People often are uneasy about sharing their religious beliefs because they are afraid of offending those of different faiths, said Wheaton College Chaplain Stephen Kellough.
That shouldn’t be, because anyone with strong religious beliefs should welcome the opportunity to share them, Kellough said in an April 5 dialogue with Chaplain H. Scott Matheney on evangelicals and the interfaith movement. The conversation was part of Elmhurst’s yearlong focus on religion in public life: Still Speaking: Conversations on Faith.
“Sometimes, in the interfaith movement, when we sit around and talk together— that seems to make us nervous, which causes us to hold back on our true expressions,” said Kellough, a Presbyterian minister whose parents graduated from Elmhurst and who has been Wheaton chaplain for 22 years. “Maybe a better approach to interfaith dialogue is to talk about our world as a multi-faith world, express our own faith and celebrate our differences.”
Kellough recounted a story in which Eboo Patel, founder of the Chicago nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core, noted at a multi-faith event that a Christian had offered a prayer “in the name of Jesus.” Patel, a Muslim, said he was not offended by the reference to Jesus and was even happy to know he was in the company of people who believed in Christian principles, some of which are similar to Islamic beliefs.
“This illustrates how we can become much more relaxed about interfaith dialogue. We need to be able to be honest with each other, and if we are people of faith we can do that,” Kellough said, describing that type of discourse as “convicted civility.”
A multi-faith world
Christianity is the world’s largest religion with an estimated 2.1 billion followers, and about one-third are considered evangelicals, whose mission is to convert others. Islam is the second largest at 1.5 billion, and Kellough noted that Muslims also have a mission to convert others: dawah or “invitation.”
That doesn’t mean they are competitors, he said, adding, “I don’t see a problem with that shared interest in conversion.”
In the future, Matheney said in a point directed at today’s students, “This discourse and work is only going to increase. The world you have inherited will be more of a multi-faith world. Hopefully, there will be a better chance of being honest and equal with each other.”
But instead of engaging in civil discourse, Matheney noted that radical religious elements may deliberately offend others, as in the recent case of a Florida minister who provoked outrage among Muslims by burning a Quran.
Though the minister was identified as an evangelical Christian, Kellough said, “We have to realize that people will use whatever labels they want. Their understanding of an evangelical Christian is much different than my understanding. It is my duty to speak out against such outrageous actions,” he said, noting that it violates the basic Christian commandment to love your neighbor.