Ecumenism and Interfaith Harmony: What’s the Difference?

31WUBwzsmdL._UX250_We have just come out of the January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and are heading into the February 1-7 Interfaith Harmony Week put in the calendar for annual observance in 2010 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. How are the two different?

The question is real in the minds of many. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I led a five-day retreat at the Providence Spirituality Centre in Kingston, Ontario on the theme of “Together in Christ.” Although the primary focus was on the importance of an increasingly more visible unity among us as Christians, given the tensions in the world today between people of different religions, towards the end I devoted a few of our conference sessions to interreligious relations as well.

In doing so, the questions from participants indicated a fogginess concerning the difference between the goals of work for Christian unity and the goals of interreligious dialogue. Some referred to other denominations of Christian faith as “other religions”.

But Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Evangelicals are not “other religions.”

Fr. Thomas Baima’s Short Address to the Muslim Society of Chicago

Many readers know that Fr. Thomas Baima is a close friend and a supporter of ACT3 Network. Tom and I go back more than a decade now in ecumenical work and inter-religious dialogue. Tom has one of the best minds, and some of the finest first-hand experience, in this field of dialogue. I turn to him quite often to discuss a myriad of issues.

Tom spoke a few weeks ago to the Muslim Society of Chicago at a large gathering at McCormick Place. The broad topic was “Inter-religious Dialogue.” An interfaith panel from many backgrounds spoke for nearly sixty minutes. Tom’s words come around the 12 minute mark on this video and ended at about 16 minutes. In this short address you can see him answering an important question: “What is the motive for dialogue between religions from a Christian perspective?”

He suggests that there is a common motive, namely the recognition of our shared humanity and shared belief in God. He believes this motive encourages tolerance and other societal goods. He calls the second motive particular. This motive allows us to learn from each other in our

The Pope’s Appeal for Inter-Religious Unity and Love

In the light of the debates now raging among Christians regarding how to respond to people of other faiths Pope Francis gives us here a short video in which he expresses his heart and personal hope.

Many evangelicals will see this video and conclude something like the following: “Pope Francis believes all people are brothers and sisters and thus he believes all will be saved by God regardless of their life and faith. Therefore, it makes no real difference whether or not the church does evangelization and mission since ALL people who are sincere in their faith will be saved in the end.”

Am I right or am I wrong in the way in the way I state this conclusion?

I think I am right. I know this is how I would have heard this message twenty years ago. So, my next question is this: “Does this make me a pluralist (or liberal) who denies John 14:6 or sees no urgency for sharing the good news and making disciples of Jesus?”

The problem lies in the meaning of all the words and ideas presented here by my comments. The Catholic

Pope Francis and the Faith of Non-Christians

UnknownOn Friday, September 25, Pope Francis visited Ground Zero in New York City to pay respect for life and to pray for healing and peace. Many Christians have expressed dismay that the pope did not mention the name of Jesus at this occasion. Some have specifically stated that he actually proved that he was a religious pluralist who does not believe that Jesus Christ is the true Savior of the world. This entire debate is often absent both the context and the content of his actual words and actions. The pope’s entire address can be read here:

Pope Francis said:

I feel many different emotions standing here at Ground Zero, where thousands of lives were taken in a senseless act of destruction. Here grief is palpable. The water we see flowing towards that empty pit reminds us of all those lives which fell prey to those who think that destruction, tearing down, is the only way to settle conflicts. It is the silent cry of those who were victims of a mindset which knows only

Muslim Attacks in Kenya: "Blessed are the Peacemakers"

On July 1 International Christian Concern reported that suspected members of the Islamic radical group, Al-Shabaab, attacked two Christian churches and killed 17 Christians in Harissa, Kenya. These attacks took place during Sunday morning worship services. The news is now global and viral.

Pastor Ibrahim Magunyi, of the East Africa Pentecostal Church, confirmed the incident to ICC and said, “Many people were injured and rushed to Garissa Provincial hospital.”

The Islamists killed two policemen guarding the African Inland Church before entering and throwing grenades among the worshippers and shooting people randomly. This apparently coordinated attack also prompted grenades to be thrown at the town’s Roman Catholic Church.

Al-Shabaab has infiltrated Kenya over recent months and placed the nation, and especially Kenya’s Christians, on terror alert. I wonder if we even begin to imagine what it would be like attending worship with fear and terror surrounding us when we gathered? I wonder who would consider “forsaking the assembling of ourselves” to be a serious option in order to save our lives?

