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My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing
Carl Medearis with Sheikh Nabil Qawouk Hezbollah’s number two leader.
July 24th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing

Editor's Note: Carl Medearis is an international expert in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations and is author of the book Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism.

By Carl Medearis, Special to CNN

Let’s do an exercise. I want you to fill in the blank on what you think you know about me based on what I’m about to tell you.

Here goes: Twenty years ago, I became a missionary. My wife and I left our home in Colorado Springs, Colorado to move to Beirut, Lebanon. Our job description was to plant churches and evangelize to Muslims.

Based on what I just said, Carl Medearis is a ______________ .

Depending on your background, the blank may look something like this:

Carl Medearis is a... hero of the Christian faith, a saintly super-man willing to sacrifice the comforts of home in order to share the love of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard the gospel.

Or this:

Carl Medearis is a... right-wing extremist who destroys cultures, tears apart families and paves the way for neo-colonialist crusaders to invade, occupy and plunder the resources of local populations.

Quite a range, isn’t it?

For one group of people, the words “evangelist” and “missionary” bring to mind pious heroes performing good deeds that are unattainable for the average Christian. For another group, those same words represent just about everything that’s wrong with the world.

I understand the confusion.

Based on my experiences of living and traveling around the world, I know that religion is often an identity marker that determines people’s access to jobs, resources, civil liberties and political power.

When I lived in Lebanon I saw firsthand how destructive an obsession with religious identity could be. Because of the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics, modern Lebanese history is rife with coups, invasions, civil wars and government shutdowns.

When I tell my Christian friends in America that some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian, most are shocked. It doesn’t fit the us-versus-them mentality that evangelism fosters, in which we are always the innocent victims and they are always the aggressors.

This us-versus-them thinking is odd, given that Jesus was constantly breaking down walls between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, men and women, sinners and saints. That’s why we have the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jews in Jesus’ day thought of the Samaritans as the violent heretics, much the same way that Christians think of Muslims today. The idea that a Samaritan could be good was scandalous to first century Jews.

Jesus was the master of challenging religious prejudice and breaking down sectarian walls. Why do so many Christians want to rebuild those walls?

Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it’s faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion or a new socio-religious identity.

What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on “evangelizing” and “converting” people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?

Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?

This is more than just a semantic difference.

When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”

Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.

Just because I believe that evangelicals should stop evangelizing doesn’t mean that they should to stop speaking of Jesus.

I speak of Jesus everywhere I go and with everyone I meet.

As founder and president of a company called International Initiatives, my work is aimed at building relationships among Christian leaders in the West and among Muslim leaders in the Middle East.

It may come as a surprise to many Christians that Muslims are generally open to studying the life of Jesus as a model for leadership because they revere him as a prophet.

But now that I’m no longer obsessed with converting people to Christianity, I’ve found that talking about Jesus is much easier and far more compelling.

I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus.

Jesus met people where they were. Instead of trying to figure out who’s “in” and who’s “out,” why don’t we simply invite people to follow Jesus — and let Jesus run his kingdom?

Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with. And since evangelicals like to say that it’s not about religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus, perhaps we should practice what we preach.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Carl Medearis.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Interfaith issues • Opinion

soundoff (3,792 Responses)
  1. Anti-Theist

    @Beatrice

    You are insulting and your sheer idiocy makes me physically ill. Your ignorance and mental sickness thinly veiled as 'religion' are completely unbelievable at the best of time. First, can you really call us, those without faith, ignorant?
    ig·no·rant- adjective 1. Lacking knowledge or awareness in general
    I'm sure I share the unfortunate history of being the complete opposite of ignorant of the lies and evils of religion with many of the 'ignorant atheists' here. It is you members of humanity of accept the edicts of cruel bronze age boogeymen and unjustly attempt to force upon others who are the obviously ignorant. You say that America was built by christians? You couldn't be more mistaken. Great pains were taken by the secularist founding fathers to keep religion out of the state. They, like those of us lacking imaginary friends, knew that religion is a poison of the mind that, once given over to, destroys, pollutes and corrupts everything it touches. Another point you make is to call christians 'clean and orderly' which is completely ludicrous claim. Christianity has so many schismed churches who adamantly refuse to agree with one another while declaring that they are the correct faith and the rest are bound for hell. I'm slightly disappointed that so many have beaten me to the point in stating that you are wrong, but I will take it a bit farther and say that you are wrong, immoral and blind. Colin had it right when he said that every comment that comes from you is stupid. He said it simply, he said it best. It is a shame that the small, limited views of the religious must be continuously addressed by the learned and the enlightened. I, like you Beatrice, wish that there was a nice, secluded country where all the religious could go and leave the rest of the world to its progress. We shall finally be free to push forward and continue the evolution of man. We could be free of Big Brother, watching everything. We have no need of your religious morals, we have our own humanist ideals. Without the great evils of religion, the world could finally be free to press on into a new age of enlightened, scientific and philosophic thinking. Great, mindless massacres of by the faithful in the name of outdated, imaginary totalitarian despots and men who attempt to take their place as replacements for these imaginary boogeymen would become things of the past. Minds like yours, closed and limited by the influence of religion, would be things chuckled at by schoolchildren as they are told the unfortunate histories of man and the awful, perpetual state of ignorance it kept itself under. You can keep your religious jackboot to yourself, as for the rest of us, I believe we'll be just fine without it.

