LOVING GOD AND
LOVING OUR MULTI-FAITH NEIGHBORS.
Multi-Faith Matters: evangelicals in a multi-faith world
Multi-Faith Matters is a support hub for Christians and churches who are seeking to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandments in a multi-faith world.
Evangelicals Engaging 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 them. 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, Multi-faith Matters helps evangelicals fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandments while maintaining faithfulness to evangelical convictions.
By following our approach to multi-faith engagement evangelicals will better:
Follow the example of Christ
Expand in love for multi-faith neighbors
Grow in the fruit of the Spirit
Become more credible 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’s disciples should also involved in peacemaking (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18).
An Alternative to Interfaith, Dialogue, and Apologetics
We practice an alternative approach that builds trust by honestly facing religious or ideological differences in a respectful manner. We provide the means to replace suspicion and ill will with trust and friendship when people with deep differences 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. We are not focused on dialogue or civility, although we believe in and practice both of these. This is an alternative to the apologetic approaches of many evangelicals to other religions, as well as dialogue and interfaith.
Multi-faith Matters engages in a number of activities in support of its mission. This includes:
telling the stories of Christians loving their multi-faith neighbors,
consulting on multi-faith possibilities,
identifying and developing resources,
sharing ministry events and opportunities,
and building a network of Christians doing the work of engaging peoples of other religions.
Contact us for more information.
How We Began
Multi-faith Matters began in 2014 as a Collaborative Inquiry Team of evangelical pastors and scholars conducting case studies and collecting stories of churches engaged in positive forms of interaction with other religious groups.
The pastoral part of the team was comprised of Carrie Graham, a multi-faith church planter at The Church Lab in Austin, Texas; Bob Roberts, Jr., founding and Senior Pastor of NorthWood Church near Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas; and Phil Wyman, pastor of The Gathering in Salem, Massachusetts. The academic part of the team includes Sang-Ehil Han, PhD., Vice President for Academics and Professor of Theology and Spirituality at Pentecostal Seminary in Clevand, Tennessee; Paul Louis Metzger, PhD., Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University; and John W. Morehead, MA, Director of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. Our original team included Jill Riley, a church planter in Billings, Montana who resigned from the team after the first year for personal reasons. In our second phase of project work described below, Mark Shetler, Executive Pastor of RiverCity Christian in Sacramento, California, joined the team as part of the pastoral component.
The team collected case studies and stories from churches across the U.S. involved in positive multi-faith engagement. This included The Gathering Church in Salem, MA interacting with Pagans and Atheists; Bob Roberts of NorthWood Church in Keller, TX interacting with Muslims; The Church Lab in Austin, TX working with a spectrum of people from Latter-day Saints to Jews to Muslims to Buddhists, to Atheists and Agnostics; New Wine, New Wineskins in Portland, OR working with Zen Buddhists; River City Christian Church in Sacramento, CA ministering among Muslim immigrants; New Harvest Church of God in Knoxville, TN interacting with Muslims; Redemption Church in Phoenix, AZ working with Muslims and various immigrant populations; Otter Creek Church in Nashville, TN ministering among Muslims; Cole Community Church in Boise, ID working with Muslims; and Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Tucker, GA working with Muslims and Reform Jews.
Multi-faith Matters was launched in 2014 through a grant from the Louisville Institute. Louisville Institute is funded by the Religion Division of Lilly Endowment and based at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky). The Institute's fundamental mission is to enrich the religious life of North American Christians and to encourage the revitalization of their institutions, by bringing together those who lead religious institutions with those who study them, so that the work of each might inform and strengthen the other.
In 2017 we were awarded a supplemental grant by the Louisville Institute to support the ongoing work of the project for another two years. The second phase is entitled "Evangelical Multi-faith Engagement, Purity Concerns, and Persuasive Storytelling." While the initial work focused on church case studies and their stories, the second phase is exploring how such churches have worked through concerns for doctrinal and worldview purity, as well fears of contamination. The role of emotions were a significant aspect of this research. We also studied how to use strategic storytelling for social change within conservative evangelicalism.
At the mid-way point of the supplemental grant the team recognized that we had grown beyond a grant project and have become a support hub for a network of Christians and churches. The network offers fellowship and resources for Christians who are of a similar heart and mind in the way in which they relate to their multi-faith neighbors.