Engage - Claremont Lincoln University

Evangelical & Interfaith (with Neighborly Faith)


In this episode, we discuss:

  • How it’s possible to believe that Christianity is the one, true religion and be equally certain the interfaith dialogue (without the goal of conversion) is absolutely necessary
  • Key ingredients for engaging in dialogue that is centered in love and friendship
  • Why uncertainty is healthy for any faith or ethical position
  • How to cultivate relationships even when you disagree on key beliefs
  • What churches need to be doing to remain relevant in times like these


Speaker 1:           You’re listening to In Times Like These, a production of COU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt.

Speaker 2:           When you hear, “Evangelical Christian” what comes to mind? Judgemental people? Kindness? The life of Jesus? Radical inner faith activism? In this episode of In Times Like These, Stephanie talks to Kevin Singer and Chris STACKARUK, co-founders and co-hosts of Neighborly Faith, evangelicals for inner religious engagement.

Speaker 2:           They talk sin, redemption, fear and self righteousness. They critique the current church and wonder together how change is possible. And, how to make it happen. Not just for the good of Christians, but for the good of all communities.

Stephanie:          Okay, I’m gonna start with the big “E” word, Evangelical. And, I love that word. Listen. I took Greek. It’s beautiful. Mary the first evangelist. John the evangelist. Like, the hymns, “Children go where I send thee.” It’s a gorgeous word. And, right now, it’s a loaded word. And, I know of churches who have changed the name of their church to remove that word. So, tell me about how you approach evangelical and why it’s such a prominent part of your website and the conversations that you’re having.

Kevin:                   I can go ahead and start. No doubt, the word, “Evangelical” has become a bastion of baggage. I don’t know if anyone’s ever put those words together before, but yeah. When people see the word, they think, many people think the opposite. I mean, evangel, the root of that word is good news. It’s claiming good news. And yet, so often, when an evangelical enters into a space, people are like, “Uh oh. Bad news. There’s an evangelical here.”

Kevin:                   And, I mean, I think our starting point is realizing that many people are paralyzed by the term, hurt by the term, scarred by the term. And, that energizes us to even start our movement. Was … Chris, you can jump in here. But, precisely because of that realization that we’re the bullies on the playground and nobody wants to play.

Chris:                     Yeah. I think you’re right on. And, Kevin and I, also, we identify with people who would say they’re evangelical and as evangelicals. And, for the sake of our … The witness of our group. For how … We think that a lot of people who are evangelical mean really well even though they hold beliefs that often don’t play well in inner faith circles. And, often, even though they mean well, they don’t communicate that well and aren’t sure how to live it well.

Chris:                     And so, that’s really what we’ve been trying to do with the movement, is take what often we see people saying, “We do love others. We do care about others. We do have strong beliefs about what we think about the bible and sharing the gospel.” And, we want to talk to those people who are like us and say, “Okay. Let’s talk about this new context of religious diversity. It’s different from what you grew up in. It’s different from maybe the way you see the world. Let’s talk about how the world has changed and how you can be loving, like Jesus calls you to do. Like you believe you should be. In a way that is meaningful to the kinds of people that live around you today.”

Chris:                     So, evangelicals, yes, we’re seen as bullies on the playground, misunderstood. But, often, it’s a baggage term that we have to and willing carry around because it still describes a large group of people that we belong to that we’re also trying to reach, change, and mobilize to do good.

Kevin:                   Right.

Stephanie:          So, you talked specifically about love and modeling the way we love after the way that Jesus loved. Give me some examples that you’ve seen that are meaningful to this discussion. Interfaith, religious diversity, cultural diversity. Give me some examples that you would say exemplify that kind of loving.

Chris:                     Yeah. I’ll jump in if that’s okay.

Kevin:                   Yeah.

Chris:                     So, oftentimes, something we … I’ll start with a negative and then move to some positive examples. Oftentimes for evangelicals, what it looks like to be loving or what they envision, first off, is to say, “This person doesn’t follow Jesus the way I do. Or, at all. Or, that’s what I think about them.” And, they say, “The most loving thing I can do is change what they believe. Share good news the way I know how to share it. And, I think that’s loving.”

Chris:                     And, the question we’re asking of evangelicals is like, “Is it really loving? Are you really loving that person well? Or, do you just think you are?” So, we’ve seen examples of people when it comes to religious diversity saying, “Okay, we are not going to [inaudible 00:05:07] people of other religions. Instead, we are going to welcome Muslim refugees and show them love like we believe Christ would love them. And, for us, that’s enough.”

Chris:                     A lot of them being evangelicals, they would also say, “We’re happy to share about what we believe. We’re happy to do our reflexive evangelism, sort of joy for them and us.” But, that’s not the front. That’s not what they go in with. They say, “We’re just really about using … We’re about showing up and being loving. And, the rest that could come if they’re open.”

Stephanie:          Yeah. And, I feel … I haven’t heard this emphasis on love in a long time. I really appreciate that. You’re really preaching to me. I spent a lot of years not in a posture of love, but a posture of fear. My parents didn’t go to church. The Son Shine Bus, S-O-N, came and picked me up. Sunday morning, Sunday night [inaudible 00:06:07]. And, those people, speaking of love, they loved me. For my whole childhood, they loved me.