    July 25, 2011 at 4:54 am |
  2. Richard Cairns

    Evangelizing the world is not a question of imposing religious belief on another for God is a loving being who provides opportunity to all to accept his truths on the basis of individual choice accompanied by individual responsibility. For this reason faith is a principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One may accept it or reject it and God permits all that opportunity. One of his purposes in evangelizing the world is to offer all people salvation. Salvation is a principle of happiness and applies to things both temporal and spiritual. Some want to save the resources of the earth, others whales, others animals with fur coats, others human kind – but God wants to save all people and offers them the knowledge that they can only acquire through the exercise of faith. Without evangelizing the world his truths would remain unknown except for a small few and since even science recognizes the historical fact that the fittest survive it stands to reason that the responsibility of the fittest and strongest is to ensure the survival of the weak and less able. This cannot be done unless people are evangelized – meaning, that they are given the opportunity to learn and teach, to serve and share, to enlighten and bring to light those things that are in darkness which are hidden and unknown. Yes, evangelizing is also to warn and prepare since God also wants to save us from making the foolish mistakes of assuming that we as humans have greater knowledge and wisdom that he does.

    July 25, 2011 at 4:48 am |
  3. Res Ipsa Loquitur

    On every Nazi soldier's belt buckle:

    "Gott Mit Uns" – God is with us.

    July 25, 2011 at 4:46 am |
    • Anti-Theist

      Reichskonkordat signed July 20, 1933 between The Vatican and Hitler's Nazi Germany between Adolph Hitler and the pro-nazi future pope Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:18 am |
  4. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

    The two religious guys in the picture have glowing red eyes. Fits perfectly.

    July 25, 2011 at 4:42 am |
  5. Rick

    Well...I wish you luck unfortunately the average human being Is rife with his prejudices and Opinions and will not budge because that's what he believes the "truth" it's quite sad. In a way people totally dismiss the potential to be wrong. The unwillingness to be wrong, or rather to admit potential wrongness, is whats damaging society more. There's no more tolerance for other opinions, in part because of the internet, There's no more willingness to understand and these are all born from the unwillingness to admit potentially being incorrect.

    Just look at most of these comments and you'll see what i'm talking about. Most of these folks are probably young and believe they're More Correct than the previous generations that they've figured it out, or they're old and set in there ways. Or they're still thinking on these things and haven't really gotten anywhere so they fall bakc to their norm with out realizing it. I mean hell even i think i've figured things out and this way of thinking i've found is clearly the best option between all others.

    Point here is people will go on being people and do the stupid things we do as a species. The question is will anyone really realize how crazy and stupid the things are we do on every side? the answer is obviously no. Humanity is a weird machine. Really really weird. Really inefficient and always divided because that is unfortunately our nature.

    What most people posting here don't realize is that Much of what they say either contradicts what they're saying or goes directly against they're own beliefs. For example i quote here: "Religion = power/corruption/hate/dishonesty/IGNORANCE/intolerance to everyone else's way of life and beliefs. SICK" from an above poster the irony in the statement comes from the fact that they are likely non-religious and claim this is religions cause yet they are being just as intolerant in the same post calling another person "pathetic" for their beliefs. Just as hateful and ignorant when they claim religion the primary source of those things previously specified (which are all side effects of human nature something almost all religion tries to curb) The truly ironic part is that almost everyone who posts here and claims to be non-religious seems to try and sell the same general line that it's some how inferior, archaic, stupid, intolerant, or born of ignorance. Then most make comments that are intolerant, stupid, or born of ignorance xD. It's a rather funny circle what's more funny though is that people will talk themselves blue in the face all day trying to prove that One is more ignorant than the other, more stupid than the other, more inferior, more intolerant etc.. etc..

