Increasing Multi-Faith Proximity While Remaining Gospel-Centered with Kevin Singer
Thanks for joining in for the unSeminary podcast. This week we’re talking with Kevin Singer, co-founder and co-director of the student-led movement, Neighborly Faith, which brings Christians and Muslims together.
There is very little in the church to help equip believers regarding how to engage with our neighbors of other faiths in a way that is both committedly Christian, and also exudes the generosity and love of our Lord. Kevin is with us to share how Neighborly Faith seeks to equip evangelical Christians, particularly on college campuses, to love all our neighbors, no matter their religion.
- Neighborly Faith helps to build bridges. // What it means to love our communities must now include loving those who have different worldviews than we do. There are a lot of students who are passionate about Jesus and want other people to know about Jesus. The purpose of Neighborly Faith isn’t necessarily to teach Christians how to love Jesus, because churches already do this work, but rather to build bridges between Christians and those who practice other faiths around them. You can’t change hearts if you’re not in relationship and building trust with the other person.
- Get to know each other inside the walls. // Kevin encourages to begin by getting to know your neighbors and increasing proximity with each other. Visit a mosque open house and share a meal with the people there. Then invite them to come to your church, or home, and share a meal with you. Don’t expect people to do things that you won’t do, including reading the Bible. As you build relationships with Muslims and invite them to read the Bible, be willing to also read the Quran if invited to. If we truly believe that Jesus is immensely attractive in a world of many faiths, then have faith in that. But also have faith in the fact that Jesus is going to protect you spiritually if you engage with Muslims and their religious traditions.
- Work together on projects. // Helping serve the least of these alongside your Muslim neighbors can be fertile ground for relationship-building. Organizing clothing donations for Afghan refugees, for example, is not a Muslim thing, rather it’s obeying God’s command to love our neighbors. Go out and look for ways to do cooperative work with Muslims in your community and see what doors open up for the gospel.
- Gospel opportunities. // Most Muslims in your community have either never met a Christian, or have never learned about Christianity from a Christian. As you build relationships with Muslims, you would likely be the first person to preach the unfettered gospel of Jesus Christ to them. By inviting them over to share a meal, Muslim neighbors would be able to see the gospel embodied in the fact that you invited them in, you paid for the food, and showed them hospitality.
- Be clear on what you mean. // You can be gospel-centered while still having terrific, neighborly relationships with friends of different faiths. Instead of censoring yourself in front of other Christians in this area, name it to the people who you are most worried about and what they might think. Be vulnerable and let them know what you actually mean by your actions and building friendships with people of other religions.
- Figure out who they want to be. // All of our communities are more diverse than they were ten years ago. Neighborly Faith helps college students figure out what kind of Christian they want to be as they show up in the world and move into adulthood. Events are organized on campuses to bring Christian and Muslim students together. Christian pastors will speak onstage alongside a Muslim partners on different topics, such as how to suffer well or the purpose of prayer, so they can give their unique perspectives. The goal is for Christian students to then connect and have conversations with Muslim students, or Muslims in the community.
- Share the work back home. // Neighborly Faith also runs a fellows program to coach and equip students to do this sort of work at home with their churches.
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Rich — Hey, friends welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. Every week we try to bring you a leader who both inspire and equip you and this week is no exception. Super excited to talk to Kevin Singer. He’s part of a ministry called Neighborly Faith. It’s a student-led movement that’s bringing Christians and Muslims together. And I’m really excited for this conversation to learn more. Kevin is the co-founder co-director of Neighborly Faith. He’s planted two churches in the past. He’s got some war wounds and teaches world religion at two community colleges in Illinois. So glad that you’re here, Kevin. Welcome to the show.
Kevin Singer — Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Rich — Yeah, why don’t you tell us about Neighborly Faith. Give us kind of the overview to for folks that have never heard of of your organization before. Give us that that overview.
