On October 2, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies hosted a fascinating discussion with Christian evangelist Rob Schenck. Schenck spoke earnestly about conviction and faith and his recent turn away many mainstream evangelical political positions.
Rob Schenck framed his life story around three main conversions. His first conversion was purely religious; as a young boy growing up Jewish in the Midwest, he encountered Methodism through his friendship with a minister’s son. Drawn to what he saw as a more intimate God, he converted and eventually became an ordained minister. Many years later, in 1983, he saw President Reagan addressing the National Assembly of Evangelicals and, stunned to see evangelicals recognized on by a national figure, he underwent his second conversion and became a Republican. This came to define much of his adult life, as he devoted his career to advocating for evangelical causes on a national stage, including time spent influencing politicians on the Hill and in the Supreme Court.
Much of the discussion was taken up with his third, more difficult to define conversion. In 2010, troubled with the politicization of his faith community, Schenck turned to the writing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was jailed and killed because of his anti-Nazi activity. Schenck felt as though there were too many similarities between Bonhoeffer’s description of the co-opting of German churches by Nazi rhetoric and the trends he saw in his own community.
In the Q and A, there was an interesting discussion about whether differences or similarities should be the foundation of interfaith discussions. Schenck emphasized the importance of highlighting shared virtues and shared morality. He claimed that love, in particular, was a goal of all religions. According to Schenck, if we start from the basis of the shared value of love and emphasizing the smaller, practical matters where there can be agreement will lead to more productive discussions.
However, another evangelical leader present in the audience took the opposite approach. Evangelicals, he claimed, do not see different religions as being fundamentally similar. Accordingly, to try to begin an interfaith conversation on such terms would strike most evangelicals as disingenuous. He therefore advocated for identifying and accepting differences between religious traditions right off the bat.
The question of whether highlighting differences or similarities results in a more productive conversation is a highly relevant one for HasNa. As we work on building empathetic communication between highly diverse groups, it is fascinating to consider such divergent points of view as to what actually fosters trust in dialogue. What do you think? Comment below, write to us on our Facebook page, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
This blog post is written by Zeena Mubarak, Fall 2018 Intern at HasNa, Inc.