    Ah the circle of human contradiction Do you ever cease to ammuse.

    Most will likely shirk this off as ridiculous and stupid irrelevent and idiotic. As well as i'm sure at some points contradictory. And then the flames will start cause they always do and no one will at all take into consideration what was said. Because we're all insane like that.

    July 25, 2011 at 4:36 am |
  6. mike

    at the end of the day what u believe is urs alone, and the food u put on the table..the rest u live through it

    July 25, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  7. Ban Islam

    How sick and tired I am to hear this never ending bullcrap about imaginary friend jesus who died "for our sins", it is getting scary to live surraunder by religious lunatics. Atheists, let's get united and fight this plague of humanity, f....ng religion. Check pat condell on you tube

    July 25, 2011 at 4:03 am |
    • Enigma-X

      case in point.....

      July 25, 2011 at 4:15 am |
    • abivinron

      I believe in Jesus the son of GOD, we always try to find fault with everyone & everything what we do, keep meditating on the word of GOD (Bible) & you will get the reply, because GOD's word never fails, do with a sincere heart.

      July 25, 2011 at 4:41 am |
  8. Enigma-X

    "It may come as a surprise to many Christians that Muslims are generally open to studying the life of Jesus as a model for leadership because they revere him as a prophet." Not really... people for centuries have been trying to make him out as JUST a prophet. The fact that Jesus was the son of God and died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead they won't stand for.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • Rick

      You sure seem to play fast and loose with the word "fact", enigma-x

      July 25, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  9. Kuka

    More people have died because of religion than all the diseases known to man so far

    July 25, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • bob

      the blank should filled with------- Carl is an idiot.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  10. Maire

    This is a big article about nothing. He still "speaks of Jesus" to everyone he meets, but he doesn't "evangelize." Translation: he has a different style of evangelizing and he doesn't want to be lumped in with the bolder, more outspoken (read: crazies) so he's playing this semantic game. I am a Christian myself, so I understand if you want to try a more subtle tack but if you're really talking about Jesus to everyone you meet, you are still evangelizing. Period. On a related note, it doesn't surprise me at all that his trip to Lebanon changed his mind. The Middle East is well known among missionaries as the most difficult region on earth to evangelize in, although the reasons for this are usually left unsaid–namely, that Muslims give Christian missionaries a run for their money when it comes to religious devotion and adherence to rigid morality. This region of the world is the birthplace of the Abrahamic faiths and still extremely staunch in its beliefs, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jew (not a bad thing, btw)

    July 25, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  11. Beatrice

    @Spiffy, Christians created America and Europe has all the wonderful things only because of Christianity. You atheists did only massacres in China and Russia and everywhere else.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • PotKettleBlack

      Spanish Inquisition, the elimination of native Americans, the Holocaust, etc. are plenty of massacres and atrocities that can be attributed to Christians (contrary to popular Christian belief, Nazis were not atheists).

      July 25, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • Observer

      The greatest number of American casualties in any war came in the Civil War when the predominant Christians in the North fought the predominant Christians in the south.

      Adolph Hitler was raised as a Catholic and believed in God.

      July 25, 2011 at 4:10 am |
  12. Beatrice

    This is the era when God saves all peoples on Planet Earth. Jesus rules. He is the King forever.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • Spiffy

      Jesus never existed and never shall.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:27 am |
  13. Spiffy

    @Beatrice it is your type of thinking that corrupts and destroys a society.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • Beatrice

      Spiffy, no, atheists are ignorant. Please leave USA and immigrate to North Korea because that's your dream nation. You don't deserve the American goodness which is Christianity.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:22 am |
    • Spiffy

      My dream nation is the U.S. A place where you are allowed to believe whatever you want. Even if it is as stupid as Christianity.

      Please provide proof for God or Jesus or both and I will see what we can do from there.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:26 am |
  14. AH

    Religion is the root cause of humanity's problems. Funny how everything else in our existence i.e. science, medicine, technology, nutrition, the arts, sports, and so on have evolved without the worst crutch ever. I was born Catholic, the 'Original Gang', the rest of Christianity can suck it, there was no king james bible/mormons/lutherans/scientologists/etc/etc/etc back in the day when humanity decided to stop doing roman/greek mythology and switch to a new mythology. I laugh at how people pick and choose what they want to believe out of the bible, like it's a catalog. Hell, the pathetic notion of 'praise god and pass the ammo' mentality of people is astounding. I can't fathom how people who claim to 'love jesus' and be 'christian' not live their lives how he did, as a pacifist and one who cared nothing about money or power. Kinda funny how televangelists have so much cash/planes/etc, yet the 3rd world is still the 3rd world (then again, per the big magic book of fairy tales, people think using contraception is like going to hell...). Religious freaks spout about 'no proof' of evolution, well, I have yet to see any proof of the ark, or burning bushes, or rampant locusts, or how the earth is only 2K old. Time for humanity to grow the F up...