Stephanie:          But, I spent a lot of time really praying in fear at revivals because I was gonna be separated from my parents. And so, a lot of the evangelizing I did as a child was motivated by a deep anxiety. And, it’s so instructive now as an adult for you to be talking about something that I’ve learned and I recognized, I should be moved by a posture of love. Right?

Chris:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Stephanie:          And, if I’m a minister or I’m putting on a revival. Or, I’m speaking or preaching, or singing, how do I frame that because I do have certain beliefs about what will happen to me after I die. So, what do I do with that in my brain and in my heart? Where do I put that?

Kevin:                   I can jump in here. So, in my own experience, this is a difficult tension hold. And, Chris and I … I don’t want to speak for you Chris, but just based on our conversations, it’s something that we’re still figuring out. And, we don’t pretend by doing this podcast, by speaking to evangelicals about our faiths that there is the pad answer and the cliché answer. And, it’s best that they adopt that.

Kevin:                   The virtues that we exposed through our organization is listening authentically, seeking a two way friendship as opposed to a unilateral, this is Christ, take it or leave it. We also look at seeking the welfare of people of other faiths. Especially, in terms of minimizing their suffering. And then, speaking truthfully. And, the one thing we do say is that we don’t think that these four virtues are contradictory to a desire to want other people to know Christ. But, it certainly changes the way that you do share Christ.

Kevin:                   And, in some ways, when I’m speaking to someone of another faith, I have those four virtues sort of rattling around in my head. Like, okay, seek their welfare, listen authentically, seek authentic friendship, and speak truthfully about them. And, because I put it in the language of something I can do and actions I can take, I’m a little less preoccupied by the theological constraints because my focus is on being Christ in that moment. And, taking on personal qualities that … It’s like the golden rule. Those are qualities I hope that other would extend to me. I don’t want anybody to listen to me in hopes that they could convert what I’m saying. I don’t want people to seek my suffering. I don’t want people to threaten my freedom, my religious freedom.

Kevin:                   Why on Earth would I want to do that to anyone else? And, admittedly too for me, I mean, I grew up in a tense religious home. My father was raised Jewish. Faced a lot of discrimination for it and ended up being pretty adverse to religion while my brothers and I were growing up. And so, I lived in this strange tension where my dad’s Jewish family would come over. They would talk about Jewish practices. None of us really knew how to balance my dad’s sort of conflict with religion with them bringing so many of those cultural features into our home for family parties.

Kevin:                   And, my mom became a Christian at age 35. She started taking us to an evangelical church and it just … That’s all I’ve ever really known, is these spaces where Christianity is contested. It’s not Christianity as taken for granted. And so, that has shaped for me a lot of … Like, I feel quite normative when I’m like, “I don’t know the answer to this question right now. I’m willing to suspend that temporarily because I know that Christ would just want to be with you and be present and not to be constantly grappling with should I have done that? Should I have said that?”

Kevin:                   Which isn’t to say I don’t hold certain truths to be important. It’s just I think there’s virtue in mystery. And, I think Chris and I both learned that as graduate students. And, we had a really great class we took called, “Theology To Liberal Arts” that there’s something poetic about sitting in the tension instead of wanting to seek that hyper clarity at all times, which I think evangelicals so desperately want to hang on to.

Stephanie:          I love that. And, I think, yes, humility and openness to mystery. And, whenever I taught Sunday school, I always tried to have a posture of, look, if I believe that all of us are made in the image of Christ-

Kevin:                   Right.

Stephanie:          Then, these little young people are equal to me. We are both children of God. So, why would I pretend that just because I’m a little bit older that I have the answers. That’s not a good posture. It’s a mystery. When I experience God, I am floored. I am … It is beyond my ability to teach with a [inaudible 00:11:06].

Stephanie:          So, better for me to help the children cultivate a posture of wonder, a posture of openness, they need to tell to be didactic. And, that’s exactly what you’re saying now. If we’re gonna be … This is relational. This is like falling in love or building a life long friendship.

Kevin:                   Yup.

Stephanie:          If I come in with a posture of didactic, that’s a relationship killer. Why don’t I [crosstalk 00:11:29] with a posture of curiosity?

Kevin:                   Yeah.

Stephanie:          It’s my life. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. It’s a field of openness. All the time.

Kevin:                   I don’t see how an evangelical thrives in this space without embracing the grain of it. And, I don’t necessarily always mean theologically, I mean methodologically. Like, you’re not going to walk into every inter-religious opportunity and have anything go according to plan because 99 percent of the time, the people of other faiths that you talk to will surprise you. They’ll be more generous than you are. They’ll be more faithful, seemingly, than you are. They will be more hospitable than you are. They …

Kevin:                   Especially, if they come from the East, they will be more flexible, at ease, eager to get to know you personally than you are of your own neighbors. So, if you come in with some predisposed … Like, this is how it’s gonna go and I’m gonna structure whatever comes at [inaudible 00:12:26], you will be totally disrupted and that’s what it comes down to for me. Like, behavioral habits.

Kevin:                   Like, I don’t know. Christ just had so much grace on me and my life. I cannot. I am indebted. I can’t walk into a conversation with the preset position that I am on top of the mountain and looking down. That’s not how I understand the gospel to work. And, I’ll let Chris talk for-

Stephanie:          And, we love to be right. We humans love being the right one. Right? I love being the right one. As a teacher, as a parent, as a colleague. And, I get brittle in my rightness. That’s damaging.