Kevin Singer — Yeah, so like a lot of young people I took my one class in in college about world religion and and at that point I was ah you know, ah a perennial expert in in all topic world religion. Um, no, but ah, you know I took that course because I had to and…
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — …Um, you know and and I think the way it was framed, I think it’s still framed, is like how am I going to survive this, right? Like how am I going to… how am I going to get through this class? Um, because apparently as a young Christian I was susceptible to literally all other religions besides my own and…
Rich — Sure – that’s funny.
Kevin Singer — And ah…but me for real I came in and you know the whole thing you you know I sort of had apologetics brain at that point and, you know, and for a lot of the things I was hearing in that class, you know, for a lot of it I was able to say, oh you know, Jesus is better. Jesus better, you know. And then I’ll never forget when they showed this video of ah the the Hajj, which is the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca – um part of the five pillars of Islam -and you know just seeing scenes of of of ah Muslims just just crying um with and and seeing that sort of ah emotional response was a bit perplexing. I think it was it wasn’t it wasn’t as easy as and well they have works and we have Jesus right?
Rich — Right.
Kevin Singer — Which is what you hear a long time which is so it’s so you know that’s how we dismiss you know billions of people and um I remember I took this to to my Cru – I was in Cru at the time, leader in Cru which is a ah national campus miss – love love them um…
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — And and and you know I give him credit, my discipler at the time. Um or someone I met with every week who just provided sort of like spiritual mentorship. I said you know you know I’m really having this struggle. Um, you know because I know, you know, all the religions are all other religions are false, and and you know Jesus is the only way, but I’m really struggling with the humanity of this, you know, just um… it’s easy to be like it’s easy to say those sort of isms. You know that that we have as Christians, but I mean these are these are people who clearly have like a spiritual bone in their body.
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — Ah, trying to figure this out you know and in in I think at the time I remember him saying yes you know don’t worry about that. You know, they they need Jesus, and let’s just focus on on on getting the gospel to him you knowm which is which is true. Um, and but I think I remember feeling like despite the fact that that’s true, it still felt sort of like a deeply inadequate response to…
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — …You know what is my responsibility to to these people in our community. and so ah, as you mentioned before I planted a couple of churches with the SBC – the Southern Baptist Convention North American Mission Board – um, which was a good experience. Towards the end of my ah North American Mission Board ah funding cycle, I needed to sort of supplement my income. So I walked into the community college down the street um because they had a new testament course. Ah yeah I could teach a new testament you know…
Rich — Yes. Yes. Yes.
Kevin Singer — And yeah God – everything comes full circle. You know you’re like never gonna encounter the world religions again. Well, they said well you know this this guy he’s been teaching new testament for the last two hundred and seventy years and there’s no way he’s going to give course up. So he said he said why don’t you teach world religion? You could do that, right? Yeah, you know I’ve got my dad in my head like you never turned down a job right?
Rich — Yes, yes.
Kevin Singer — So like oh yes, of course I know everything about world religion. I could definitely do… I think my my spouse that’s I was was pregnant with our first with our our first… and um I was like yes absolutely I can do that. So for that first semester I was learning right along with my students. But what was most impressionable to me is just the incredible conversations I was getting in with students across a number of different faiths who were learning about, for example, the Trinity from a Christian for the first time in that course. Um, and just seeing like wow there are some really incredible opportunities for a whole slew of people who sort…we have Christians have said, well if they’re not atheists then they’re set they’re, you know, they’re done. They’re you know they’ve they’re they’re, you know, sort of programmed by these other faiths, and and and… But what I found was a lot of curiosity and interest in Christianity. Um, and so I ah I started talking to some of my Christian friends family about this and everybody was kind of like, that that’s weird like…
Rich — Mmm yes.
