My Dinner With Ahmadinejad

Imagine having the opportunity to sit down to dinner with a man as feared and revered as Ahmadinejad…
Our Director and Producer had this opportunity and took full advantage. What would you want to discuss? Would you discuss it? With the power of Diplomacy it is incredible to see that some of the toughest conversations in some of the most intense situations can be had and they can actually be affective.
This is an interesting blog post from our Director Bryan Hall that gives us a glimpse in to his dinner with Iranian President, Ahmadinejad.

http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/content/my-dinner-ahmadinejad

Obama’s Religion Doctrine: Almost There (An Essay by John Morehead)

Randall Paul (The Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, http://religious-diplomacy.org) touches on how we as a people must adopt a diplomatic way of facing and dealing with our differences when it comes to religious and political ideals.

http://religious-diplomacy.org

“We all know that only by means of honest persuasion can the human heart can be opened to change. We can contemptuously tolerate our critics but nothing will change. If however we honor our religious critics and rivals with honest, quiet conversation—listening as sincerely as proclaiming—we will find a new love arises in our hearts that yields an unusual admiration and a stern patience without compromising our integrity. This is the right way to improve our world and remain true to our faith.”
More from John Morehead’s article:

Obama’s Religion Doctrine: Almost There
People of faith must move it forward.
By John Morehead, September 30, 2012

This week President Obama addressed the United Nations and presented a speech that includes some important considerations related to religion and freedom of expression. But it is missing a crucial element.
The anxiety hung in the air in New York as the United Nations met with many of its members still reeling from the unrest in the Muslim world. In response Obama presented ideas that one writer, Lauren Markoe writing for Religion News Service, found so important that she suggests it comes close to representing an “Obama Doctrine on Religion.”

Markoe identified five points in the speech comprising this doctrine. These include:

“1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable.” This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the speech, and the one least likely to be seriously entertained by those Obama seeks to persuade. While the rallying cry in the United States in response to the protests surrounding a controversial film was largely one for freedom of speech, for much of the Muslim world this is intolerable. The idea that freedom of expression should be construed so broadly as to permit the desecration of a prophet, seen as embodying and symbolizing the essence of Islam, will be sternly resisted. Even so, the President is on the right track, and the seemingly counter-intuitive idea (from some Muslim perspectives) that “the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech,” is an idea that must eventually be embraced if we are to avoid similar protests in the future.

“2. Religious respect is a two-way street.” With this second point Obama presents an idea that may present challenges to those of a variety of religious traditions. It is one thing to ask or demand respect for your religion when it is under attack. It is quite another thing to extend the same courtesy to those in other traditions, particularly those you may not like very much. We will have made great strides when we arrive at the point that Muslims condemn the hate against Jews, when Christians condemn the hate against Pagans, and when Buddhists condemn the hate against Hindus. The President’s remarks with this point present us with another key element.

“3. Turn the other cheek.” This element is related to the first above, the idea that there is no justification for violence, whether offensive speech or the unflattering depictions of that which others hold sacred. Here Obama taps into the way of non-violence, with “turn the other cheek” found in the Christian tradition in the teachings of Jesus. But other religious traditions incorporate something similar and have much that they can tap into in their own traditions as they harness the best within them to follow the path of non-violence in response to provocation.

4. Religious pluralism and diversity. Obama rightly pointed to the great American experiment of a nation with great religious diversity but one which, for the most part, exists in peaceful co-existence. Curiously, Markoe labels this part of the President’s speech “One nation under God,” but this title illustrates one of the challenges we face in contemporary American pluralism. In the Judeo-Christian dominance of the past it was indeed a nation united generally under the idea of one deity understood from a general Christian perspective. But with the increasing presence of the world’s religions in the public square, America must be understood as a unity, but under a multiplicity of conceptions of the sacred. In addition, America is now feeling the strain of religious diversity, with incidents of violence against Muslims and Sikhs on the rise and symptomatic of these struggles. Yet even with these challenges America can serve as a model for a nation that embraces religious diversity while maintaining a form of unity.

“5. The danger of extremism.” Markoe completes her analysis of the Obama Doctrine on Religion with a reference to the President’s call to marginalize those who resort to violence for whatever reason, whether hatred of America or Israel. Here Obama could have gone further and mentioned the related danger of thinking that it is just “them” who harbor extremism and the extremists. Muslim and Jew, Christian and Pagan, Buddhist and Hindu, struggle with the presence of those in their religious communities who fuel the flames of violence. Extremism must be addressed within religious communities by their own adherents and in partnership with like-minded individuals across religious traditions.

All of these elements are important, and can comprise not only an Obama Doctrine of Religion, but also point the way toward a general prescription for interreligious engagement in a post-9/11 world. The President is almost there, but one significant element is missing. He doesn’t go far enough. How do we address a situation where people must overcome religious stereotypes and prejudices, to arrive not merely at a place of tolerance, but rather to genuine relationships, understanding, and embrace of diversity and our differences? The answer is found in relational encounters where we share our disagreements and competing truth claims in a process of civil contestation.