Chris:                     Yeah. I think, oftentimes, a lot of evangelicals, and I can talk about myself, being right is a very comforting thing. It sort of stays up in your head. It’s like I live in a safe space. But, I often want to challenge myself and say if I’m holding on to a truth that is from God that is changing the world then I should be living it out long before I sit down and say, “I am safe and certain.”

Chris:                     If it is powerful, if it is true, then I should be out on the streets engaging in the tensions of how do I love people well? And then, I know it’s true. Then I’m certain about it. But first, it has to transform you. And, I think that active love comes first. But, often, people will sit down and say, “I am right and I don’t need to love anyone.”

Chris:                     Well, if you’re right, then why isn’t it transforming you?

Stephanie:          Right.

Chris:                     Why aren’t you out there living it? [crosstalk 00:13:59] Yes. You don’t want to act first and act well, but rather sort of be comfortably couched in truth. And, again, if it’s true you shouldn’t be comfortably couched, you should be out there loving people, living it, and seeing that there are tensions. Like, Kevin just described.

Stephanie:          So, we’re going to be uncomfortable? [crosstalk 00:14:22]

Kevin:                   Yes.

Stephanie:          To change. To radical change.

Chris:                     Yeah.

Kevin:                   Anytime I’ve ever changed or seen anyone change, it’s preceded by moments of disequilibrium.

Stephanie:          Yes. Yeah. Absolutely.

Kevin:                   And, Chris and I … I mean, I remember Chris, and you can probably say the same, when we first started going to interfaith conferences back in 2015, ’16, we were living in disequilibrium because when you grow up in the evangelical church, and for evangelicals out there you’ll probably know what I mean, you hear cliches coming from the pulpit going along the lines of, “This is what Mohammed said.” Or, “This is what Buddha said and this is what Jesus said. And, I choose Jesus.” And, it’s always like minimizing and sanitizing other faiths down to the least common denominator such that you’re never really introduced to the positive contributions they make. You don’t have space to develop an appreciative attitude. Right?

Chris:                     Purely a [inaudible 00:15:22]

Kevin:                   Right.

Chris:                     Yeah.

Kevin:                   So, you go to an interfaith conference and it’s like, look at all the positive contributions that Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, Hindus, etc. are making to society. And, you’re like, “Woe.” Like, it’s … And, it’s exhilarating, but unfortunately, a lot of evangelicals just don’t have the language and the vocabulary to say, “What I’m hearing is true, this is how I would articulate on behalf as an ally to others.” It’s developing a new skin for a multi-faith world.

Stephanie:          Right.

Chris:                     Yeah.

Stephanie:          Yeah. I just … I have a book called, “Interfaith Grits: How Uncertainty Will Save Us” and that word, disequilibrium, Kevin, that you just said, that’s the word. And, children experience it all day long. Right? They fall down. Depth perception. Food textures. But, as we get older we stop wanting to feel uncomfortable.

Stephanie:          And so, I think it’s the job of religious leaders to help communities through those shaky places to say, yes, there’s a good war coming to town. I know we’re anxious about that, what can we do about that? How can we [inaudible 00:16:29] that?

Kevin:                   Oh, yeah.

Chris:                     I think that this actually gets to a theme that I see in a lot of … In my church, the church that I grew up in, the churches I go to today, which is that, sort of, people don’t want to be … What was that? Uncomfortable? What was that word you used?

Kevin:                   Disequilibrium?

Chris:                     No. Like, uh-

Stephanie:          Shaky?

Chris:                     Uncertain. Shaky. Yeah. People … And, I think that transfers in all of life. And, I see it very often. It’s the churches that have people that are very comfortable socioeconomically, people that are very comfortable in a lot of areas in their life in terms of safety, in terms of their future, and a lot of comfort.

Chris:                     And then, I go in and every second sermon is about all the trials everyone is having in their life. And, I’m like, I don’t really get it sometimes. I look at the parking lot and then I look at the people. And then, I look at the sermon and I’m like, “Y’all are convinced that you are in the mist of the most uncertain, crazy life that one can live.”

Chris:                     And, it’s like, if we got out there, we would develop more of a capacity, I think, grow spiritually to say, “Oh, wow. I was comfortable back then. I’m testing myself now. I’m growing in my faith. My capacity to deal with tensions. To deal with uncertainty. And, to live Christ in a world where I’m not convincing myself that, ‘Oh. My life is so uncertain.’ Even though really I have it all pegged out.”

Chris:                     And, I see that strange thing happening all the time. And, I’m like, woe, woe, woe. We need to go and find some really difficult stuff and then develop the capacity to grow into it and say, “How do I be Christ here?” And, if that’s multi-faith then let’s go do multi-faith. ‘Cause, yeah, that’s hard. But, yeah. That’s what we’re called to. Let’s stop being comfortable with nice cars in the parking lot at church convincing ourselves that we’re in the mist of a storm. America is going to hell. And, we …

Chris:                     It’s like, really? I think we’re just low capacity spiritually, if that’s what we think. That’s just my opinion.

Kevin:                   I’m out. I’m leaving the podcast. Because, everything might be said on this topic.

Stephanie:          I didn’t bring my hanky to wave.

Kevin:                   I’m shutting down my computer.

Chris:                     Well, thank you guys.