But there is another side to this horror story. The

By |July 6th, 2012|Categories: Islam, The War on Terrorism|

Why It's Important to Oppose Anti-Sharia Movements in America

Images-3Since 9-11 many Americans have reacted strongly against Muslims and Islamic laws. Some see the presence of Muslims as a threat to our nation. Others are more open but are still guided by a great deal of fear when it comes to Muslim practice. Many conservative commentators stir up a general, and often ill-defined, negative reaction to Islamic culture. The truth is that this is a culture they neither understand nor care to understand with any degree of empathy. Christians can, and should, do much better. If for no other reason we have clear statements from our Lord about loving our neighbors, even our enemies. Though this does not mean that we should be anything less than vigilant with regard to radical Islamic movements and people (for reasons of security) it also does not mean that we should oppose Islamic movements, people or their laws. It is this last idea (Muslim laws) that I write about today.

The Misuse of Free Speech is Harmful

I am a huge defender of free speech. It is a core value and a cherished right of all Americans. I believe it is a double-edged sword but one that should be protected. Now and then we have obvious examples of provocative speech that causes social harm, even death outside of America. The line here is very thin and it is often extremely hard to grasp in terms of distinctions and nuances. It is this particular freedom that the Supreme Court has often had to protect by new rulings and decisions that create more misunderstanding. I am personally thankful that they remain vigilant about free speech.

ImagesI thought of this recently when Pastor Terry Jones, minister of a 25-member congregation in Gainesville, Florida, publicly burned a copy of the Qur’an last Saturday, April 28. Jones' public burning followed a personal meeting and intense conversation just one day earlier with representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), including the executive director,

The Tragedy of Syria: Christians in the Crossfire

Map_of_syriaIf you watch or follow American news, from the left or the right, you hear continual calls for our government, working with the United Nations, to engage militarily with the Syrian government in support of the rebels in that nation. I submit that the simple view held by the vast majority of Syria's Christians is very different from what we hear day-to-day. Their message is: "Please stay out!" Why? After all, some Christians have died in the present cycle of extreme violence. And this uprising is now nearly a year old. The images we generally see are of government oppression and open attacks on rebels that defy imagination. 

As with Iraq so it now is with Syria. If the secular government is removed the end result will likely be much worse for minorities, especially for Christian minorities. Syria's religions are as follows: 74% Sunni Muslims, 13% other Muslims, 10% Christian and 3% Druze. President Bashar Assad, an autocratic leader for

America is Safe: You Can Thank a Muslim

In all the remembrance of 9/11 I heard little said about Muslims, except faint echoes of fear and continued mistrust. For Christians this response is anything but right. Not only does it reflect fear and loathing but it is simply not warranted. Let me explain.

Chicago Tribune syndicated columnist Steve Chapman wrote a wonderful editorial on September 9 showing why we should all be thankful to the American Muslim community for our continued safety. I know this sounds crazy to some people but it is the truth.

Following 9/11 many leaders predicted we would be attacked again. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee said, “You can just about bet on it.” Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “I anticipate another attack.” And Gary Stubblefield, who directed the Naval Special Warfare Task Unity in the Pacific area, said (as paraphrased in the Denver Post), “the question is not if but when dozens of terrorist cells in the United States will unleash biological, chemical and perhaps nuclear weapons against U.S. cities.” FBI Director Robert Mueller estimates the U.S. harbored “several hundred” extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Who is not

By |October 1st, 2011|Categories: Islam, The War on Terrorism|

Steve Brown Etc. "Religion: Sickness or Cure?"

SBE One of my favorite persons is Steve Brown. He also does one of my favorite radio programs called Steve Brown Etc.  Brown also teaches on Key Life, a fifteen-minute syndicated radio show heard around the country on around 300 radio stations and on the Internet, on which Brown teaches about grace and the Christian life. The show often ends with Brown's tag line, "You think about that. Amen." Key Life also distributes audio recordings and writings by Brown and is based in Maitland, Florida. Steve formerly taught at Reformed Theological Seminary and is the author of numerous books. The first time I heard Steve, many years ago, I was deeply disturbed. He preached grace so wonderfully that I dared not believe this could be true. His happy and affecting style disarmed me but I had my doubts about him. Later I met him and saw the man for what he is – a Christ follower who is free and filled with grace.

Love him or hate him, Steve