As Charles Randall Paul, founder and President of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy shared with me in our interactions over Obama’s speech,

“In this new era we who care about our loved ones and improving the world should stand up and advocate with clarity our inspiring beliefs and ideals. And when our different ideals conflict with those of others we must have the courage to engage eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart in a respectful contestation of truth without threat of coercion. God has not imposed one religion on the world by force, and we humans should never try to do so. We all know that only by means of honest persuasion can the human heart can be opened to change. We can contemptuously tolerate our critics but nothing will change. If however we honor our religious critics and rivals with honest, quiet conversation—listening as sincerely as proclaiming—we will find a new love arises in our hearts that yields an unusual admiration and a stern patience without compromising our integrity. This is the right way to improve our world and remain true to our faith. We must teach our children how to do it by example. So every one of us that desires our religion to influence the world for good should act now by listening to and openly befriending someone who disagrees with our religion.”

In response to 9/11 a past president articulated a doctrine related to a “War on Terror.” Years later we continue to wrestle with the impact of these ideas, and now another President has presented a new doctrine related to religion. How do these doctrines relate? With continued tensions in the world related to religion, what is the best prescription for interreligious engagement and peace? Hopefully these questions and their related responses can find their way on the agenda of evangelicals just as they now dominate the thoughts of our political leaders. President Obama has articulated a prescription for the religious problems that ail us. People of faith must provide the missing element and move it forward.

It’s about time! There is a diplomatic way of confronting this HOLY WAR.

“A new movement has arisen among Evangelicals, involving organizations like the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and others, a movement of people who believe that it is possible to engage those in other religions without compromise, and to do so in civility. At the core of this movement is a desire to follow the way of Jesus.”

-John Morehead

 

Full article:

Religious Pluralism and Evangelical Credibility in the Public Square
Q:Ideas for the Common Good
Published July 31, 2012

http://www.qideas.org/blog/evangelical-credibility-and-religious-pluralism.aspx

Evangelicals are having a serious credibility problem in regards to religious pluralism in the public square. This problem is amplified when it comes to Islam in a post-9/11 environment. Consider a couple of examples.

Former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is facing increasing criticism from both political parties due to accusations that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood. The problem is Abedin passed intense security scrutiny to obtain her job, and Bachmann’s claim is also stymied by a lack of real evidence to substantiate what many are labeling an outlandish claim.

But Bachman is not alone as an evangelical in making questionable claims about Islam. Lt. General William G. “Jerry” Boykin (Ret.) is the new vice president of the Family Research Council. In his understanding of Islam, “we need to realize that Islam itself is not just a religion—it is a totalitarian way of life. It’s a legal system, shari’ah law; it’s a financial system; it’s a moral code; it’s a political system; it’s a military system. It should not be protected under the First Amendment, particularly given that those following the dictates of the Qur’an are under an obligation to destroy our Constitution and replace it with shari’ah law.”

These conspiratorial and simplistic views of Islam held by Bachmann and Boykin are symptoms of something bigger. Evangelicals not only have a credibility problem when it comes to engaging Islam in American politics, but they are also ill prepared for America’s increasing religious pluralism in the public square.

Stephen Prothero, in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t, documents that most Americans, including Christians, lack the most basic understanding of various religions. This was confirmed in the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey in 2010 where atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons, outperformed “Protestant Evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.”

Yet this uninformed stance toward other religions has not stopped Christians from forming judgments and taking action on religious issues. After Mitt Romney announced his candidacy for president many Christians said they would not vote for a Mormon “cult” member. When a Lutheran minister participated in an interfaith memorial service in Yankee Stadium just days after the 9/11 he received emails and letters from those in his denomination accusing him of heresy and terrorism against Christianity. As a result of his work with the Muslim community Rick Warren has been labeled a heretic and promoter of “Chrislam.” And in response to a Hindu offering the opening prayer for Congress, Christians shouted down the religious leader.

If Christians are to overcome this credibility problem, they will have to address the reality of life and faith in the midst of religious diversity. Skye Jethani, Senior Editor of Leadership Journal, has said that if the culture is religiously diverse around us, but the church is not talking about what it means to be a Christian in this environment, then the church will continue to suffer as a result.

But how can this credibility gap be addressed? How can we move forward in ways that are faithful to our religious convictions? And can this be done in positive ways without compromise?

A variety of fears underlie problematic Christian stances toward various religions. Some of these fears include concerns over the possibility of spiritual contamination, syncretism, conversion, and in some cases, violence. These fears must be addressed, but they are not insurmountable.

A new movement has arisen among Evangelicals, involving organizations like the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and others, a movement of people who believe that it is possible to engage those in other religions without compromise, and to do so in civility. At the core of this movement is a desire to follow the way of Jesus. At times Evangelicals have attempted to support such a model with reference to biblical passages where Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees (Mat. 23:27). But a more careful reading reveals that this passage is not applicable to interreligious encounters. Here Jesus criticizes leaders in his own religious community. It is not a text that applies to consideration of how Jesus engaged those outside of his religious community.