Kevin Singer — That whole thing is weird like we don’t have a category for like cross-faith… like like we we know how to reach an atheist like we’ve been talking about that for decades, but like a Muslim? Like what do we even do with that? You know and it really is just so so so a long story short was for me… and I recognize that there is there is very little in the church to to help equip us for how to engage with our Muslim neighbors and other faiths – so Buddhists, Hindus, etc – in a way that is both a committedly Christian right? But also ah…
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — You know it exudes the generosity and the love ah of of our Savior and Lord who who deeply loves these people and is in is seeking them as much as he’s seeking anyone. You know I think of I think of Paul and in Acts 17 and in Athens he’s like the the God who you seek is seeking you. He’s here. And like there there’s just this incredible opportunity, especially as our society becomes increasingly diverse. And so I met my colleague Chris who runs the the organization with me at Wheaton. We were studying theology together and um, it sort just sort of took off from there. we we we started a podcast where we interviewed Christians who are doing this work who you know maybe not be on the front page of Christianity Today.
Rich — Yep.
Kevin Singer — Um, and eventually we started you know, ah raising money to engage Christian college students and sort of what does it mean to be a Christian in a society of many faiths? And and I’ll leave it at that.
Rich — Love it.
Kevin Singer — That’s sort of how we got there and why we think it’s important is because our society’s more diverse. There’s more Muslims, Buddhists, Jews (especially non-religious) than ever before who do not have a Christian worldview. And so what it means to love our communities must now also include the question of how do we love those who have different worldview than we do.
Rich — I love that you know I remember years ago hearing a commentator or thinker in this space saying you know there was a time where the kind of faith community was like and a dining room table where you had you know on either ends there was kind of the Protestants and Catholics and then there was everybody else. And you knew that there were other people at the faith conversation but it was really a Protestant/Catholic thing.
Kevin Singer — Yes, that’s right. That’s right.
Rich — But however, now, we’re really at a roundtable where um, we have people from a wide variety of backgrounds in our culture I think anyone any leader who’s listening in who’s paying attention to the faith dynamics in their community have seen that. That is absolutely what is happening in all of our communities. Again I’ve said in other context every zip code in America is more diverse today than it was ten years ago and will be more diverse ten years from now than it is today.
Kevin Singer — That’s right. That’s right.
Rich — So when you when you’re coaching students – I love this – what would be some of those kind of early conversations you find yourself getting into? How are you helping? What is that kind of those those early discussions look like as you’re helping students on campus think through these issues?
Kevin Singer — Yeah I think number one what we found is there are a lot of students who are passionate about Jesus and want other people to know Jesus. and that we we don’t feel like the the purpose of our organization is to teach Christians how to love Jesus or how to share Jesus. We believe strongly that churches are already doing a really good job at this. We we we’re one of those like evangelical adjacent organizations that still loves evangelicalism and feels like there’s a lot to to there’s a lot there and there’s a reason why evangelicals are still some of the most passionate, committed, convicted, winsome, persuasive Christians in our society. We believe that. What we want to see is an increase not in godliness or faithfulness to the great commission, but proximity to these people.
Rich — Mmm.
Kevin Singer — Like what we found is is is we are, first of all, we’re a deeply pragmatist organization. We we do not, you know, we’re we’re not up late at night digging deep into the wells of like inter-religious theology and all those things. What we’re interested in is how can we be sort of bridge-builders between these Christian communities who are mostly Christian, and the people within those communities know and are friends with mostly Christians, and that mosque down the street… like like who is gonna who is gonna make that invitation and who is going to… So for us, it’s an issue of we know you love Jesus. It’s obvious. Like you just spent X number of dollars of who X number of miles for example to be at this conference…
Rich — Yep.
Kevin Singer — But the question is, you know, how can you get in this… because… in the same room, because you can’t actually change hearts If you’re not in relationship.
Rich — Yeah.
Kevin Singer — And and here’s the thing. That used to make a lot more sense than it does now in our increasingly depersonalized additional society where the idea of like slowly building relationship and trust is just not part of our repertoire anymore. Like like we like we’re we’re much more attuned I think to thisæ
Rich — Sure.
