How Christians Can Lead in an Interfaith America

By Amar D. Peterman
October 18, 2023

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The question of religious diversity does not begin with if; it begins with when. The question we must ask today is not “if we meet someone of another faith,” but “when we meet someone of another faith” how will we love them? How will we care for them? How will we genuinely listen to them? How will our Christian faith lead us into relationship with them?

This past May, my team at Interfaith America organized a national convening of emerging leaders across America who are wrestling with these vital questions of “when” and “how.” Together, we sought to envision a hopeful future for communities of faith and spirituality that is built on values of belonging, neighborly love, and a common good. Joined across diverse traditions, values, and beliefs, those gathered participated in this visionary work by naming their differences, finding spaces of commonality, and then working together to empower and better their neighborhoods.

Leading this convening as a Christian, I often begin by sharing how the core theological tenets of my Christian faith—like the centrality of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, and the power of the Holy Spirit—are used for the ends of justice, liberation, inclusion, and love. Acknowledging this, though, is not only for the non-Christians in the room; this theological approach is also for my fellow Christians who may feel like their truth claims prohibit them from engaging fully in these “interfaith” spaces.

Across conferences and convenings, I am often asked by my Christian peers when it is appropriate to share the gospel with the non-Christians they’ve met: When can they hand them a tract? When can they confront them about the sin in their life? Especially for those within and around the evangelical tradition, there is a deep spiritual formation at work here that necessitates the verbal annunciation of the Christian gospel whenever those outside Christianity are present.

To be sure, I think these beautiful, religiously diverse spaces are an incredible opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ and the redemptive action of God in our world today. However, I do not think that we achieve this by debating trinitarianism with our new Muslim friend or convincing the Jewish person at our lunch table that Jesus is their promised Messiah. While we may feel the need to verbally share the gospel in these spaces, most people of faith in America already have a working knowledge of Christianity given its place at the forefront of the American religious imagination.

To clarify, this isn’t a version of “preach the gospel, use words if necessary.” The task of the Christian leader in interfaith spaces is not silent action, but rather stewardship of one’s words and ears—the Christian leader can listen actively with compassion and humility, more eager to learn about other faiths than prescribe their own. This is why I believe our Christian witness is not found in declaring propositional truths about Christianity. Rather, we bear witness to the power of God and the Lordship of Christ by deeply loving our neighbors. Said another way, Christian leadership in interfaith spaces involves releasing ourselves into the wonderful truth that Jesus is Lord and recognizing that we can learn from everyone—even those who are not believers—about Jesus by the way that Jesus shapes everything into his own glory.

“…we bear witness to the power of God and the Lordship of Christ by deeply loving our neighbors.”

Christian witness in interfaith spaces is less about knowledge (“let me tell you the Gospel”) and more about the way we value and devote ourselves to Jesus as the highest good and governing force of our lives. When Christianity becomes a way of life, leadership in an interfaith context means entering into genuine conversation where beliefs are shared, values are expressed, and mutual understanding is fostered. This, I believe, is the example that Jesus offers us. In the Scriptures, Jesus does not spend his earthly ministry pleading and endlessly attempting to convince those around him that he was the Son of God. Instead, Jesus lives and ministers out of the reality that he is exactly who he proclaimed to be. This confident witness is incredibly powerful. In the Scriptures, Jesus’ ministry compelled others to leave behind that which they clung to—material and spiritual—and follow him. This is our model for Christian leadership.

In short, we best honor Christ in religiously plural spaces by living out of the reality that we are co-heirs with Christ, children of God called to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world through love of neighbor. Our time spent in relationship with people of other traditions ought not to be a desperate plea for conversion. Instead, these conversations should be rooted in the knowledge of God we have in Christ that allows us to learn from others without fear and work together through and beyond our differences.


Amar Peterman Headshot Amar D. Peterman, 2023 Polaris Advisor
Amar is an author and constructive theologian working at the intersection of faith and public life. He holds an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the founder of Scholarship for Religion and Society LLC, a research and consulting firm working with some of the leading philanthropic and civic institutions, religious organizations, and faith leaders in America today. Amar also serves as a Program Manager at Interfaith America, where he oversees programs related to emerging leaders, American evangelicalism, and Asian America. A widely published author, Amar’s writing and research have been featured in Christianity TodayFaithfully MagazineFathomThe Berkely ForumThe Anxious Bench, and more. He is also a columnist at Sojourners and book reviewer for The Christian Century. His first book, This Common Life: Seeking the Common Good Through Love of Neighbor is under contract with Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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