One legacy of 9/11: More interfaith services

Ecumenical News International reports that the number of interfaith worship services–that is, those in which people of different religions worshipped together (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.)–have doubled since the 9/11 attacks:

Interfaith worship services have doubled in the decade since the 11 September attacks, according to a new study released 7 September, even as more than seven in 10 U.S. congregations do not associate with other faiths.

The survey by an interfaith group of researchers found that about 14 percent of U.S. congregations surveyed in 2010 engaged in a joint religious celebration with another faith tradition, up from 6.8 percent in 2000, Religion News Service reports.

Interfaith community service grew nearly threefold, with 20.4 percent of congregations reporting participation in 2010, up from 7.7 percent in 2000, according to the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership. After the attacks, “Islam and Islamics’ presence in the United States (became) visible in a way that you couldn’t ignore,” said David A. Roozen, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

National Muslim groups tried to build bridges to other faiths, who in turn “reached out in new ways to be neighborly,” he said. Reform Jewish congregations led the way, with two-thirds participating in interfaith worship and three-quarters involved in interfaith community service.

The largest percentage of interfaith-worshipping congregations (20.6 percent) was in the Northeast, which is home to a disproportionate percentage of more liberal mainline Protestant churches. About 17 percent of interfaith-worshipping congregations are in a big city or older suburb, where greater diversity makes interfaith activity more likely.

The study implies that the more liberal a congregation, the greater likelihood for interfaith activity. Approximately half of Unitarian Universalist congregations held interfaith worship services, and three in four participated in interfaith community service. By contrast, among more conservative Southern Baptist churches, only 10 percent participated in interfaith community service, and five percent in interfaith worship.

The study shows most of the 11,077 congregations surveyed reported no interfaith activity, a finding that troubled the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Washington-based Interfaith Alliance. “The reality in our nation now is we have a major problem with Islamophobia, and that fear is being fed by people in large enough numbers that we need probably ten times as many people involved in interfaith discussions and actions,” Gaddy said.

via Paul McCain: Interfaith Worship on the Rise Since 9/11 | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

But if we have a major problem with Islamophobia, why the growing popularity of Christians worshipping with Muslims?  The bigger question is surely, why the vogue of interfaith, syncretistic worship in the aftermath of 9/11?  Do any of you have an explanation?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    If your premise is that we’re all God’s children, then 9-11 rattled the cage a bit. Some of God’s children behaved very poorly that day – doing what they seem to have felt was their God’s bidding. The trend towards “interfaith worship” (oxymoronic perhaps?) is little more than a proposal that either there is no God or, if there is, we’re not able to know Him for sure. With a bit of Rodney King-ism thrown in.

  • Pete

    If your premise is that we’re all God’s children, then 9-11 rattled the cage a bit. Some of God’s children behaved very poorly that day – doing what they seem to have felt was their God’s bidding. The trend towards “interfaith worship” (oxymoronic perhaps?) is little more than a proposal that either there is no God or, if there is, we’re not able to know Him for sure. With a bit of Rodney King-ism thrown in.

  • Dennis Peskey

    ” Do any of you have an explanation? Yes – it’s called relativism. God did not die – we just turned him into gumby. Then we wonder why gumby doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers (the word “babble” appears rather early in Genesis and continues throughout to the time of the Herodian temple.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    ” Do any of you have an explanation? Yes – it’s called relativism. God did not die – we just turned him into gumby. Then we wonder why gumby doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers (the word “babble” appears rather early in Genesis and continues throughout to the time of the Herodian temple.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • kenneth

    Any explanation might take an eternity. Seriously, this rings true to the human condition which in christian terms is well spelled out in Proverbs; paraphrased, “He has put eternity in their hearts”. Everyone has such a longing in themselves regardless of their faith or non-faith.

    So this; In humanity’s desiring for peace and prosperity we seek the compromised illusion that it can be attained in this world. In reality it can’t be made in these times or any other, as has been tried time and again through out human history. Ancient and modern civilizations have strived so mightly for it with only crumbling results.

    The charge of “islamophobia” is a new twist on the old urge to bring in the new age mentality of human potentiallity. The human potential movement has been an ecumenical stab in the dark for the un-atainable goal of peace in “our times” if I may quote Neville Chamberlain.

    In short, such thinking is bound to fail, though in some sense it must be pursued for, ironically, “our times”. To be lutheran about it perhaps might sum it up, inadequately. Pursuit of this worldy, secular improvements in all the spheres of life for life now in the interim period until the end. Evangelization by good works for all neighbors, good stewardship for resourses and such like attempts for “life together”. This of course would take churchly efforts for serious change for this world and the next without compromise. In lutheran phraseology, The right hand Kingdom encompassing true faith for God’s ultimate purpose in creation and the left had where we hardly know what we are doing to “improve”. Well, it’s an explanation anyway.