Stephanie:          That’s what teachers do, right? Teachers provoke. Teacher provoke. Didn’t … Was Jesus not all the time provoking them with humor, with upending stories, with unexpected behavior? I mean, we would have been wandering around following Jesus being like, “I don’t know what he meant. Guys, what did he mean? I think I’m doing the wrong thing.” Right?

Chris:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephanie:          Literally, troubling the waters.

Chris:                     Yeah.

Stephanie:          But, so much of what we do when we build church is, “Well, is there a cry room that’s comfortable. Is the bathroom really nice? Do we have [inaudible 00:19:14]?” It’s literally about building comfort. Avoiding the [inaudible 00:19:17].

Chris:                     Yeah. And, I think that something, just to add a last little comment. Something I’m worried about with the church today, my church and the evangelical churches, is that they’re out of touch with the real challenges of life in the world to the point where we see this with young people. Everyone’s like, “Y’all aren’t even answering my questions anymore.” I got to the Apologetics Course to find out why my faith is secure, and everything you’re talking about was like 40 years ago philosophical problems.

Chris:                     And, I think people don’t wanna deal with the real big questions ’cause they have, sometimes, sticky answers. But, the questions from 40 years ago and the issues from 40 years ago, let’s just declare victory over. You know? Because, we solved them and they’re not real problems. But, young people, we sniff it out. We’re like, that’s, “You’re out of touch.”

Stephanie:          Phony. Like holding coffee.

Chris:                     Phony. Yeah.

Stephanie:          I was talking to-

Chris:                     The problems you’re talking about don’t exist.

Stephanie:          Yeah. I was talking to a Korean American and Presbyterian preacher and she was saying she’s been reading articles recently that we are making adult church like youth group. We are making adult church fun, and positive, and the idea of … What the term? Therapeutic, moral-

Kevin:                   Moral Therapeutic Deism?

Stephanie:          Yes. That God is there to help me. Like a life coach. Like Oprah. And, we’re not feeding adults adult food. We’re sort of making it more fun and more visually stimulating. But, we’re not, Chris, as you were saying, encouraging adult spirituality to grapple with really uncomfortable things.

Chris:                     And, it would be so sad … The reason Kevin and I are so excited about what we’re doing is we really believe that the evangelical church can update quickly. We’re a very fast moving pivoting movement typically. And, it’s like we have a lot of faith, versatile. That this … Christ, through what he does in his church that this is very possible. And, that’s why we’re passionate. That’s why we’re on fire. And, we want to talk positive as much as we talk negative. And, like, this is so doable.

Stephanie:          No, that’s super inspiring. Okay. So, the first few episodes of Neighborly Faith, is y’alls podcast, Neighborly Faith, the first, I think, three that I listened to, I had a scowl on my face. I was like, “Uh.” And, this is why. And, I’m just … To be completely honest about myself. I heard evangelical voices, Christians talking about themselves as if they were the minority. I was like, “Oh.” And I was making this face. And, “I was the only evangelical. Ugh, I’m the only Christian in this space. Nobody gets me.” And, I’m just like, “Listen. We’re the majority. We can’t get birth control and abortions in this country.” People are not okay with gay and trans people. There is definitely, from my perspective, living in Southern California, I don’t have patience for other Christians acting as though we are persecuted.

Speaker 1:           Being human is a messy endeavor. We are made to be in relationship and yet our fear of diversity keeps us apart. My new book, “Explore Is The Paralyzing Paradox” “Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us” is available now on Amazon and on our blog. It’s for all of us, ordinary readers seeking ways to learn how to engage with difference. Interfaith Grit is possible and it can save us.

Stephanie:          And so, I’m inpatient with people saying, “Oh. But, I feel like the minority.” You’re not. You’re not. Not right now and not in North America. And, that’s very unkind. I’m being very unkind and snarky. And, I kept listening. And, I kept getting to know the voices. And, I heard the tentativeness there and I heard the earnestness. And, my heart softened. And, I’m like, “Okay. I’m being patient with this.” So, I repented of my snarkiness.

Stephanie:          But, how do you deal with that? Right? College students, teenagers, families, they’re … Kevin, you had some good phrases for this, but how do we in the interfaith space, ’cause I do interfaith work, how am I welcoming of people who feel that they are maybe being aggressive a little bit. When my social justice voice wants to be like, no, you’re not. What do we do with that when I’m doing interfaith work?

Chris:                     What you’re talking about is a term we use in higher education called, “Social status ambiguity”, which is the belief that among more conservative leaning Christians of an evangelical flair that even though structurally speaking they have the most resources, they have the most bandwidth on campus, they have more power than anyone to reserve rooms and to create spaces, and to … I mean, I wrote an article earlier this year called, “Coming To Grips With Christian Normativity In Higher Education” and I tell the story of coming out of a parking garage at MC State where I’m a doc student and seeing this massive bi-fold plastic sign promoting a Christian student group that was bike locked to a tree.

Chris:                     And, I thought to myself, first of all, there’s no way this could be allowed, that you could just attach whatever you want to a campus fixture, but the second thing that came to mind is what would happen if the Muslim student group or the freethinkers student group attached a bi-fold fiber glass, whatever it was made out of, signs to campus fixtures? There would have been an uproar.

