Crossing the Divide: 7 Tips to help Christians build bridges across faiths
Updated: Sep 24, 2022
How effective are Christians at loving the 70% of the world who follow different beliefs? These 7 practical and shockingly simple tips show how easy it is to build a bridge of kindness that will heal wounds and open a dialogue. Today.
Love God and love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-39)
These six words are the mission of every follower of Jesus. And Christians are pretty invested in that first part: Love God. We spend gobs of time and money teaching and preaching and training and singing and talking and praying and writing and thinking about it. And it's critical. Loving God enables us to hear from Him, follow Him, and worship Him. But what about the other part: Love your neighbor? What percentage of our time and money do we spend on that?
Well, lots if those neighbors are Christians: we love them at Bible studies, small groups, barbeques, and Sunday gatherings. But how about our Atheist, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist neighbors? According to Pew and Gallup polls, approximately 5 billion of the world's population (70%) and 82 million of the US population (25%) follow non-Christian belief systems. How much energy do Christians put toward loving, understanding, and uplifting them?
Not a lot, in my experience. But not for devious reasons. Most Christians simply don't know how to reach out to people of different faiths, worry that they'll say the wrong thing, or fear that supporting them suggests endorsement of their beliefs. So we stay in our siloes and follow a modified Great Commandment: Love God and love other Christians.
But here's the rub. Just six short chapters after that Great Commandment comes another one. And it's a doozy. It's the all-caps WHY of that first commandment and what countless followers of Jesus have given their lives for. It turns out we aren't here for ourselves, our churches, our jobs, our friends, or even our families. We are here to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). To see fruit. And it's not optional, not a nice to have, not something we squeeze in if we have time. It turns out that building bridges to our non-Christian neighbors is why we are here. Jesus died for it. And whether your efforts lead to disciples or not, you will have demonstrated what Jesus looks, sounds, and acts like. You will have done what you are here to do. And God will bless that act of obedience, that seed in another's life. And He will bless you.
So, here are my top tips on loving your non-Christian neighbors, which I have learned as a global leader of Faithforce, Salesforce's 3000-person interfaith employee resource group. Because many people of other beliefs have had negative experiences with Christianity, these are the critical first steps of opening the door to dialogue. We cannot expect others to come to us, to join us at church, or to ask us questions. We must build the bridge and begin the conversation. And we must start today. Luckily, it's simpler than you think. The one and only rule is to love them. As Jesus loves. Let's begin.
7 Practical Tips for Loving Your Non-Christian Neighbors
Ask faith questions
Partner on outreach
Hear their stories
Host a vigil
Drop the Christianese
1. Acknowledge holidays
Reach out to your colleagues or neighbors of different faiths during key holidays. A few examples:
During Ramadan (April/May), instant-message a Muslim and ask: "How is Ramadan going? How was your iftar last night?" (Iftar is the meal Muslims have at sunset after a day of fasting from food and water.)
Have your church befriend a local mosque and send them a group card wishing them "Ramadan Mubarak" (Happy Ramadan) or "Eid Mubarak" (Happy Eid).
During Sukkot (October): Visit a Sukkah at a nearby Synagogue. Ask them what the sukkot means. See Salesforce's sukkot here.
Offer to help plan a live or online celebration for any faith-based holiday, such as Eid at the end of Ramadan.
Review this list of religious holidays every month to think of ways you can reach out.
2. Ask direct questions about faith
Most people love to talk about themselves and what matters to them most. Open up a conversation naturally, such as in a ride-share, on the bus, in a 1:1, at a coffee shop, with a security guard. Don't be afraid. Ask curious questions and treat their answers with reverence. For the full step-by-step, see "7 Steps for Having Respectful Faith Discussions." Sample Conversation Starters:
To a Sikh, ask: "Can I ask - are you Sikh? I've always been curious about Sikhism. Can I ask you a question? Does the color of the turban signify something? What are some of your traditions?"
To a Muslim or Jew, ask: "What is one of your favorite traditions?"
To an atheist, ask: "How did you come to identify as an atheist? What are some misconceptions you think people have about atheists?"
