Looking at the calendar, I wondered if the two events I was to attend in Vancouver a while ago – the conference, “Our Whole Society: Bridging the Religious/Secular Divide” and a meeting with the advisory group to the Canadian Network of Ministries to Muslims (CNMM) – were on a collision course.

Could it be that on the one hand I’d be engaging in a kind of dialogue that would ask me to “put my faith on hold” and on the other I’d be helping to “proselytize” Muslims?

As it turned out, no collision took place. The Whole Society conference helped refute the idea that we need to park our beliefs at the door when we enter into conversation with people of other faiths or with people who claim to have no faith at all.

Instead we explored the potential for a public square in which we don’t have to cut off our faith from our actions in order to participate. In such a place we might be able to “secularize” civic life fairly, simply by agreeing that people of all faiths are welcome.

Of course, for this idea to work, those who uphold a radical, anti-religion approach to secularization would need to recognize that they too are motivated by deeply-held convictions; they would need to agree that their convictions ought not to dominate any more than any other set of beliefs.

Another insight that many of the Whole Society participants agreed on was that a transformed public square is not just a nice thing to have – it’s urgently needed. If for pragmatic reasons only, we need to recognize the danger of trying to shove religion into the “private” sphere. It’s in those private places, often dark corners, where people can feel ostracized and then also become radicalized – think only of the horrors that took place in Paris earlier this year.

The CNMM meeting helped to put into perspective the idea that we can work together with people of other faiths or convictions to build a just and peaceable society. From its inception onward, CNMM folk have said that if you don’t love Muslim people, you should just leave them alone. In other words, the motivation to lead them into a relationship with Jesus Christ can’t be because we’re scared of them or of what they might do in future.

Rather, we recognize that the starting place is God’s love: God loves them and He calls us to love them also. With this understanding, coercive evangelism – “proselytization” – is impossible.

Whether it’s by welcoming all people, as whole persons, into public life or by building loving relationships that support the many Muslims who are coming to know Jesus in marvelous ways, God’s love – accessed through prayer for all people in each situation – makes it possible for us to participate both in meaningful interfaith dialogue and in evangelistic ministry with those who don’t share our faith.

I was glad that in this way the Vancouver trip turned out to be a blessing from start to finish.

(originally written: June 23, 2015)

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