    July 25, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • Dave

      I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the whole "Christians don't follow what they preach" argument. People who make this argument know very little about Christian belief. We strive to be like Jesus but will always fail, because that what makes Jesus so special. He does not fail. Good people and perfect people don't go to heaven, because they don't exist. The Bible tells us that. That are good deeds are like dirty rags to God. You don't earn your way into heaven. Jesus already paid the ultimate price for our sins and shortcomings. Does that mean we should live our lives in sin? No. If you truly except Jesus Christ as your savior, you will feel the guilt for your sins and repent.

      Let's address proof of evolution vs. Other biblical stories.... First, there is first hand evidence of biblical stories. That more than evolutionist have. More and more scientist are leaving the evolution team and going to what they call "intelligent design". This is the theory that something created the things that we see. They don't specify as to what that something is, but they believe that the world is far too complex for it to randomly occur. The mathematical facts speak for themselves. The chances are one out of 10 with 46 thousands zeros behind it. Those are just the chances that a single cell would form out of nothing. That's like flicking paint on wooden square trying to random get letters for a scrabble game. Except you don't have the paint, the brush, the wooden squares, or your self to help create them. Christians do not claim there is more scientific evidence to support creation but they are against evolutionism being taught as fact in school over creation when it has very little evidence to back it up.

      Lastly, there is no Christians in this world who believe the world is only 2,000 years old. Jesus died over two thousand years ago. Hence the term 2011 AD ( after death). Not to mention the entire old testament which was written and occured well before Jesus was even born. I have no idea where you receive this information from but a quick google search or wikipedia search could have saved you some embarrassment.

      July 25, 2011 at 4:08 am |
    • Observer

      "The mathematical facts speak for themselves. The chances are one out of 10 with 46 thousands zeros behind it."

      That is nothing more than some kind of a theory. Trying to claim that the number is a "mathematical FACT" is pure nonsense. Stick with talking serpents, a flat earth, a ship with hundreds of thousands of animals and food kept on it for months, people that turn into salt, etc.

      July 25, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • AH (it's for Dave)

      Still waiting to see 'first hand evidence of biblical stories'. Your cute explanation of how life happened is quite trite. Guess what, Earth was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. We lucked out with the carbon based goodness that led to life plus having the right distance from the sun (I'm sure you think god did it since our corner of the galaxy is the most important one). Try a comparative anatomy class sometime (I'm a medical doctor), and you might realize that YES, WE DO COME FROM PRIMATES!!! Oh noes, not that unfathomable story! Carl Sagan's 'The Pale Blue Dot' is what ya need.

      July 25, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • Magic

      Dave:

      "More and more scientist are leaving the evolution team and going to what they call "intelligent design".
      - No, they aren't. (and the plural of scientist is scientists)

      "2011 AD (after death)"
      - A google search would have saved you embarrassment here too. AD stands for Anno Domini (year of the Lord - not After Death). The Anno Domini dating system was devised in 525 by a Catholic monk, Dionysius Exiguus, to enumerate the years in his Easter table. It was not accepted widely until quite a few centuries after he created it.

      July 25, 2011 at 4:53 am |
    • More embarrassment for Dave

      "There is no Christians" is improper grammar. So besides your history and science class you need to take, you can sign up for some English too. "After death".... hahahahahahahaha. Good one.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:19 am |
  15. Beatrice

    Conclusion: Christians in the non-West must work hard and excel in order to keep sanity in this world.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  16. Dennis

    I think this guy needs to go back and read his Bible, because his entire approach is flawed. There are so many verses where Christ sends his apostles and seventies out as missionaries (evangelicals), and there are likewise enough verses that make it very clear that Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life," and there's no sugar-coating it.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:16 am |
  17. Beatrice

    I'm not white, but I really feel sorry for them that whites generations ago had to build up nations and toil so hard only for their immoral descendants and pagan parasites. Why can't anyone create a decent nation except for Christian whites and the mimickers?

