I (David Scott) will be attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Missiology (ASM) starting today. The ASM is the major academic/practical society for those studying mission in North America.
The theme for this year's conference is "Interfaith Friendship as Incarnational Mission Practice." As this theme indicates, friendship is becoming an increasingly important focus for mission research and practice. Mission friendship includes interfaith friendship, as this conference highlights, but also international, intercultural, and interracial friendship. Therefore, I wanted to share a bit about this theme and this conference for those unaware of the conference or unable to attend.
Conference organizers give the following explanation of the importance of friendship as a theme:
"In an article in the IBMR honoring the life work of Jonathan Bonk, Dana Robert began her essay with these words: "Friendship is a foundational practice in Christian mission" (IBMR (October 2015), 180). In this era of rising tribalism, tension and fear toward those who are different, Christians are called to live out the Gospel in the way of Jesus: through loving God and loving neighbor. When vitriolic political rhetoric inflames hostility and distrust, especially toward those of other faith commitments, interfaith friendships become crucial avenues of incarnational mission practice. There are many ways to do this, as even a brief history of mission illustrates. The oft-cited friendship of Frances of Assisi with Sultan Malek al-Kamil of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade is, perhaps, one of the most illustrious (see Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context, 143).
"There are many today who witness to the power of friendship as a bridge to interfaith understanding and cooperation. Muslim founder of Interfaith Youth Corps, Eboo Patel, draws college students together to improve "interfaith literacy" and provide the means to shatter stereotypes and fears of those who "orient around religion differently" through friendship (see Patel, Interfaith Leadership: A Primer). Amazon, while seeking to sell us on Amazon Prime at Christmas, offered a poignant tale of interfaith friendship between a priest and an imam over a cup of tea. Their care for one another prompted them to unwittingly buy each other the gift of knee-pads for enabling greater comfort during prayer (see the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cllWl1u1fj0 and Muslim Saimma Dyer's insightful commentary on the ad at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingtradition/2016/11/interfaith-friendships-not-just-for-christmas/).
"As Christians, friendship within the Godhead - the three-in-One - is both our model and means for offering the hospitality and creating the space where "the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy" (Nouwen, Reaching Out, 51). Making room for the God who, in the outstretched arms of Christ, loves and forgives us, enables us to also love and forgive, welcome and embrace, and befriend those God has already "friended" (Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 126). In what he calls a pneumatological theology of hospitality, Amos Yong posits that the power of the Holy Spirit is not only what allows us to love the neighbor, but allows God to love us through the neighbor. Interfaith friendships make possible this mutual transformation crucial to the work of God in the world (Yong, Hospitality and the Other, 158). Friendship with God enables friendship with others.
"Voices from within the ASM, have long offered insight into the power of friendship to open doors to those of other faiths, not only for the sake of world peace, but for the sake of faithful witness to the love of God in Christ. Kosuke Koyama called it "neighborology:" loving and living in solidarity with one's neighbor, exegeting both the Word and the neighbor's culture, and found it became the "best vessel to convey Christ" (Water Buffalo Theology, 67). Steve Bevans and Roger Schroeder called it the dance of "prophetic dialogue:" a style of living in relationship with our neighbors that holds in tension proclamation and dialogue, boldness and humility, and builds empathy and trust through friendship modeled on the image of "entering someone else's garden" (Prophetic Dialogue, 152, 33). Terry Muck and Frances Adeney called it "giftive mission" in which we enter into relationships with those of other religions (or no religion) as bearers and receivers of gifts, observing ways in which God is already at work and the gospel is truly a gift in that context (Christianity Encountering World Religions, 373). All of these, and many others, point to the importance of interfaith friendship, not only to bring peace to our world, but because loving and being loved by neighbors of other faiths, being both guests and hosts, enables us to express and receive God's love (Yong, 153)."
To get a further idea of how this concept of friendship is playing out in the study of mission, check out the listing of session and paper titles on the conference schedule.