the life work of Jonathan Bonk, Dana Robert began her essay with these words: "Friendship is a foundational practice in Christian mission" (IBMR (October 2015), 180). In this era of rising tribalism, tension and fear toward those who are different, Christians are called to live out the Gospel in the way of Jesus: through loving God and loving neighbor. When vitriolic political rhetoric inflames hostility and distrust, especially toward those of other faith commitments, interfaith friendships become crucial avenues of incarnational mission practice. There are many ways to do this, as even a brief history of mission illustrates. The oft-cited friendship of Frances of Assisi with Sultan Malek al-Kamil of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade is, perhaps, one of the most illustrious (see Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context, 143).
There are many today who witness to the power of friendship as a bridge to interfaith understanding and cooperation. Muslim founder of Interfaith Youth Corps, Eboo Patel, draws college students together to improve "interfaith literacy" and provide the means to shatter stereotypes and fears of those who "orient around religion differently" through friendship (see Patel, Interfaith Leadership: A Primer). Amazon, while seeking to sell us on Amazon Prime at Christmas, offered a poignant tale of interfaith friendship between a priest and an imam over a cup of tea. Their care for one another prompted them to unwittingly buy each other the gift of knee-pads for enabling greater comfort during prayer (see the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cllWl1u1fj0 and Muslim Saimma Dyer's insightful commentary on the ad at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingtradition/2016/11/interfaith-friendships-not-just-for-christmas/).
As Christians, friendship within the Godhead - the three-in-One - is both our model and means for offering the hospitality and creating the space where "the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy" (Nouwen, Reaching Out, 51). Making room for the God who, in the outstretched arms of Christ, loves and forgives us, enables us to also love and forgive, welcome and embrace, and befriend those God has already "friended" (Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 126). In what he calls a pneumatological theology of hospitality, Amos Yong posits that the power of the Holy Spirit is not only what allows us to love the neighbor, but allows God to love us through the neighbor. Interfaith friendships make possible this mutual transformation crucial to the work of God in the world (Yong, Hospitality and the Other, 158). Friendship with God enables friendship with others.
Voices from within the ASM, have long offered insight into the power of friendship to open doors to those of other faiths, not only for the sake of world peace, but for the sake of faithful witness to the love of God in Christ. Kosuke Koyama called it "neighborology:" loving and living in solidarity with one's neighbor, exegeting both the Word and the neighbor's culture, and found it became the "best vessel to convey Christ" (Water Buffalo Theology, 67). Steve Bevans and Roger Schroeder called it the dance of "prophetic dialogue:" a style of living in relationship with our neighbors that holds in tension proclamation and dialogue, boldness and humility, and builds empathy and trust through friendship modeled on the image of "entering someone else's garden" (Prophetic Dialogue, 152, 33). Terry Muck and Frances Adeney called it "giftive mission" in which we enter into relationships with those of other religions (or no religion) as bearers and receivers of gifts, observing ways in which God is already at work and the gospel is truly a gift in that context (Christianity Encountering World Religions, 373). Evelyn Reisacher called it "joy-centric mission," allowing the joy of the fellowship with the divine to be the catalyst that open us to religious others, to share their joy and bring the joy of Christ (Reisacher, Joyful Witness in the Muslim World, xiv). All of these, and many others, point to the importance of interfaith friendship, not only to bring peace to our world, but because loving and being loved by neighbors of other faiths, being both guests and hosts, enables us to express and receive God's love (Yong, 153).
Leading missiologists, Frances Adeney, Terry Muck, Evelyne Reisacher and Amos Yong, as well as a host of "story tellers" will inspire and facilitate us in conversations around interfaith friendship as a means of incarnational mission practice particularly suited to these troubling times; its history, its biblical foundations, and its best practices. Centered in the divine hospitality of God who first welcomed us that we might welcome others into the Kingdom, interfaith friendships begin with making room for God. Come and worship God, revel in friendships old and new, and consider what God may be up to in the world of interfaith relationships!
Call for Presentations
Presentations might address topics including (but not limited to):
Immigration and the Church
Witnessing in a Pluralistic World
Building Interfaith Communities
Peace-building in the Midst of Violence
Navigating Theological Differences
We also welcome presentations that fit the conference theme less formally, but which engage mission studies more generally.
We strongly encourage teams of three to four presenters to collaborate and submit proposals for panel sessions focused on shared themes. As space permits, we also invite proposals for high quality individual papers that are not linked to a formally proposed panel session.
This year, we also invite proposals for poster presentations. For more information about presentation formats, see the Presentation Guidelines.
The deadline for all panel, paper, and colloquium submissions is January 23, 2018. Confirmation of accepted panel and paper proposals expected by March 9, 2018.
My presentation proposal:
Interfaith Friendships and the Challenge of Tribal Psychology
Friendship is an important practice in mission, and it is desperately needed in an increasingly polarized world. This is particularly the case in interfaith or multi-faith contexts. Despite those in mission and interfaith who model and urge such relationships, it is often avoided as a general practice. Instead, human beings tend toward in-group empathy, relationships, and trust. Conversely, those in out-groups are viewed with suspicion. Scientific disciplines such as social neuroscience and social psychology in dialogue with missiology and a theology of multi-faith engagement shed light on why interfaith friendships are so challenging. Here the emotions are connected to a deeply ingrained us vs. them tribalism, and with this, concerns for purity and fears of contamination are prevalent, particularly for conservatives. Any efforts at developing interfaith friendships, whether in the context of missions or interfaith activities, must account for and work through our psychological makeup.