Faith in Public
Last Friday, we kicked off the 4th season of Faith, Food, Friday. This is an interfaith luncheon (not an ecumenical one), hosted by the Village Square. What’s the difference? Interfaith gatherings usually give the public a chance to peer into a world not their own—a world where religious people serve and share the common good. Our panelists represent very different traditions and belief systems, but a gathering like this is something that shows the world that religious viewpoints really matter. In fact, we really try not to ignore our differences. Instead, we try to offer a better way forward. We can model a way to talk about our differences in a civil, nonthreatening way. As Bill Mattox suggested Friday, a persuasive—but not coercive—way. Despite our differences, there actually is a place for religious conversation in the public square as well as the private arena. Faith is not something reserved for the nice, safe comforts of home and hearth, but faith really matters in the world, and we need it.
That, of course, is not the viewpoint of most of the “new” atheists or many secular folk today. In that mindset, religion is viewed as a kind of personal choice that you make that you hope doesn’t interfere with someone else. Religion, by many people, is viewed as the cause of the conflicts in the world rather than the solution. When they talk about separation of church and state, they are talking about keeping the church—and any other religion—out of the community entirely.
When we gather with Faith, Food, Friday folk, we’re making a very bold statement about who we are. Much like Paul in Acts 20, our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord compels us to bear witness. We can thank the Lord that we won’t agree with every item that our panelists share, but we can agree that we want faith to continue to have a role in public life.
Something else happens too. Events like these clear away the brushy mindset that clouds people’s perceptions of Baptists. We clear the field so that real conversations can begin about our faith and others’ faith. We give seekers a safe place to overhear conversations about the gospel, compare differences, and test the waters. Usually, before or after most gatherings at FFF or a faith-oriented Village Square event, I have a chance to talk with someone who is seeking Christ. This past Friday was no different. Because you are who are, First Baptist, you create a place for people to come, be welcomed, and see a different Way.
Sometimes people come to Christ through the front door, down the aisle, and right up to the altar. They’re invited by a friend, and they can’t wait to get here. But at Faith, Food, Friday, we give people a chance to come through the kitchen door. You may not recognize them, but usually, they’re sitting beside you, listening, and watching how you listen.