Chris:                     And so, I think what happens is there’s this, again, this ambiguity whereby students think that … Especially, in classrooms settings you see this a lot. They’ll say, “Well, they don’t believe Adam and Eve really existed. I’m oppressed.” But then, they go to their weekly intervarsity recruit meeting, which they get to rent the biggest lecture hall on campus, they are able to hang up signs anywhere they want, even attached to trees, and there’s no concern and effort to take them down.

Chris:                     And so, it’s … And, admittedly, part of it is it’s the language used in the evangelical church where we are persecuted people. We are suffering. We are carrying our cross. But, I was in a small group bible study last week and it was the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts. And, God tells Ananias, who sort of acquaints Paul with the movement, He says, “I will teach Paul how much he will suffer for the sake of my name.”

Chris:                     And, I said to the group. I said, “I don’t even know what it looks like to suffer as a white functionally middle class male evangelical Christian living in North Carolina. Like, I don’t even know what that means.” I think people think they know what that means and they’ll say, “Oh, I’m suffering because I said the word, Jesus, and not everybody clapped.”

Chris:                     And, it’s like, at the time those words were written, people were running Christians down. They were literally following them, they were chasing them, they were stalking them in order that they might kill them. And, it’s like I think we have this, what I like to call, “evangelical persecution complex” where we are so overly sensitive that we gotta create movies like, “God’s Not Dead” to say, “We’re here and don’t you dare mess with us. We’re gonna build an ark in Kentucky and you better come. And, don’t you dare burn it down ’cause if you do, oh, my goodness. Fox News is gonna blow the roof off the dump.”

Chris:                     And, Chris and I have already talked about needing to be more positive. We’re not doing a good job. But, anyway-

Stephanie:          No. I really appreciate it. And, I was gonna say that exact thing. I so appreciate that you as a white educated Christian male for you to ask us to be more clear about how we’re privileged is really important. That’s a gorgeous thing. And, I need to do that as well. We need to do that.

Chris:                     That’s everything. That’s everything. Because, the gospel in this day and age is about how willing are you to succeed power and to succeed privilege? ‘Cause if you can’t do that, you’ll have zero witness.

Stephanie:          Uh.

Chris:                     With the millennials. You’ll have zero witness. I mean, look at … Can I complain about something else now that I’m on my complaining box?

Stephanie:          Yes.

Chris:                     Okay. This might get me in trouble among my even evangelical comrads, but-

Stephanie:          Trouble the waters.

Chris:                     So, last week, there was a massive conference called MLK 50 in which evangelical leaders from different races got together in Memphis to celebrate 50 years since the … Or, commemorate, I’m sorry, 50 years since the slaying of Martin Luther King, Jr. And, don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful thing to see. I was celebrating, clapping, but this is what it is though. People have been poking, prodding, condemning evangelicals to make a move like this for 150 years. And, by the looks of it, it looks like everyone is thinking that, “Oh, this is who I’ve been all along. And, we just needed to pow wow about it and we just needed to revisit in this really powerful way and doesn’t everyone see this is just who Russel Moore is? This is just who Beth Moore is? This is just who these people are? Can’t they just see that? All we needed to do was to be given a platform to speak about it.”

Chris:                     And, it’s like, no. The truth is you are being opportunistic because that is the way the culture is moving. People are tired of the this evangelical opportunism, whereby we are exposed for our power and our privilege, we’re told that people will start emptying the pews, we’re threatened by it and so we hold a massive to pretend that’s the way we’ve been all along. That is power and privilege.

Stephanie:          Oh. Instead of why not saying, “I was convicted. I’ve been looking at what’s happening. I’ve been inspired by Black Lives Matter. I’ve been inspired by the teenagers. My-

Chris:                     This is a moment for us to confess. This is not a moment for us to pretend that this has been in our efface all along and now we finally had the opportunity to show it. That is not … That makes me so sick to my stomach because most of the people I encounter are saying you are 100 years too late. 100 years.

Stephanie:          God help us. Yeah.

Chris:                     And so, it’s disenchanting to me.

Stephanie:          Yes.

Chris:                     To see this patting ourselves on the back because in my mind I’m thinking this is what props up the evangelical elites, the celebrity-ism, to think that this is who I am at my core. I’m [inaudible 00:30:21] with the injustice. And, it’s like, no. That just appeases your brand right now. You are 100 years late. And, that’s power and privilege right there.

Stephanie:          And, that’s relational, right? In a conversation with my husband or in a conversation with my students, if I get new information that changes me I don’t pretend that I’ve been that way all along. I say with all authenticity, “I was wrong. I messed up.”

Chris:                     Yes.

Stephanie:          I heard this and I’ve been moved, and I’m changing the way I’m parenting. I’m changing the way I’m teaching this. I’m changing the way I’m doing this relationship. So, we were just talking about authenticity.

Chris:                     I think a lot of people have trouble. And, Kevin’s kind of an expert at this and this is a religious problem too. People have trouble saying, I learned this from society. Or, from Black Lives Matter. Or, from Hinduism.

Kevin:                   Yes.

Chris:                     And, I went back to the bible and I never saw it there, but it was there. And, this is what Kevin did for years. He was a … What do you call it? Inner [inaudible 00:31:19] Comparative religion sort of scholar. And, he [crosstalk 00:31:24]

Kevin:                   We went to the same school.