To understand the example of Jesus for a religiously diverse world we must consider other biblical passages, such as those where Jesus interacts with Gentiles and Samaritans. After considering what might be learned from these interactions we can emulate this approach and apply it to Christian engagement with those in other religion.

Gentiles, particularly Samaritans, were despised as outsiders by the Jewish people of the first century. We might naturally expect Jesus to share in this hostility, but instead a different portrait emerges with a fresh reading of the Gospels. Two passages are particularly noteworthy, including Jesus’ dealing with the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-42), and the parable of the compassionate Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).* From these texts we find several features of Jesus’ example which are important. First, he broke with the negative assumptions, attitudes, and practices of his religious community concerning those in other religions. Second, Jesus positively engaged those of other religions by exhibiting respect rather than denunciation. Third, his engagement involved an awareness of the religion and culture of his dialogue partners. Fourth, Jesus engaged in mutual interaction through dialogical exchange that included listening as well as evangelistic proclamation. If Christians are to have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5), and remember that “whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6), then we must emulate the model of Jesus for the church as we engage those in other religions.

When the example of Jesus in interreligious encounters is followed the results are transformative, in the lives of Christians, as well as non-Christians. Among Christians an example comes by way of the students at Gordon College in Massachusetts. Kyleen Burke describes the results of working through a Loving Our Religious Neighbors campaign at the school based upon the study material by Joshua Daneshforooz. As a result of this study, coupled with new relationships developed through joint service projects with Muslims, Kyleen and her fellow students were given opportunities that few Evangelical college students encounter. She writes, “We are able to meet thoughtful and devout students our own age and develop relationships that broaden and challenge our comfortable lines of thinking. … Without learning from, and engaging with, our religious neighbors, we neglect an important aspect of how we might develop as students and as Evangelical Christians.”

The impact on non-Christians can be just as transformative. Daneshforooz shares the story of a mosque that was being built next door to a church in Memphis, Tennessee. When the pastor of the church learned of this development in his community he immediately put up a welcome sign, and allowed Muslims to use the church facility while the mosque was under construction. This action caught the attention of international media, and as a result of a CNN broadcast the impact was felt around the world. Daneshforooz writes, “One day, a room full of Muslim men in the country of Kashmir watched in amazement. One man spent four hours on the phone attempting to reach the Memphis pastor. When he finally got through to the pastor’s church office phone in Tennessee, the Muslim man said: ‘It was like God was talking through you …. Pastor, please tell people in your country we are not terrorists. We are so cut to the heart by the kind and loving way you treated your Muslim neighbors in America that we have taken a vow to protect the Christian church down the road here in Kashimir, a largely Muslim culture, for the rest of our lives.’”

At conferences on interreligious relations and peacemaking the question is often raised, “Where are the Christians, and in particular, where are the Evangelicals?” Many times we are absent, and we still have a long way to go to address our credibility gap in this area. But when Evangelicals are prepared for interreligious encounters in the public square, and it is put on our agenda as a religious movement, it will have tremendous implications for gospel witness and for the common good in our pluralistic, post-9/11 world.

* For an exploration of these and other passages, and their implications for interreligious engagement, see Bob Robinson, Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World (Cascade Books, 2012).
_____

What is your level of religious literacy? How do you think evangelicals can address their credibility problem in relation to other religions?

John W. Morehead is the Director of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. He has been involved for many years in interreligious relationships and conversations in the contexts of Islam, Mormonism, and Paganism. He is the co-editor and contributing author for Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach, the editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, and co-founder and editor of Sacred Tribes Journal. John also provides expertise to the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization issue group on “The Church and the New Spiritualities.” He works in the area of new religious movements as Director of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies.

“Long said that although there was some initial hesitation from evangelicals because of Romney’s faith, that time has passed.

“I have not heard that in the last three or four months. No one brings that up as any kind of issue at all,” he said. “They are looking at the candidates as who would be the executive of this republic and would be suited to do that.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/21/evangelicals-romney-campaign_n_1992779.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

This was a great read. It is nice to see that the evangelical voters are focused on the candidates policies and what they are bringing to the White House if elected rather than focus on the religious affiliation and whether or not Romney is a “Christian”.

Please check out our film: “Unresolvable? The Kingdom of God on Earth”
http://unresolvablemovie.com/

DVD and DOWNLOAD RELEASE DATE!!!

Release date set for DVD and Download release of “Unresolvable? The Kingdom of God on Earth”!

Release date: 10.12.12  THIS FRIDAY!!!

DVD and Download will be available at: http://unresolvablemovie.com

This is a riveting story that uncovers cultural conflicts over religion. The American experiment to found a civil society with citizens holding conflicting religious ideals is on trial before an impatient world. Today billions yearn for the Kingdom or Law of God to bring relief to their lives, and Americans seek stability pledging allegiance–awkwardly–under God. But whose God? ‘The God of our Ch…

ristian nation,’ many say. But as Barak Obama observed, if America marginalized all the non-Christians, whose Christianity would the rest agree to follow? And, if America marginalized all believers, whose doubt would unite us? John Kennedy famously said that bigotry against any group proves the American experiment has failed to our common peril: ‘An act against one is an act against all.’