Kevin Singer — …Like hit and run gospel stuff than we are now to this like patient, slow… like I just I don’t just know Muhammad for an hour, I know Muhammad for a month. Or I know Muhammad for six months. Or I know I’ve known Muhammad’s family for a year right? like the only way Muhammad – which happens to be the most popular name in the world by the way, so I’m not just about just coining that. I’m saying a lot of Muslim men are named Muhammad.
Rich — Yes.
Kevin Singer — But like Muhammad is not going to become a Christian ah, if you are not in their life. And and here’s the thing. I think for a lot of us Christians, we’ve been discipled when it comes to interfaith ministry – I really don’t like that word and we can discuss that later – but like we have been discipled into the space as like maybe God will give them a dream. It like like we… and that is pretty much the extent of our theology of other faiths is like… well I can’t…
Rich — Righ, right, right.
Kevin Singer — There’s no way I’m walking in that mosque and there’s no way that like I’m having dinner with Muhammad but God will send a dream. And I know I sound sarcastic and I kind of mean to be a little bit that like like that is wildly insufficient if we like really care about the Great Commission, um is is – and I mean we see we see Romans, Paul is just like you know how will they know if they haven’t heard and if no one is set right?
Rich — Yes.
Kevin Singer — Like how beautiful the feet of those who preach good news. And so for us like where we start is just the simple fact of like your community that you love includes people of other faiths. And you know what it means to be cross-cultural now cannot be divorced from other faith traditions, right? Like when we talk about Afghan Refugees right? We’re not just talking about Christians – we’re talking about a lot of Muslims. So when we talk about afghan culture, right, or the culture of immigrants coming to our country, we can no longer to divorce that from the five pillars of Islam and… so what does that mean for us to be, you know, equipped? And so you know some of that I think includes getting to know Islam. But we don’t like telling people that you need to be an expert in Islam to reach Muslims because we have found that that’s another major hang-up of Christians is…
Rich — Right, right. Interesting.
Kevin Singer — …well, I’ve never read the Quran and it’s like well they’ve never read the Bible. Would you suggest that you don’t approach you? You like…
Rich — Yes, yes, yes love it.
Kevin Singer — But so ah, you know, without getting too deep into the weeds. You know we really want to foster that, like you need to be in the same room. You don’t need to be an expert. Um, and you know relationship and building trust really matters in this particular space.
Rich — Love it. You know I … one of my, when our kids were little one of the things you know you feel like as a parent, there’s like a lot of what you do you feel like fits in the middle of the bell curve, like I’m not sure that was positive or negative it it just was. And then there’s a bunch of stuff where you’re like, I’m not sure that was actually helpful. And then there’s a very small percentage of things you do where you’re like, that actually maybe was like a momentary flash of goodness which is not a lot of those – you have a few of them. I remember when our kids were little we had at one December with our neighbors who were Jewish and then friends of ours that were celebrating Kwanzaa.
Kevin Singer — Yep.
Rich — We had all three of our families got together and had a great kind of winter celebration. Hey why don’t you Why don’t we talk about our various traditions…
Kevin Singer — Oh that’s great. That’s great.
Rich — …and and and work through it and it was actually it was fascinating because in that conversation we guys Christians got to talk about the difference between… our our Jewish brothers and sisters didn’t really get the the -which is I found shocking at the time – really didn’t understand the nuance between Jesus and Santa that like those two things are are not really connected. That the the whole Santa tradition is not really a part of what we celebrate as Christians it just… And it was great. It was like and it was like humbling because I was like, oh I really have no idea what I’m talking about and so… Ah, so proximity. Let’s talk about that. I love that. How are you… I’m sure you’re talking to church leaders and I’m sure you have like the go-to advice like, here’s the thing that you should be doing to increase proximity. What would be some of those two or three things that you find yourself talking to church leaders consistently about increasing proximity to, ah, you know other faith groups in their community?
Kevin Singer — Well, the first thing I want to say is it’s really nice to see someone accidentally put the Christ back in Christmas. That that’s pretty that’s pretty hilarious. And after all the culture wars you were like, I’m somehow doing that despite the fact that I had no intention to.
