Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
As a faith leader, my call to ministry necessarily leads me to interfaith encounters. I am a licensed minister in the Church of the Brethren, one of three historic peace churches in the United States today, along with Quakers (the Society of Friends) and Mennonites. Members of the Church of the Brethren profess and work for the continuation of Jesus’ ministry of peace and reconciliation. In a variety of ways, Brethren strive to take seriously Jesus’ words in his famous mountaintop sermon: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Today’s world sure could use some peacemakers. It is not difficult to find a headline or a news story highlighting hateful rhetoric or blatant violence between different communities, and these communities are often religious.
But why, as a Christian, should I care about making peace with those who do not share my faith convictions? There is a story in Luke’s Gospel that points to an answer. Desiring to follow the Torah commandment to love God and love your neighbor, someone asks Jesus for some clarification: “Who is my neighbor?” This first-century question echoes through the years into our twenty-first century world. Some Christians interpret “neighbors” to mean like-minded “believers.”
In typical fashion, Jesus tells a story in response: A man is traveling by himself on a dusty road when a gang of robbers beats him up, steals his money, and leaves him for dead. As the man lies on the side of the road, several people walk by and ignore him, but the person who stopped to help was not someone that Jesus’ audience would have expected. It was not the priest, or the respected Levite, but a stranger, the undesirable Samaritan, who showed the man compassion (Luke 10:25-37). It was the religious and cultural “Other” who was the neighbor. Many stories about Jesus involve him spending time with “different” or unwanted people: children, the poor, the sick, tax collectors, and, of course, the Samaritans. If I use Jesus’ ministry as an example for my own life, as the Church of the Brethren professes I should, then my neighbors are people who are “different” from me in ethnicity, political perspective, age, sexual orientation, and of course, faith.
A popular Brethren bumper sticker reads, “When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ I think he probably meant don’t kill them.” It is pithy, but striking. What if Christians took the life and teachings of Jesus seriously, and strove to be neighbors, not enemies, with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and humanists? Interfaith engagement does just that. Building bridges across faith and ethical traditions is one way of answering Jesus’ call to peacemaking. There are many ways for Christians to answer this call. But in my eyes, I could not call myself a Church of the Brethren leader and follower of Jesus if I did not intentionally reach out to connect with my neighbors of different faiths and worldviews. It is my way of striving to be a peacemaker.