Five years ago, I found myself sitting in an interfaith meeting. Gracious people from different religions and denominations had gathered at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s headquarters in Chicago to plan the ongoing work of congregational research. The goal of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership was to bring together participants from Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, and Orthodox churches to research and compare our findings.
I was unsure whether I belonged at the meeting. In one session, the facilitator explained that the research should lead to cooperative resourcing to help all of our congregations. He suggested we could jointly create, publish, and distribute resources to help congregations in faith development and growth.
At the appropriate time, and with my best smile, I raised my hand and said something like this: “I appreciate the funding that allows us to survey our churches, and I think it is helpful to use similar questions and metrics for better research. But I am not here to form a partnership to help one another. I want to help the churches I serve, and part of the reason they exist is to convert some of you.”
I paused, smiled, and worked hard not to sound menacing (it was probably too late). Some participants in the room looked at me as if I had just uttered a string of profanities. Others nodded in agreement. Then the Muslim imam seated next to me said, in effect, “I feel the same way.”Though the imam and I were in a minority in that group of predominantly liberal Protestants, we represented the movements among us that are actually growing in numbers. Both he and I believed in sharing and enlarging our faiths. We did not think we were worshiping the same God or gods, and we were not there under the pretense that we held the same beliefs. In other words, our goal was not merging faiths, combining beliefs, or even interfaith partnership.
And Stetzer proposes the following four practices:
- Let each religion speak for itself.
- Talk with and about individuals, not generic “faiths.”
- Respect the sincerely held beliefs of people of other religions.
- Grant each person the freedom to make his or her faith decisions.