    July 25, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Gotta Getthere

      If you're not white, then what you have is a colonized mind. I feel sorry for you. Shake off the shackles, sister. Go find yourself.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  18. Beatrice

    Why are non-Christians creating havoc in the West? Christian Europeans and Christian Americans deserve peace because the wellness of the West is due to the clean, orderly Christians. Too many parasites, especially the atheists. Christians need to keep evangelizing; the world needs it. Muslims should stop persecuting infidels in their land and secularists should stop imposing immorality.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • ssaraf

      And Christians haven't been indecent or corrupt? Take the crusades for example. The Crusades can be seen multiple ways, for example. Some saw it as a business opportunity for human trafficking. Others saw it as Christians trying to reclaim "their" holy city. But the natives of Jerusalem and other major cities in the area saw it as an invasion of their home and an attempt by westerners to uproot the inhabitants of the holy lands and take away their rights to their homes. Christians don't have the cleanest track record in the world, and they DEFINITELY aren't the only ones to create a "decent" nation in the world.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:21 am |
    • Beatrice

      @S-, Crusade was a tiny occurance in human history. Christians rescued billions of humans in its 2,000 year-long history, developing philosophy, art, music, literature, architecture, human rights, charity, good laws, con-sti-tu-tions – everything noble, useful and vital to human society and personal life. Non-christians developed almost nothing. Anyone can do sword-fightings.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • eric

      Your intolerance to secularists and atheists is absurd. Just because the majority of America (christianity is not the majority of Europe btw) is Christian, doesn't give you the right to be so oppressive!! You're basically saying that you're right, I (we) am/are wrong.....based on your BELIEF/FAITH. You're pathetic and need not be taken seriously. Stop trying to rule the world. Religion = power/corruption/hate/dishonesty/IGNORANCE/intolerance to everyone else's way of life and beliefs. SICK

      July 25, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Colin

      Beatrice, everything you say is stupid.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Mom of Three

      Not only are non-Christians a silent majority in this country, I personally know of several who claim to be just to go along with their family traditions, community pressure, and it's also good for their businesses. But non-Christians are becoming more vocal. You can be a good person and live a perfectly purposeful life without Santa, the Easter Bunny or God. Feel free to believe what you wish, but my family is not leaving this country, and we're not backing down, either. Bring it on, Bea.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  19. Iwis

    As a Christian, I will tell you what is wrong with this approach. Yes, just talking about the beliefs and tenets of Jesus will draw a larger majority of people to follow what you are saying, because general truths are easier to stomach. Much like saying or praying 'God' is more accepted than saying or praying 'Jesus', or the name of any other god. Muslims, and many others, will accept Jesus' teachings very readily, when you take away His divinity, but when you say He's God, they will turn on you quickly – become your enemy – because this is not what they believe or receive. That's why Jesus said, "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on Earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division" (Luke 12:51). And in talking about believing there is a God in general, the Bible also says, "Even the demons believe – and tremble" (James 2:19). Jesus as God rather than a good teacher or prophet makes all the difference in the world – both this one and the eternal one – and anyone has the opportunity to believe...to become a TRUE disciple of the Lord Jesus, whatever their prior background.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • eric

      Just talking about beliefs of sky gods 2000 years ago with very very little understanding of the universe and science in general would and did convince a large majority of people to follow that particular faith, but the bible and it's stories have to place in this age. Science has contradicted the bible countless times thus far and it's actually quite easy to deny any truth in the bible or GOD. You say General TRUTHS are easier to stomach. Don't you mean, general BELIEFS and FAITH (believing in something that has no proof of existing) are easier to stomach? Well, I suppose so, if you are an ignorant self-centered moron!! And just as you quoted, you awesome "creator" want not unity of his so called people, he wants DIVISION....HEAVEN AND HELL....ETERNAL SUFFERING IN A LAKE OF FIRE.........mind you, he created heaven and HELL. You do realize that you could be wrong and Allaah is the real "GOD" which means you aren't following his word and that means YOU DIE>>>GAME OVER. They have just as much right to be right as you and your christian god. Don't forget that. Stop imposing your belief/faith on others. Keep quiet. Let them believe what they want and respect it. It's none of your business.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:56 am |
  20. Beatrice

    American atheists should stop corrupting the nation. Secularists should either listen to Christians or leave Europe and America.

    July 25, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • Mom of Three

      You know your kind is on its way out, right? Nobody with two brain cels to knock around and keep warm is afraid of your threats of hellfire, nor do they believe your assertions that this is a solely Christian nation/culture. Sorry. Enjoy your ride into the sunset.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:56 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.