Interested in deepening your faith? Or in talking to an atheist? That’s what Chris Pedersen, the pastor of Cedar Hill Christian Reformed Church in Wyckoff, N.J., did.
Pedersen sat down with secular humanist Michael Jacobsen as part of the “Interview an Atheist” project created by Kile Jones.
Pedersen got in touch with Jones, and it wasn’t long before he and Jacobsen were sitting face to face on a Sunday at Cedar Hill.
Pastor Chris Pedersen
“It’s a gift,” Pedersen explained, “to have someone outside of church to ask, What do you see? What do you experience? What are the common points we can find to work on?” Jacobsen thought the project was worthwhile too. “I feel it is important to build bridges between people instead of creating more conflict and division.”
During his interview, Jacobsen told a story about Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University. Two of his congregants were severely injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, and Epstein asked if he could speak on behalf of the runners at a multi-faith gathering attended by President Obama. His request was denied. “They rejected every overture,” Jacobsen explained. “Every other religion was invited.”
Pedersen was aware that some of the members at Cedar Hill CRC were fearful of this project, but he hoped that through hearing stories like Jacobsen’s, they would come to better understand people who have different beliefs.
Beverly Ten Kate, a member of Cedar Hill, was in the audience when Pedersen interviewed Jacobsen. “One of the most important realizations I had after the interviews was how our thinking is alike in so many ways. We both respect our world and want to protect our environment. We value other human beings,” she said. “God commands us to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.’ We don’t have to agree with our neighbors or what they do. However, by being in a loving relationship with those who may think differently than we do, we can specifically pray for them and trust the Holy Spirit to ultimately change their hearts.”
Both Pedersen and Jacobsen are happy to have had the chance to sit down and talk and are hoping to meet again soon. Reflecting on the experience, Pedersen concluded that “every pastor needs an atheist friend.”