Chris:                     Yeah. I forgot. But, Kevin would look into Hindu tradition, find things, and say, “Oh, this totally helps me see things in scripture in a new light that I never saw before.”

Stephanie:          Right. All new. Without Buddha, I could not be a Christian.

Chris:                     Yeah. But, people want to skip that step oftentimes as evangelicals. But, what you miss is saying … Is the apology.

Kevin:                   Yeah.

Stephanie:          Oh, yes.

Chris:                     Is saying, “Oh. I learned this. I learned that I made a mistake when you told me I made a mistake. Rather than showing up and saying, “The bible says that I …” Like, no.

Stephanie:          Oh, that’s big.

Chris:                     Yeah.

Stephanie:          That’s big.

Chris:                     Maybe for listeners. Think about it. If you’ve ever been in a fight with someone and they tell you late in the conversation, you know, you haven’t apologized yet for what you did. And, you’re like, “Oh, I totally did.” And, they’re like, “No. No, you haven’t actually.”

Kevin:                   Because, I feel bad. I feel bad.

Chris:                     Yeah.

Kevin:                   So, therefore I apologized. No. Not the same.

Chris:                     No, you haven’t apologized. You know, oftentimes, we skip the apology and don’t notice. But, people who are waiting for one, they notice.

Kevin:                   Yes.

Chris:                     And, part of loving people well is thinking what are they hearing? Not just what am I saying.

Stephanie:          That’s powerful. That’s a whole nother conversation. Oftentimes we skip the apology and we don’t notice. Yeah. Okay, I’ve gotta ask you another hard question. Totally different hard question.

Stephanie:          Is it possible, and I know you’ve spent time in other countries with other traditions, I’ve spent time in India meditating, praying with gurus, is it possible that if I am totally open, total humility heart, total open hands, and I’m not the right one, that I might be changed? And, I have a dear friends who’s a Mormon and years ago he gave me a Book of Mormon and he said, “Stephanie,” …

Stephanie:          And, I spent a lot of time with his family. They were good friends to me when I needed it. He gave me a Book of Mormon and he said, “I’ve marked a passage for you in this book and I know that when you’re ready you’ll open it and you’ll read it and you’ll realize that this is the right path for you.”

Stephanie:          And, I have that book and I have not opened it and I have not read that passage. And, I don’t know if part of me believes that that will happen. That I’ll have an experience where I suddenly believe that I need to be Mormon or if I believe that that’s so not possible that I don’t even need to be curious about it. But, is it possible that if I spend enough time with another culture and that’s the way God is moving that I might understand that how I have been living is not the full way? Or, is the fact that Jesus is in my heart, Jesus is always in my heart no matter what?

Kevin:                   So, it’s probably best to say on the front end, I don’t know if Chris and I would say that it would be God’s will for us to convert to another religion, however, I do believe that by encountering things that are so different, so perplexing even, that we can be converted back into Christianity when we didn’t even know we weren’t one to begin with.

Kevin:                   So, that’s how I would phrase it. And, Chris, you can jump in of course as well. But, I would phrase it as almost like Paul [inaudible 00:35:08] said, “By encountering this …” I mean, if you want to talk about different than Christianity, talk about Buddhism where in Christianity, you know, the pains of life are the result of sin. Whereas, in Buddhism they are the results of suffering.

Kevin:                   That meditation is … And, discipline are the way to self enlightenment where in Christianity it’s a self reliance on the gift of grace that we are saved into the place in heaven of a personal God. So, there’s big differences, but I do think that if you … I do think there are Christians that are wired best to grow exponentially when they encounter difference.

Kevin:                   Some people I know do not exponentially will grow when they encounter difference. And, it frustrates me because I’m that type of person. But, I don’t know if that we would advice our listeners who are evangelical to hope, to use the word, that they would run to another option besides that of Christ.

Kevin:                   Chris, do you want to nuance that at all? I’m sure that was a bit rough around the edges.

Chris:                     Yeah. I’ll jump in. I think that getting out a little more and exploring other traditions, places, spaces will inevitably change someone. But, I don’t think that’s at all a threat to our faith.

Kevin:                   Sure.

Chris:                     And, this is why. I would ask someone if they ask that question, “What do you do to live your faith or practice your faith?” And, they might say something like, “I read the bible, I pray, I sing, I get together with others.” And, I would say, “Why don’t you go do that in a completely different space and see what happens? See how you can live your faith if you moved to India suddenly.”

Chris:                     Or, I very often go visit my wife who … my wife’s from a small village in Thailand, it’s very Buddhist. And, my faith, I would say grew. And, I was blessed, I think, to go and try to practice my faith there. When the bells toll in the morning to have everyone get up to go to the temple to pray. And I’d get up and I’d think, wow, this is a whole different world. And, how and I gonna practice my faith here? And, maybe that’s an extreme example to some, but maybe why we have Neighborly Faith is because what we’re trying to tell evangelicals is this is the world, welcome. Welcome to the new world. The multi-religious world.

Chris:                     So, go out. Read. Pray. Study. Get together with others of your faith in the world. Not in a seclusive community. Evangelicals will often say, “We are engaged with the culture.” But, it’s like, no, no, no, no. You are like Amish people, kind of. Which is, that’s their approach. Leave in the culture. That’s what they want. That’s they expose. Let it be beautiful. But, at least they’re living what they believe rather than evangelicals who say, “We are engaged”, but are not. Find every way to not be engaged and not live a faith that is in touch and not be changed. And, we will be changed. And, that’s fine because Christ is faithful and we will do our best to be [inaudible 00:38:20] as well.

