Albert Einstein said, “The free, unhampered exchange of ideas and scientific conclusions is necessary for the sound development of science, as it is in all spheres of cultural life.” Einstein spoke accurately about both science and culture. If we as Christians desire to be involved in the creation and development of culture, we need to be willing to enter into the free exchange of ideas that are already happening around us.
At Q, we’ve set out to bring pressing cultural conversations into a space where they can be viewed and critiqued through the lens of the Gospel. Because we believe in the power of that Gospel and the ability of God’s word to “rightly divide truth,” we’ve never been afraid to make space for new and even different ideas at our gatherings.
As our team was planning this year’s gathering in Portland, we were drawn to address the heightened tension among Christians and Muslims in America. Debates rage between our faith communities, and they aren’t going away. Recent events such as Terry Jones’ Koran burning and the “Ground Zero Mosque” discussion have only exacerbated them.
That is why I decided to interview Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the “Ground Zero Mosque” at Q this year. Soundbytes may serve the purposes of network news shows, but thoughtful Christians need to engage these issues through serious dialogue. In our time together, I’ll be seeking to understand what he believes and why. We’re going to discuss many of his views that some might call “radical,” and I’ll ask him how he plans to square those with the larger American culture.
Many who don’t like or agree with Imam Feisal’s positions have questioned this decision. They believe my invitation is a tacit approval for all the Imam’s views and beliefs. But let us not forget that listening to one share his or her ideas is not the same as endorsing them.
We are at a troubling place in American Christianity. Today, many followers of Jesus on both the left and right are content to withdraw to their respective echochambers where liberals become more liberal and conservatives become more conservative, but neither seems to be thinking more Christianly. Because Q is neither conservative nor liberal, we’ve attempted to transcend this approach to dialogue by creating a place where both sides might engage.
The longer I live the more I’m inspired by the life of Jesus and the way He was able to sit down and converse with people who were so unlike him. Of course, He was also the One who said that being a child of the Father means learning to love your neighbors and your enemies. I’ve thought often about this incredible statement over the years. I can’t imagine what this could possibly mean if it doesn’t include having respectful dialogue where we listen and respond rather than dismiss and attack.
When it comes to Q, I don’t make a lot of promises. I won’t promise that you’ll like or even agree with every idea you encounter at our gatherings, in our books or on our web site. But I can promise that the Gospel will saturate all we do, every decision will be made prayerfully, and we will continue to promote a rigorous exchange of ideas. Free and unhampered.