Rich — Yes, yes, exactly, exactly.
Kevin Singer — Um, mad respect mad respect for that. Um. Yeah, so increasing proximity. So so practically speaking number one every mosque in your community probably has an open house once a year. That’s a great opportunity to walk in the door, share a meal. Um, ah this is not this is not like ah like a like ah ah, Romans 14, you know, 1 Corinthians, like food sacrifice to idols kind of thing. This is just food that was cooked in a certain way that promotes ritual cleanliness and it’s not that unlike kosher…
Rich — Yes, yes, halal.
Kevin Singer — Um, and so you’re not walking in, you’re not walking in and sharing food that you know was put on an altar or whatever. It’s it’s it’s it’s it’s probably the same food that you’re getting from your ethnic grocery store, you know, sort of down the street. Um, so I would suggest go to an open house. That’s a great place to start and then I would suggest returning the favor: would you would be willing – you and your families – to come to our church and share a meal with us? Because here’s the thing, if there’s anything I’ve learned in multifaith ministry, it’s that returning the favor and inviting people to do what you’re willing to do is always a great step. So like ah just last week I was speaking at Cru’s winter conference in Indianapolis to like hundreds of college students about this right? And what’s really fascinating is one of the students said, you know I can just I cannot get my Muslim friend to read the Bible. He will not do it. He will not open it. And I said, what would it look like for you to actually read the Quran, and tell him, I’ll read a little bit of the Quran; you read a little bit of the Bible?
Rich — Yes.
Kevin Singer — Right? There’s just that there’s that reflexivity. There’s that mutuality that promotes a lot of exposure ah not just for you to learn more about their worldview, but to them to learn more about your Christian worldview. And if we truly believe as one of my favorite theologians ever, E. Stanley Jones ah, who wrote “The Christ of the Indian Road”, if we truly believe that Jesus is calling and he and he is just immensely attractive in a world of many faiths, then have faith in that. And but also have faith in the fact that Jesus is going to protect you spiritually if you engage with them and and their religious tradition.
Rich — Oh.
Kevin Singer — Um, I think we can say that if we truly believe that he is um, you know there’s no Name under heaven, then I think it’s actually an extension of our faith, not a portrayal of our faith to engage with, say the Quran, for the sake of inviting them to engage then with the scriptures. So mutuality. Showing up to their open houses. Um, working together on projects can be sort of a fertile place to go. Like so I brought students from Cru’s winter conference to a local mosque and we organized clothing for Afghan refugees. There was nothing Muslim about that right?
Rich — Yes.
Kevin Singer — Like, in fact, we showed up and we did that because we have theology of loving neighbor, right? So we’re we’re not drawing on their theological resources. We’re drawing on our theological resources by showing up and and organizing clothing for the least of these, right? So there’s there’s that cooperative piece as well. But I understand if some people out there are like, I’m not I’m just not ready to be publicly seen cooperating with a Muslim in that way. And I would say start small. You and maybe one other person in your church. Maybe go to the mosque for an open house or send an email to the imam there and say, hey we’d love to host a family or two at our home, just to get to know you because you’re members of our community. We want to love you and bless you in any way we can. Um, here’s the cool thing, number one I’ve never seen a Muslim in the five or six years I’ve done this ministry that’s like, no absolutely not. It’s always the opposite. Always, we’re so excited you reached out. We want to get to know you…
Rich — Love it.
Kevin Singer — …and and the number one thing most people need to hear is most Muslims in your community have either never met a Christian, or have never learned about Christianity from a Christian, so you would be likely the first person to preach the gospel or speak the gospel in a Christian way, not in a way that’s littered with, well here’s the contradictions and here’s where it doesn’t fit with the Quran and here’s, you know, why Muhammad or…
Rich — Right, right.
Kevin Singer — Or you know other Muslim voices have disagreed with this doctrine. Like you would actually be able to preach for the unfettered Gospel of Jesus Christ and they would be able to see that embodied in the fact that you invited them over, you paid for the food, you invited them in. Um so the opportunity is so rich. Um.
