We worship one block away from each other: the Islamic Center of Portland and Evergreen Presbyterian Church (PCA). And so, by most definitions, we are neighbors. Like many PCA congregations, Evergreen in Beaverton, Oregon, has clearly proclaimed the Gospel using various evangelistic methods and materials. Through the regular preaching of the Gospel on Sundays, Evergreen has welcomed a stream of individuals professing faith in Jesus. Six years ago Evergreen embarked not on an evangelistic mission but a “good neighbor mission,” reaching out to the Muslims, who are members of the Islamic Center of Portland.
As Evergreen’s founding pastor, I had grown weary of hearing people in Oregon saying, “In the end, all faith systems are essentially the same. Let’s meet together to celebrate our commonalities.” And so, I started The Beaverton Religion Forum with the purpose of making safe space for being good neighbors, while presenting our differences.
I walked up the street, one block, to invite the imam to make a joint presentation with me to a gathering of the mosque and church members. In 15 minutes the imam would explain to all of us how Muslims worship, and then in 15 minutes I would explain how we Christians worship. The two of us would then field questions. In this first gathering, we shared a meal together and instructed all assembled toward loving and peaceful behavior. Both the imam and I made the purpose of The Beaverton Religion Forum clear. We told those gathered that we were not interested in being good neighbors only with those who hold our particular worldview. We made it clear that we were seeking to be good neighbors with those who are polar opposites from us, who practice differently from us.
Both the imam and I made clear our desires and plans to proselytize and to hold “us and them” distinctions, but not at the expense of being good neighbors.
Both the imam and I made clear our desires and plans to proselytize and to hold “us and them” distinctions, but not at the expense of being good neighbors. In The Beaverton Religion Forum, we have not missed the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel, even though the purpose of the forum is not evangelism but making space for us to be good neighbors. The reason this is valuable is that most of us have lost an audience for Gospel proclamation. In Sunday worship we proclaim the Gospel to church members and those unbelievers who stumble into our gathering. Outside Sunday worship, most Christians do not have any evangelistic space or audience. The Beaverton Religion Forum makes space for neighborly relationships to be built between those of different worldviews so that we might have the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. How many PCA members would say, “I don’t have any non-Christian friends”? Or how many would say, “I don’t know my neighbors”? The imam, who is my neighbor, knows that the forum’s purpose is to create such space, and he shares my desire to proselytize. The alternative is polarization.
In The Beaverton Religion Forum, Evergreen has met regularly with two local atheist organizations, members of the local Hindu temple, members of local synagogues, and Southminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), a congregation that encourages its members to consider Jesus to be a principle of love rather than an actual person. (I wish I could tell you more about our discussions with this Presbyterian congregation in which we have kindly yet clearly presented our polar-opposite perspectives and convictions. But this story is about our developing relationships with our Muslim neighbors.)
Once, the mosque, Evergreen, and Southminster met jointly to share a meal and present our views on the nature of the Holy Scriptures. The imam told us that the Quran is the mathematically perfect and infinitely holy revelation of Allah through his prophet, Mohammed. The minister of Southminster, Pastor Peg, told us that the Bible was a collection of myths and folklore all moving us to love one another. I presented the Bible as the infallible, inerrant, and inspired revelation of God. Several weeks later, I walked into a donut shop owned by a family who are members of the mosque. One of the owners told me, “Our imam told us that Evergreen is truly Christian but Southminster is not truly Christian, because you believe that the Bible is divine revelation.” Even though there is a fine donut shop in my neighborhood, I drive three miles to the Muslim-owned shop so that I can build a relationship with this family.
Since 2010 Evergreen has met with the Islamic Center seven times. Presenters from the mosque and from Evergreen have sat together on two panels at the Bonneville Power Administration as part of this federal agency’s diversity training. (One of Evergreen’s elders, Charlie, is an employee of this agency and has arranged the panel allowing us to say that we are seeking to be good neighbors while speaking candidly about our significant differences.) The imam and I have also been invited to speak at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, presenting our different views of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We were invited to speak by a professor who was a PCA member. These speaking engagements are examples of opportunities PCA members enjoy because of the Beaverton Religion Forum’s creation of safe space to present our peculiar doctrines, including the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is healthy for Christians to hear a pastor say, “Pastor Peg and I have been friends for nine years even though we have polar opposite views of the nature of the Bible.” The Gospel can be proclaimed in a community where the imam says, “We love Pastor Lewis even though he is not a Muslim and he holds to Christian doctrine that is not informed by the final prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him.” Evergreen members are coming alive evangelistically because I have said publicly in these forums, “We are gathered tonight to be good neighbors even though we follow different paths and are convinced that only one path leads to the top of the mountain.”
In a world sipping the Kool-Aid of comparative religions, I am surprised at the large number of people who find our presentations of the vast differences to be refreshing, in the context of being good neighbors.
In a world sipping the Kool-Aid of comparative religions, I am surprised at the large number of people who find our presentations of the vast differences to be refreshing, in the context of being good neighbors. In two gatherings with the Islamic Center of Portland, we have invited two mystical Jews to join the panel. They beat the drum of essential sameness between all our religions. The imam and I are quick to kindly, but clearly, correct them. For our December 2015 gathering with our Muslim neighbors, I self-published a 36-page booklet titled “What the Prophet Jesus Teaches His Followers about Being Good Neighbors.” As Muslims and Christians disagree on the dual nature of Jesus but agree that he indeed is a sinless prophet, I refer to Jesus as The Prophet Jesus. In the booklet I present the entirety of Jesus’ teaching on being a good neighbor. It’s not evangelism proper, but it’s a start.
Nathan E. Lewis is Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Beaverton, Oregon, one block from the Islamic Center of Portland. Through the Beaverton Religion Forum, Lewis has encouraged the Islamic Center of Portland and Evergreen Presbyterian Church to be good neighbors.