Kevin:                   I think it’s possible that a lot of evangelicals were converted to American white evangelical Christianity and were told this is mere Christianity, and it’s not.

Stephanie:          Woe.

Kevin:                   I mean. I can speak to that myself. I mean, I was a part of Crew at Northern Illinois and Undergrad. And, I thought that’s just what Christianity was. You know? Mostly white people studying reformed theologians. Picking up Wayne [inaudible 00:38:41] from time to time. If you’re really imotive, you could read “Wild At Heart”. We all go to Christmas conferences and that’s mostly white. And then, we read, “Mere Christianity”, which was written by a white man.

Kevin:                   And, at the end of the day, this is what Christianity is and any diversion from it, whether it’s cultural, whether it’s theological, is deficient Christianity.

Stephanie:          Oh.

Kevin:                   And, so many white American evangelicals have been converted to that Christianity. So, yes. Can they be saved by interacting with people of other faiths into true Christianity? Absolutely, yes.

Stephanie:          You just … I had to grow a new synopsis to process. I’m so thankful personally. The podcast is gonna be good. I’m so happy to hear this, but personally, like, Stephanie, what I just heard shifted some of my thinking. And so, if you were my pastor, or you were my peer, or my prayer partner, you would say, “Stephanie, don’t be afraid to go read The Book of Mormon. Open it up. Read it because Christ is faithful. You are faithful. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep reading your devotional. Keep praying. Keep acting. Keep seeking. And, you will continue to grow in the relationship you have with Christ.”

Kevin:                   As long as it’s true that Christ came to Earth, we can walk into those spaces.

Chris:                     Yeah. Amen. Boom.

Stephanie:          I love that. I love that. So, again, we’ve come full circle, right? Again, a posture of love. A posture of curiosity. Not a posture of fear. Don’t approach the [inaudible 00:40:15], don’t approach the foreign space, don’t approach the new text with a fear of like, oh, I don’t have enough. It’s not gonna be enough. It’s under threat. But, approach it with, “I have all that I need. I have always had all that I need. And, it’s enough.”

Chris:                     Yes.

Stephanie:          And so, I’m comfortable seeing what will happen when I become uncomfortable.

Chris:                     Yeah. And, why be afraid? What are we defending? Does Jesus need defending? I don’t think so. I think he’s quite alright without us defending him. I think he needs us to be a little more excited about doing what he did, which is like Kevin said, “Going to strange places …” That we see as strange. They’re not strange. They’re just the world. And, just showing up and saying, “I love Jesus. Who are you?”

Chris:                     Maybe not those as your first words. But, you know? Maybe that’s what goes through your head.

Stephanie:          I don’t know. That’d be a great T-shirt. I could Instagram that. Welcome to the world. This is the world. This has been the world all along. It’s okay. If you feel a little shaky, it’s fine. Come on. It’s an invitation. It really is. It’s an invitation and that’s Neighborly Faith. It’s an invitation. If you’re a host at a party, come on in, you haven’t tried hummus? I think you might like it.

Chris:                     Yeah. Be fearless. Yeah.

Kevin:                   Evangelicals love to say this, especially at Mission conferences, “It’s coming. Diversity is coming.” And, I will want to be like, “Diversity has been here for decades.” But, you’re just now realizing it. Evangelicals need to stop using the rational of it’s coming soon so make sure you get your ticket to that next fog machine, laser light, missions conference.

Kevin:                   Rather, it needs to be, it’s here, but we just haven’t been faithful.

Stephanie:          Right.

Kevin:                   It should be a moment of repentance not foreshadowing. So, I just hear that a lot. Well, Muslims are coming to America so … I mean, just ask our friend Tony Barrell whose an executive director of an immigrant refugee welcoming network. He would tell you, and he used these exact words in our last episode, he said, “We were working with refugees and immigrants before it was controversial.”

Kevin:                   They’ve already been here, but now, and to our shame, now you want me on your path.

Stephanie:          But, that’s a control thing too. That’s the same safety issue. I am better prepared to come to a conference and calendar out a couple of years. Okay. Things are gonna change. We’re ready for it. Not, let me open my door and fully step outside and embrace.

Kevin:                   Yup.

Stephanie:          Not on my terms. Not on my terms.

Kevin:                   Yup.

Chris:                     Yeah. So true.

Stephanie:          So, that’s the work. So, what’s next for Neighborly Faith? Podcasts? Website? You’re growing. People are listening. People are hungry. Are you excited? Do you feel anxious at all? You’re excited?

Kevin:                   Yeah. We … For two years, Neighborly Faith was a website that no one visited. And, perhaps it was a [inaudible 00:43:12] I don’t know. But, finally one day, we just said, we’ve gotta do something. We’re PhD students, we’ve both got … You know, I’ve got four kids somehow. I don’t know where they all are right now. But, they’re all under five. They’re safe. Don’t worry. But, we need to find a way to make … To be actionable in a way that’s conducive to our lives.