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — I mean again, these are not people who have heard the gospel a thousand times and are now deconstructing. These are people who have never heard it and fruit is truly there. It’s truly a fertile ministry.
Rich — Love it. Now you had talked earlier about you don’t like the word interfaith. I’ve heard you say multi-faith let’s talk terms – why why don’t you like that term?
Kevin Singer — Yeah, yes. This is a critical question. Okay, so um I… obviously being in this space there are a lot of invitations to be a part of what are typically termed interfaith groups or groups that are like, let’s get one of every type of person in the room. We’ll hold hands. We’ll sing a song. You know we’ll wear our our robes and our hats and then look, we’re all together and we all agree, kind of like. And we we have engaged in every kind of way and we just continually find that it’s it’s really difficult to find a space that identifies as interfaith that does not sort of subtly ask people to leave their most passionate beliefs at the door.
Rich — Okay, yeah.
Kevin Singer — Um, because the truth of the matter is like, we as Christians believe something that is both incredible and offensive, right?
Rich — Yes, yes, yes.
Kevin Singer — Like and and there’s a sense in which a lot of interfaith groups – and you’ll see them in your community. Usually there’s posters and flyers where you know sort every symbol is is on there and they’re like, hey come on now. Um, we would certainly never tell someone like don’t be in a room with people who you disagree with. We would never say that because I mean that’s the whole point of our ministry. But what we would say is it is always a better use of your time and investment to say, Christian community, let us connect with a other faith community, than it is to try to work through some like typically more progressive interfaith group that, you know, is is likely not going to be super excited about the idea of you wanting to share your faith.
Rich — Right? right.
Kevin Singer — Um, even though I would say they are just as persuasive in their particular worldview as we are in ours. Um, it’s just different right? So anyway…
Rich — Right? Yeah, yeah, well I could see that. That’s an interesting distinction where I you know I think we’ve felt that tension right? Where it’s like, yeah I want to engage; I think that’s really good coaching like, hey let’s try to engage directly with a mosque…
Kevin Singer — Yes, yes, yes, perfectly said. Agreed.
Rich — …or indirect with even even more granularly with some neighbors or with some friends rather than an intermediary group who is who is essentially saying, hey friends if we could just all believe a third thing which actually isn’t what you believe or isn’t what our Muslim friends believe, it’s it’s a third thing which is…
Kevin Singer — Perfectly said.
Rich — …hey we some all somehow all of us are kind of in this weird middle ground. I love that that’s that’s great.
Kevin Singer — Perfectly stated you said better than I could actually.
Rich — So no, that’s great. That’s I think that’s I was great insight on your on your side there. So now let’s say I’m sure there’s church leaders that are listening in that as a person, like as an individual they would say, Yes, there’s something in their spirit that would say yes, this is a great thing, I should do this. But then quickly and behind – and maybe it’s just me that’s saying that – quickly and behind there’s the like, Ooo if I take steps as a leader in this direction, it’s going to look like…
Kevin Singer — Yeah.
Rich — A whatever – I’m becoming more liberal – I’m whatever they’re they and different. You just have different problems with that.
Kevin Singer — Yeah, totally totally. Yes.
Rich — Is it possible… I love what on your website says… you can be gospel-centered while still having terrific, you know, neighborly relationships of friends, you know, a different faith.
Kevin Singer — Yes.
Rich — How what would you say to a leader who’s feeling that kind of nerves that’s feeling that kind of oo tension.
Kevin Singer — So what we’ve learned in this space in this particular area is you have to name it. So like instead of sort of – trying to think of the word here – instead of sort of censoring yourself in this area for this for the sake of sort of Christian cultural purity, what we’d say is name it to the people who you are most worried of what they might think. Like name those things, say, look y’all know I love Jesus more than anybody, you know, but I’m really afraid that if you’ll see me walk into this mosque, you’re going to think this… but what I want you to know is what I actually mean is this.
Rich — Right, right. Right.
