John W. Morehead is the Director of Multifaith Matters. He is the co-editor and contributing author for A Charitable Orthopathy: Christian Perspectives on Emotions in Multifaith Engagement, and Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach, and the editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue. John has also provided expertise to the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization issue group on “The Church and the New Spiritualities.” He has been involved for many years in multi-faith relationships and conversations in the contexts of Islam, Mormonism, Paganism, and others. His ongoing research in multifaith engagement and religious conflict involves bringing social psychology and neuroscience into conversation with a theology of love of religious neighbors. Particular areas of interest are emotions and orthopathy, evangelical concerns for purity in relation to syncretism, intellectual and cultural humility, post-9/11 psychology, dehumanization, Christian Nationalism, as well as the cognitive science and biocultural study of religion.
A collection of colleagues of mine and I have been going on adventures in the liminal space for years with members of other religious groups in America and the UK. This includes folks like Phil Wyman, former Pastor of The Gathering church in Salem, Massachusetts where he befriended Pagans and also encountered festival goers at Burning Man and various gatherings in the UK. Then there is Paul Louis Metzger in Portland, Oregon who has enjoyed potluck table fellowship with members of the Dharma Rain Zen Buddhist community. Another example is Mark Shetler, a part of the pastoral team at RiverCity church in Sacramento, California, who befriended Muslim immigrants in their community and who regularly cross the threshold with these neighbors. For my own part I participate in liminal experiences with members of many different religious groups, from Latter-day Saints to Hindus to Satanists, members of The Satanic Temple, one of the leading Satanist groups in the US with a growing international membership. TST has garnered national attention with their provocative challenge to Christian privilege in the US, raising important questions about religious freedom for all, including religious minorities.
As I have reflected over the years on liminality in the context of these efforts in multifaith engagement it occurs to me that this is an important part of the calling of Christians who seek to be faithful to a central aspect Pauline theology. New Testament scholar Michael J. Gorman has written an influential trilogy of books exploring the significance of cruciform spirituality. This cross-shaped theology and praxis is most explicitly set forth in Philippians 2:1-11, where Paul encourages the Christians listening to his letter to exercise humility by having the same mindset as Christ who took on the nature of a servant and humbled himself to the humiliating death of the cross.
For years Christians have put forward many helpful proposals about how to understand and relate to those in other religions. These have included books that emphasize the importance of neighborliness and hospitality. I would add liminality to this list, a prerequisite for those who would seek to extend kindness to multifaith neighbors. But the theological grounding for all of these things would seem to be cruciformity. If Christ followers seek to have the mind of Christ and follow his example, we must embrace his way of cruciformity. This must involve humility, especially when we are compelled to enter the liminal space of others, including those of other religions. The cruciform way in liminality then transforms our mindset and “approach” to the other so that the liminal is viewed not as a space for allegedly prophetic denunciation in the name of evangelism, or as an evangelistic raiding party in the sacred area of others, but instead it becomes a place where we seek not only to persuade, but also to understand and to serve. It is in this context that neighborliness and hospitality are most naturally expressed as the fruit of a Jesus-like, cross-shaped Christian practice.
I find myself spiritually renewed by my times in the liminal space. Given the state of much of American evangelicalism, the fusion of political and religious identities and toxic polarization, and the loss of credibility in the eyes of many outside our ecclesiological walls, participation in cruciform liminality holds great potential to transform us. Perhaps this is why many of my colleagues and I may find the liminal space more conducive to the presence of the Spirit than our churches.