Why Interfaith Cooperation? (Part 1)

I grew up in an interfaith family. I attended an evangelical church regularly with my mother, but was regularly exposed to the Hinduism of my father’s side of the family. At school I had friends who were Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. And yet during those formative years I heard virtually nothing from my Christian community about how to live alongside those of other faiths.

Today I am an ordained pastor within an evangelical denomination. And unfortunately many within my community are still unmotivated to talk, let alone cooperate, with those of other religions. But with roughly 30 percent of Americans identifying themselves as evangelicals, any hope of making progress on interfaith work must involve this community. In this post I have briefly outlined three reasons why I believe interfaith cooperation is so vital right now—and why evangelicals should help lead the way.

Reason 1: The World Needs It

When the Boeing 747 entered service 40 years ago it ushered in an age of affordable intercontinental travel, and the result has been the relocation and intermingling of peoples on an unprecedented scale. Globalization has only accelerated since then with telecommunications and digital technology. And while many have focused on the economic impact of these forces, we must not forget the implications for religion.

Religious communities that had been isolated from other faiths are now intersecting and occupying the same areas. Consider what’s happened right here in the US. Although most Americans still identify themselves as Christians, the percentage of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists has risen dramatically over the last few decades largely due to immigration. And countries where the church used to have little representation, like China and India, are now contending with large Christian communities.

But with this shifting and mixing of religious populations comes conflict. As critics of religion like to remind us, a great many wars have been fought over religious differences. And numerous conflicts today are laced with religion from the persecution of Christians in Iraq, to the ongoing tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, and the genocide in Sudan. The bombing of the Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, on New Year’s Day is a tragic reminder that religions have a very difficult time coexisting. Some have even framed the struggle against terrorism in religious language. They call it a “clash of civilizations” in which the secular/Christian West battles with the Muslim world.

As globalization continues to bring religions into contact with one another, our world desperately needs a different narrative. We can no longer pretend, as so many in secular societies have, that religion is no longer a potent force in the world. Neither can we be idle as conflicts over religion increase. The future depends upon people of faith learning to cooperate and not merely coexist. I believe Christians should be helping to lead the way. It was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”