To anyone, ask: "What's your faith background? How did you grow up?"
3. Partner on an outreach event
Organize a volunteer event with other faiths at work, such as serving food to the homeless with a local Jewish organization. Even better, when your congregation organizes a community outreach for your town, like a food drive, encourage your leaders to reach out to local mosques and temples to see if they want to partner. Loving those in need is something everyone can rally around.
4. Invite others to share their stories
Find or create an event at work where people of different faiths might be able to share their background. At a recent diversity town hall at Salesforce, for example, a Sikh shared the challenging moment when his 4-year-old daughter saw her father being stopped at airport security because of his turban and realized they were different from everyone else. This story sheds light on the struggles in the Sikh community and reminds us all to have empathy for each other.
Invite someone from a different faith to share at your congregation or leadership meetings -- not about theology but about their community, the challenges they face, and how your groups can collaborate.
5. Send support after a tragedy
Pay attention to the news. If you hear of an attack on a specific faith community, such as the Pittsburg, Christchurch, or Sri Lanka attacks on Jews, Muslims, and Christians in recent years:
Contact individual members of that community at your company or in your neighborhood and ask how they are doing.
Start an internal post at work offering words of support to people in that community.
Start a card (physical or online) where your congregation can write words of support. Send it to your local mosque or temple as appropriate.
Post on social media offering words of support, such as this tweet or LinkedIn post.
6. Host a Vigil after an attack
Imagine what a vigil might look like at your company for a faith community that is hurting in the wake of an attack. See Salesforce's vigils for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Sikh employees after tragic attacks on these communities. Take a first step by chatting with someone about this idea, such as a Diversity & Inclusion leader. Here are some ideas for a vigil:
Invite employees of that faith to share the impact on them.
Light candles for the victims.
Finding a charity that employees can donate to.
Have a professional or non-profit partner from that faith explain the challenges for this population. Organize a volunteer event with a non-profit from that faith tradition. After our vigil for the Tree of Life shooting, for example, we partnered with a local Jewish organization, Chabad of San Francisco, to pack hygiene kits for their homeless outreach programs.
Avoid topics of theology and focus on traditions, stories, and philanthropy.
7. Drop the Christianese
Words like "salvation," "lost," and "non-believer" are unnecessary barriers between you and the 5 billion people who follow a different belief system. They are hurtful to people very much see themselves as "believers" and "found." Use everyday language, and imagine how you would feel if a Muslim, Sikh, or Jehovah's Witness referred to you as "the lost."
These actions often stir up concern from Christians who legitimately worry about crossing the line with our own faith. After all, the number one thing we are never to do is worship other Gods. And I never do. Here's the top objections and how I draw that line.
Don't these actions suggest endorsement of other beliefs? No. Loving people and respectfully hearing their stories is not the same as endorsing their beliefs. You don't have to agree with someone theologically to listen to them. Every person on this earth, regardless of their beliefs, is a child of God and worthy of love and respect.
By celebrating other faith holidays, am I worshiping other gods? No. There's a difference between learning about a religion or supporting a friend, and worshipping their gods. Most celebrations won't include worship; if they do, simply appreciate the beauty of that tribute and take the opportunity to instead say your own prayer.
Does interfaith mean "all faiths are the same" (i.e. "squishy spirituality")? No. Interfaith in this context is not a theological position, but rather an organizational structure where different faiths work together on common goals (like community outreach), listen to each other's stories, and learn about each other's traditions. "Interfaith" in this context maintains and honors the distinctions of each faith.
What if practicing our faith could be less about our needs, and more about understanding the needs of others, hearing their stories, and partnering with them on common goals? What is one thing you, your company, or your congregation can do this month to love your neighbors of different faiths?
About Faithforce: Faithforce is Salesforce's Faith employee resource group. We welcome people of all faiths, or none, to come together and cultivate a culture of empathy and belonging. We fight fear and bias with friendship and dialog. For more information, watch Sue's keynote address at the Faith@Work ERG Conference in Washington, DC.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19)