Kevin Singer — There’s really no like this is one of those areas where like vulnerability and just naming what your fears are to the people who you’re you’re afraid of their thought or opinion really pays off. And you’d be surprised. We get this question so often. I got this question ten times when I spoke last week at Cr. It’s like, what are other people going to think? I’m like, tell them, like I’m afraid of what you’re going to think. Will you think this if I do this? And it actually creates some great conversations about sort of the importance of engaging difference. Well and sort of do we even have a framework for that. And um, I mean if you think about it, it’s it’s well I don’t want to draw too many hasty comparisons. But I think we all know the tension of being invited into a space where it feels like our convictions may have been compromised in order to enter that space. You know whether it’s a mosque, or see an LGBT wedding, like we were all familiar with this like we’re invited to something and we just are afraid of what people are going to think.
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — And I think the great thing is is that we’ve got a lot of scriptural um evidence for walking into spaces that are not sort of in total agreement. I mean Paul in the synagogues for God’s sake. Do you know like or … hell … the marketplace is right?.
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — The the ah you know the the areoppagus and in in Athens right? Like entering like sometimes we have to pierce the darkness um to bring the light and I think so I think there’s some scriptural credibility in saying I’m going to walk in. And that doesn’t mean that I’m any less Christian for doing so. I’m bringing my light my tabernacle of Christ with me into these spaces and I expect him to show up in some big ways.
Rich — Yeah, isn’t that a sad – you didn’t say it I’m saying it’s my podcast – isn’t it a sad commentary on our place in the kind of Christian development over the years that what was one of the core tenets of Jesus actually being with people who are being with the unclean being with people who…
Kevin Singer — Right.
Rich — Are perceived as the not the people you should be a part of – that was actually how his ministry was known he was known as a drunkard and a partier because of the people you hung up with and isn’t it a weird – here we are two thousand years later and it’s like it’s flipped upside down. That you know where that is a concern. Ah, that’s you know that’s but that’s a sad reality that we find ourselves in for sure. So how does Neighborly Faith how do you actually engage? So I understand I get to get a sense on campuses I can get a sense of what that looks like. Do you do work with, you know, churches and how how do you, you know you’re speaking, what does that look like? How are you actually helping people in this area?
Kevin Singer — Yeah, so a lot of our work is campus-centric insofar as you know we want to essentially what we want to do is when we we want to build into sort of the missiology of young Christians a missiology that spans, you know, religious diversity right? So because it’s really ah in seminary and it’s in college where students are like what kind of Christian do I want to show up as in the world? They’re sort of individuating from their parents and they’re you know, receiving a lot of curriculum, sort of like how I show up in the world as a Christian for the next fifty years of my life will be shaped very strongly by what I experience on campus. And so we’re we’re trying to get into the recipe in a sense. Um, now where churches come in is we’ve had pastors speak at a lot of our events as the Christian dialogue partner. Um, and so we’re constantly asking pastors like would you be willing to get up on stage and talk to a Muslim about, I don’t know, pick pick a topic. Ah you know, ah you know what does what does it mean to suffer well? Or like what does it mean to um, you know what’s the purpose of prayer? Or have topics that both people can sort of present their unique perspective on as a Christian as a Muslim. Um again, this is you know E. Stanley Jones, one of my you know heroes, he he wrote ah a book called you know “Jesus at the Roundtable” and a lot of it sort of was this like you know when you present the Christian experience with other experiences for some people in that crowd. They could say there’s something unique about that experience that Christian experience of suffering, or faith, or struggle or…
Rich — Mmm-hmm.
Kevin Singer — And so we’ve had we’ve asked pastors to be part of those conversations we’ve had churches host um our our students and and Muslim community members for events. Um, yeah, we’ve got church partners who, and pastors who, encourage us and mentor us in our work. Um. But but the the large ah emphasis is sort of bringing Christian students to these conversations and connecting them with hopefully Muslim students, but sometimes it’s it’s Muslims in the community who may not necessarily be students…
Rich — Love it.
