Mon, 01/31/2011

I grew up in an Evangelical Christian church, and I really liked it. Saying that sometimes makes me want to cringe, or makes me think I have to sandwich that “confession” with words about how tolerant I am or demonstrate that I am not what people think.

Why do I have to do that? Has the civil discourse of this nation deteriorated to the point where I have to admit my faith background with hesitance out of fear of others dumping me in a box labeled “Crazy” or “Don’t interact with”?

I remember going to Sunday school as a child, and learning a song where I grabbed my tongue and sang: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies.” It was completely silly and targeted for five year olds, but the message being conveyed was important. The song is based on a verse in the Old Testament book of Psalms, and I have been struck lately by the thought that the discourse surrounding American Evangelicals (and religion in general) is anything but “keep your tongue from evil.” Quite the contrary, actually.

Christians as a religious group have been called close-minded. As a result, others poke fun at us because they see the blatant hypocrisy between our words of “love” and our actions of blatant rudeness.

As a young Christian leader who sees the value of interfaith cooperation, I am sad to say I have often felt push-back from my own community. I am sometimes asked what the point is of working with “those other people,” whether they be Muslims, Atheists, or just different denominations of Christianity.

What I have come to find is, once I give “those other people” a chance, we are not that much different. Peace doesn’t have to be a pipe dream from the mouth of a beauty contestant. Instead of searching for our theological differences and hurling them in each other’s faces as proof we could never get along, what if we wrote a different story?

This story involves going out of our comfort zones and risking friendship with someone of a different faith without ulterior motives, independent of the fallout. This story involves saying what we are for, instead of what we are against. This story praises the good work people are doing, instead of just pointing out the bad. This story is one I am writing with my Muslim, Sikh, Atheist, Buddhist and – yes – Evangelical Christian friends. We are part of changing the conversation around religious discourse in America, and my life has been changed because of this story.

This story involves going out of our comfort zones and risking friendship with someone of a different faith without ulterior motives, independent of the fallout. This story involves saying what we are for, instead of what we are against. This story praises the good work people are doing, instead of just pointing out the bad. This story is one I am writing with my Muslim, Sikh, Atheist, Buddhist and – yes – Evangelical Christian friends. We are part of changing the conversation around religious discourse in America, and my life has been changed because of this story.