by Micah Fries
Multi-Faith is a foreign concept to many Christians, particularly among Evangelical Christians. Many hear multi-faith and often think of bad versions of interfaith that they’ve experienced where people may have been asked to check their particular theological identities at the door, or where sharing our faith with others is discouraged. This is unfortunate, in my view. Put simply, multi-faith is the opportunity to collaborate in appropriate ways with people of different faiths, while acknowledging that we have profoundly different, even irreconcilable, theological differences. No one is asked to check their faith at the door, but we do recognize that we can work together at various levels to serve our community and build relationships with people and communities that we often do not know well.
In the next few paragraphs, I’d like to help clear up some misconceptions about multi-faith, particularly for those Christians who aren’t sure about it.
Multi-Faith doesn’t ask you to abandon your faith.
I think the single most important reality about multi-faith is that you aren’t asked to check your faith at the door. In fact, the opposite is true. Multi-Faith starts at the point of acknowledging that each person present brings their unique theological perspective, but there is no attempt to rally together around a common theology. Instead, we acknowledge that there are significant, even irreconcilable differences between us. What we do rally together around, though, is a shared belief that every person has value, dignity, and worth. We arrive at that conclusion from different theological places – as a Christian my belief is rooted in the belief that the image of God is present in every person – but this common view of each person’s worth fuels our multi-faith collaboration.
Owning up to these profound theological differences actually frees us to have genuine relationships and authentic conversations with one another about these distinct differences. I can think of conversations I have had recently about salvation, abortion, religious leadership, and many other areas, all because we come from different places, acknowledge our differences, and equally affirm each person’s dignity and value.
Multi-Faith doesn’t weaken your faith.
There is an idea that coming together with people who are different will lead us to minimize our theological identities, resulting in something of a watered-down faith; an anemic faith. The truth couldn’t be further from this. Instead, I have found that engaging in relationships with people who have a different faith helps strengthen my faith, specifically around the core essential areas of orthodoxy. As a Christian who believes in the deity and exclusivity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the resurrection, among other things, each of these areas has been strengthened in my life as I have had to give an answer for them. When I have friends – genuine friends – who ask me why I believe these things or, more broadly, what I believe, I am challenged to be able to have thoughtful, cogent answers to their questions. Beyond that, watching other people practice their faith has been challenging to me. My Muslim friends have taught me, for instance, about a commitment to pray and my Jewish friends have challenged my commitment to my community. My experience with people of other faiths has made my personal faith stronger.
Multi-Faith doesn’t ask you to keep your faith quiet.
As Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians, sharing our faith is central to our faith experience. And yet there is a belief that we will lose our commitment to that when we regularly engage with people who believe differently than we do. Which is odd. I have found, once again, the opposite to be true. I love the opportunities that I have – and they are frequent – to share with those who I am in relationships with who believe differently than I do. And I love inviting them to share their faith with me. I have found that I have had far more opportunities to share my faith when I engage with people who are significantly different from me. What is not ok is coercing others. And I’ve found that a lot of people of other faiths are concerned that Evangelicals, who love to share their faith, are going to try to coerce others to follow Jesus. If we avoid coercion, and simply share our faith and how it has impacted our lives, while inviting them to share theirs with us, I’ve found that talking about faith – and sharing faith – is not feared, but welcomed.
Multi-Faith doesn’t perpetuate false perceptions.
There are a lot of false perceptions that exist between various faith/religious groups. When MFNN engages with clergy in our retreats, we work through a session where people reveal the flawed perceptions that others often have of them, and then they learn what false perceptions they may have about each other.
It is only when we are actually in a relationship with each other that we have the opportunity to debunk things that people believe about us that are not true and vice versa.
Unfortunately, in Christian circles, too often we want to learn about others by reading what other Christians have to say about them. And even in the best and most well-meaning examples, there are nuances that we often struggle to understand. We are much better off learning about one another from someone who believes what we are trying to understand.
Multi-Faith helps promote humility.
Finally, one of the perceptions that are common about Christians is that we are a prideful bunch. I’m afraid, as a Christian, I’ve often seen this prove true. I hate it, and I wish it wasn’t, but I’ve experienced it. This is particularly true when we engage with people who believe differently than we do. This is tragic because Scripture is clear that the longer we walk with Jesus the more humility should grow in our lives.
I have found that engaging with people who are different, theologically, from me does not weaken my personal faith, but it does lead to increased humility in my own life. I learn to love and appreciate people, even when I disagree with them. I learn that, even though I believe in the tenants of my own faith – and that belief is not diminished – I am challenged by those of other faiths, and I’ve learned to respect those of other faiths.
I am convinced that multi-faith is an important step for Christians to take. We need to learn to engage with people who believe differently than we do, and we need to learn to love and appreciate them as we do so.