  • kenneth

    Any explanation might take an eternity. Seriously, this rings true to the human condition which in christian terms is well spelled out in Proverbs; paraphrased, “He has put eternity in their hearts”. Everyone has such a longing in themselves regardless of their faith or non-faith.

    So this; In humanity’s desiring for peace and prosperity we seek the compromised illusion that it can be attained in this world. In reality it can’t be made in these times or any other, as has been tried time and again through out human history. Ancient and modern civilizations have strived so mightly for it with only crumbling results.

    The charge of “islamophobia” is a new twist on the old urge to bring in the new age mentality of human potentiallity. The human potential movement has been an ecumenical stab in the dark for the un-atainable goal of peace in “our times” if I may quote Neville Chamberlain.

    In short, such thinking is bound to fail, though in some sense it must be pursued for, ironically, “our times”. To be lutheran about it perhaps might sum it up, inadequately. Pursuit of this worldy, secular improvements in all the spheres of life for life now in the interim period until the end. Evangelization by good works for all neighbors, good stewardship for resourses and such like attempts for “life together”. This of course would take churchly efforts for serious change for this world and the next without compromise. In lutheran phraseology, The right hand Kingdom encompassing true faith for God’s ultimate purpose in creation and the left had where we hardly know what we are doing to “improve”. Well, it’s an explanation anyway.

  • Matt

    A majority of Christian today believe that, even before coming to Christ, someone can be good. The idea that people are dead in their sins before coming to Christ – that our hope is Christ alone – just doesn’t ring true. It’s probably a combination of theological naivety, and cultural postmodernism. Once you believe that, I think, the superiority of Christianity over all other religions makes less and less sense. After all, if you can be good on your own you can be good with Christ, or Buddha, or Allah.

  • Matt

    A majority of Christian today believe that, even before coming to Christ, someone can be good. The idea that people are dead in their sins before coming to Christ – that our hope is Christ alone – just doesn’t ring true. It’s probably a combination of theological naivety, and cultural postmodernism. Once you believe that, I think, the superiority of Christianity over all other religions makes less and less sense. After all, if you can be good on your own you can be good with Christ, or Buddha, or Allah.

  • JDB

    “Why the vogue of inter- faith, syncretistic worship?” I think that Pete and Dennis get at the point. It’s simply relativism. Many seem to think that it doesn’t matter what you believe as much as that you are sincere in what you believe is true for you. With that understanding it is easy to have inter- faith service. Everyone is only expressing in his personal way what he believes about God- and all of them are equally valid.

  • JDB

    “Why the vogue of inter- faith, syncretistic worship?” I think that Pete and Dennis get at the point. It’s simply relativism. Many seem to think that it doesn’t matter what you believe as much as that you are sincere in what you believe is true for you. With that understanding it is easy to have inter- faith service. Everyone is only expressing in his personal way what he believes about God- and all of them are equally valid.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    “The idea that people are dead in their sins before coming to Christ just doesn’t ring true.”

    Might want to read Eph. 2:

    You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodya and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us — even when we were dead in our trespasses — made us alive together with Christ

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    “The idea that people are dead in their sins before coming to Christ just doesn’t ring true.”

    Might want to read Eph. 2:

    You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodya and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us — even when we were dead in our trespasses — made us alive together with Christ

  • John C

    Kenneth quotes Chamberlain. I prefer Churchill,”It is better to jaw jaw rather than war war.”

  • John C

    Kenneth quotes Chamberlain. I prefer Churchill,”It is better to jaw jaw rather than war war.”

  • Matt

    Pastor McCain,

    I apologize if I wasn’t clear. I absolutely believe that everyone without Christ is dead in their transgressions. I was describing what I believe a majority of Christians in America believe.

  • Matt

    Pastor McCain,

    I apologize if I wasn’t clear. I absolutely believe that everyone without Christ is dead in their transgressions. I was describing what I believe a majority of Christians in America believe.

  • steve

    Guilt. Many of these people are not worshiping in distinctively Christian churches already so to call them “interfaith” is a little misleading. Unitarianism is basically a free-for-all where the lack of cohesive doctrine would lend itself to experimentation. Also, since many of these people are also fairly liberal, they probably feel the need to pander to Muslims to atone for our sins as a nation, as Mr. Gaddy appears to advocate.

    What I find funny is that the angle of the story sort of puts the onus on non-Muslims to be more ecumenical. While it portrays Muslim groups as trying to be more friendly–as if ecumenicism and friendliness are the same thing.

  • steve

    Guilt. Many of these people are not worshiping in distinctively Christian churches already so to call them “interfaith” is a little misleading. Unitarianism is basically a free-for-all where the lack of cohesive doctrine would lend itself to experimentation. Also, since many of these people are also fairly liberal, they probably feel the need to pander to Muslims to atone for our sins as a nation, as Mr. Gaddy appears to advocate.