Kevin Singer — …so that’s that’s where a lot of our our interests are. Um, we also have run a fellows program where we sort of coach students and equip students and resource students to do this work with their churches and so one of our our fellows, Carissa, a few years ago she, you know, used our coaching and our resources and she brought her church to visit a mosque that year, wrote about it for a bunch of different platforms online, and it was just incredible sort of the the amazing conversations that were had as a result of that mosque visit. And she went to you know a very very very very conservative church. I mean it was, again, there was a lot of naming. You know this is what we’re doing. This is not what we’re doing. This is what we’re saying; this is not what we’re saying. And we helped her to sort of frame that so that the elders of this very very conservative, rural church were like sure that makes sense to us. We can do that…
Rich — Right, right.
Kevin Singer — …and and it was great. So those are some of the different ways we’ve we’ve worked in in through and within churches in our work.
Rich — Love it. That’s good I do want to give people contact information so they can get in touch with you…
Kevin Singer — Sure.
Rich — …but anything else you want to share just as we kind of wrap up today’s episode?
Kevin Singer — Yeah, so there’s one more thing that I like to share especially you know with with with more moderate to conservative Christian audiences, is that our work is not an endorsement of like the best possible sugarcoated version of Islam. Like we don’t we don’t actually feel like we have to say Islam is great in some way to do this work. Um, sometimes there can be confusion like well. It seems like these guys have bought into this idea that Islam is actually not what everybody, you know, or or what some people say it is. I mean we I mean we are still thinking, convicted, thoughtful, prayerful people that like yeah like we do ah see issues within the Quran. We do see you know ah ah things within the Muslim faith that could if, you know, thought through and identified a certain way lend themselves to violence. Like like these are things that we see and but for us the question is not, is Islam here to you know subvert our society and destroy us? It’s, are these people who God has called us to love? Can we be ah, test a testament to Christ in their lives? That is our our emphasis, but it is not to the dismissal or the ignoring a very real and legitimate concerns about certain aspects of the Muslim faith. And I think it’s important that I say that that you don’t have to sacrifice any skepticism or suspicion. That you have to decide to maybe suspend some of those suspicions and fears in order to be a witness in their in the life of someone who’s never heard the gospel. And I think it’s always important for me to say that for for those people who are like, I just I can’t get past that. Here’s the thing you don’t have to.
Rich — Sure.
Kevin Singer — But you do need to get past is your fear um because we were not given a spirit of fear but a spirit of love, right? And and a spirit of power, and we can we can we can exercise that in the lives of our Muslim neighbors.
Rich — Um, Kevin this has been so good. So helpful. This is just the top of the very tippy top of of the the iceberg that we’ve touched on here and I’d love to encourage people to get connected with you.
Kevin Singer — Absolutely.
Rich — So your website is neighborlyfaith.org – where else do we want to send them online to get plugged in to connect with you?
Kevin Singer — Yeah, so we are on all social media platforms. You’ll find us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook ah at neighborlyfaith. It’s pretty easy to find us. Um, if you are ah a pastor out there, or a ministry leader, or a church planter who is just like this sounds great, like I think it would actually be really good for our people to hang out with some Muslims this year. Like send me an email – I’d love to just have a conversation with you and just say how can we help? How can I encourage you, support you?
Rich — Love it.
Kevin Singer — We we do have some funds to help with bringing Christians and Muslims together and so if your if cost is prohibitive for you, we’d love to be in conversation.
Rich — Love it and and why don’t we give us your email. We’ll put it in the show notes too. But don’t give it just so people hear it in their in their ears too.
Kevin Singer — Sure it’s Kevin at neighborlyfaith dot org.
Rich — Perfect. Well thanks so much, Kevin, I appreciate you being here. Excited to hear and track with what you know as your ministry grows and impacts more people in the future. Thanks so much for being here today.
Kevin Singer — Thanks so much for having me. This was great. Great questions and and look forward to continuing to follow the podcast as well.