Kevin:                   And, maybe that’s not starting a foundation and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. But, maybe that’s interviewing people that we admire and who challenge us. And, putting their voice on the airwaves and packaging it as, “Look evangelical friend, this is a role model that you can seek to follow after.” Because, for some many evangelicals, they don’t even … They don’t know the first thing about modeling themselves after Christ in this space. They need other people to show them here’s the dance moves. Here’s the moves you make.

Kevin:                   And, you might have to adapt that a bit to your context. But … I mean, just today, my best friend growing up, I’ve known him for over 20 years. He has not shown a ton of interest in this work that I’m doing. It’s sort of a conversation stopper when I bring it up. And, I love this guy to death. This morning, he sends me a message. And, he says, “I know you guys are coming to Chicago at the end of April and I know you’re going to be visiting a couple of churches. You’re going to Wheaton College, you’re going to Moody, you’re gonna interview people about their interaction with Catholics and people of other faiths, etc. I really want to tag along.” He said. “‘Cause I feel like there’s something I could learn from what you do.”

Kevin:                   And, that one friend, that one person, I could close up shop right now and that would enough because it’s in those … It’s always discrete. We’ll get a message, we’ll get a Facebook message. Somebody saying, “Hey. I don’t really know exactly how to say this, but your podcast has been inspiring me. I’m gonna go to that seater next week even though I wouldn’t have gone originally ’cause I feel a sense of confidence that I actually know what to do there and not make a … You know, not put my foot in my mouth.”

Kevin:                   And, those responses are just … Those are such an honor to us to know that we’re actually being given permission to change evangelical hearts.

Stephanie:          Right. And, they’re coming softly because they’re vulnerable. Right? They’re showing their vulnerability, which is so beautiful.

Kevin:                   Yeah. Chris, do you want to-

Stephanie:          Yeah.

Kevin:                   Oh, sure. Go head. I’m sorry. I was gonna say, Chris, do you want to talk about some of these ethnographic projects that we’re looking at right now?

Chris:                     Yeah.

Kevin:                   And, what those are?

Chris:                     I’ll jump in on that. So, like Kevin was describing, what we were trying to do is create an evangelical, multi-faith, interfaith, inter-religious, whatever you want to call it, tradition. We don’t like tradition, but we often look back and say, “There were people who did their faith in a certain way and that’s how we do it today.”

Chris:                     And, we are trying to create that story. And, that’s what we do on the podcast. But, we’re also trying to find maybe more innovative ways to get people in the room with evangelicals who are doing innovative stuff. So, we’ll be doing a little bit of this in Chicago and around the country over the next yeah with some grant money we got from Interfaith Youth Core, who are awesome. Um, yes. They’re so great.

Chris:                     And so, we are gonna go and we are actually gonna be around some evangelical interfaith events and se what they’re doing. Pick up some live audio interview from people who are very unprepared and just get the real story and take our listeners into those rooms. Rather than sort of hearing about it afterwards, we want to get, really, a live pulse and really transfer that and see if people will get excited. And, people are getting excited.

Stephanie:          They are. Yeah. I personally am super excited that I found you. I can’t wait to hear more. I can’t wait to continue to be in the same garden as you all doing this cross pollination. Thank you so much.

Chris:                     Thank you.

Kevin:                   Thank you.

Stephanie:          Until next time.

Speaker 1:           Thanks for listening to In Times Like These, where we explore issues of politics and faith and learn from one another how to navigate difference for maximum flourishing.

Speaker 1:           In Times Like These is a product of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. For more, subscribe, share, and visit us at claremontlincoln.edu.


Ways to listen to this episode:

Top 3 takeaways from this week’s episode:

1. “We’re the bullies on the playground and no one else wants to play.”

Despite the beautiful meaning of the word “evangelical,” its current uses are often related in common understanding to self-righteousness, judgement, anti-intellecutalism, and even bigotry. More and more younger evangelicals are embracing diversity, re-imagining what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and learning how to be in dialogue with difference.“I don’t see how an evangelical thrives in this space without embracing the gray a little bit.”

“We’re the bullies on the playground and no one else wants to play. Listen now: Click To Tweet

2. “If you want to change someone is that really loving them well?”

Christians of all backgrounds and cultures find meaning in the Biblical exhortation to “love your neighbor,” and that the greatest teaching is love. Is this at odds with Christian beliefs around mission and conversion? If so, what are believers supposed to do with this tension.

If you want to change someone is that really loving them well?. Listen now: Click To Tweet

3. “I don’t see how an evangelical thrives in this space without embracing the gray a little bit.”

Neighborly Faith works to complicate beliefs that seem “easy” or comfortable. If church (or any religious or ethical organization) keep us comfortable, then it’s not really helping us grow. Encountering difference and feeling uneasy is part of a mature faith, and part of healthy relationships. How do we embrace the gray? Is it possible to live in a space of not-knowing while remaining fully faithful?

I don’t see how an evangelical thrives in this space without embracing the gray a little bit. Listen now: Click To Tweet


Mentioned on the episode:

How to connect with Kevin & NeighborlyFaith:




You can connect with me on Twitter here: @SVarnonHughes.

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About the Podcast

In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt. We talk to voices from the field, in law, activism, civil rights, and from places of struggle and places of deep learning. In Times Like These, we unpack the most troubling issues of politics and faith we face, together.

In Times Like These is hosted by Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes and is a CLU Live production by Claremont Lincoln University.

Claremont Lincoln University offers a social entrepreneurship master’s degree program called Social Impact.

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

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Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

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