    What I find funny is that the angle of the story sort of puts the onus on non-Muslims to be more ecumenical. While it portrays Muslim groups as trying to be more friendly–as if ecumenicism and friendliness are the same thing.

  • Stephen

    I think interfaith dialogue has its place. but I think we ought o go at it with no illusions. In other words “this is what we believe and yes, we think you are wrong, end of story. Now, what shall we discuss?” I used to think this approach was a deal breaker, but not anymore. We can still discuss options and rights and mutual benefits and such. That is all earthly kingdom stuff and we know we ought to attempt to live in peace.

    So, what this “interfaith WORSHIP” means (Holy Cr#p Batman!!!) is that we have subsituted law (to do love for neighbor, even pagans) for gospel (God loves us in Jesus Christ ALONE) in the absolute worst way. I think this is why it is tolerated by Christians. It is a confusion of law and gospel.

    Why do we not pray with pagans? Because they are pagans! By definition they pray to the god of their imaginations. They do not have to put up a statue to be idol worshippers. It’s exactly the same thing.

    We are commanded to tolerate our neighbor by thinking well of him and his intentions, as well as seeking his earthly peace and benefit. This is why we should have dialogue. But we are commanded to love and fear God ALONE above all other gods. This is why we should run screaming from anything that puports to be “interfaith worship.” The minute the discussion begins that should be made clear – “I will gladly talk with you about solutions we can agree upon, but I will not under any circumstances pray with you. Is that clear?”

  • Stephen

    I think interfaith dialogue has its place. but I think we ought o go at it with no illusions. In other words “this is what we believe and yes, we think you are wrong, end of story. Now, what shall we discuss?” I used to think this approach was a deal breaker, but not anymore. We can still discuss options and rights and mutual benefits and such. That is all earthly kingdom stuff and we know we ought to attempt to live in peace.

    So, what this “interfaith WORSHIP” means (Holy Cr#p Batman!!!) is that we have subsituted law (to do love for neighbor, even pagans) for gospel (God loves us in Jesus Christ ALONE) in the absolute worst way. I think this is why it is tolerated by Christians. It is a confusion of law and gospel.

    Why do we not pray with pagans? Because they are pagans! By definition they pray to the god of their imaginations. They do not have to put up a statue to be idol worshippers. It’s exactly the same thing.

    We are commanded to tolerate our neighbor by thinking well of him and his intentions, as well as seeking his earthly peace and benefit. This is why we should have dialogue. But we are commanded to love and fear God ALONE above all other gods. This is why we should run screaming from anything that puports to be “interfaith worship.” The minute the discussion begins that should be made clear – “I will gladly talk with you about solutions we can agree upon, but I will not under any circumstances pray with you. Is that clear?”

  • Stephen

    I’m so glad Luther threw in that ALONE thing. Can you tell?

  • Stephen

    I’m so glad Luther threw in that ALONE thing. Can you tell?

  • Kelly

    There are probably lots of diverse reasons why interfaith worship is on the rise. I’m ashamed to say that I participated in a sort of interfaith service/memorial/thing not long after 9/11 with the Southern Baptist church I was a member of at the time. I don’t remember a thing about it, other than doing some little 9/11-related “performance” thing I’d done in a previous church service of ours. I believe that our church, like many who lead the outcry against “no clergy at the 9/11 memorial,” rationalized that despite the appearance of syncretism, it would be better to stand there, be polite, and say something about Jesus (if possible) rather than to not get our toe in the door at all. We must be SEEN– all in the name of evangelism, of course. The generally well-meaning desire for “evangelism opportunities” can become a dangerous way for liberal theology and doctrinal relativism to make inroads. It can start with “Who cares what you believe, as long as you love Jesus and we can all work on evangelism?” or “Deeds, not creeds.” But the need to walk on eggshells increases, and the evangel gets lost over time.

  • Kelly

    There are probably lots of diverse reasons why interfaith worship is on the rise. I’m ashamed to say that I participated in a sort of interfaith service/memorial/thing not long after 9/11 with the Southern Baptist church I was a member of at the time. I don’t remember a thing about it, other than doing some little 9/11-related “performance” thing I’d done in a previous church service of ours. I believe that our church, like many who lead the outcry against “no clergy at the 9/11 memorial,” rationalized that despite the appearance of syncretism, it would be better to stand there, be polite, and say something about Jesus (if possible) rather than to not get our toe in the door at all. We must be SEEN– all in the name of evangelism, of course. The generally well-meaning desire for “evangelism opportunities” can become a dangerous way for liberal theology and doctrinal relativism to make inroads. It can start with “Who cares what you believe, as long as you love Jesus and we can all work on evangelism?” or “Deeds, not creeds.” But the need to walk on eggshells increases, and the evangel gets lost over time.

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