Philos Project Promotes Positive Christian Engagement in Middle East

Philos Project Promotes Positive Christian Engagement in Middle East

Robert Nicholson is a Christian Zionist who believes in using positive Christian engagement to resolve the difficult issues of the Middle East. Learn more as host Chris Johnson talks with the founder and executive director of the Philos Project about its #WeResolve campaign.

27 Minutes • a month ago

Episode Notes

Charisma Connection

With Chris Johnson

Guest: Robert Nicholson

Robert Nicholson is a Christian Zionist who believes in using positive Christian engagement to resolve the difficult issues of the Middle East. Learn more as host Chris Johnson talks with the founder and executive director of the Philos Project about its #WeResolve campaign.

Introduction

Chris Johnson: This is Charisma Connection. I'm Chris Johnson and I have a guest today who is working for a very important cause: peace in the Middle East. Many of you may read our Standing with Israel content online. So, I think you would want to know about an effort called the Philos Project. That's where Robert Nicholson is founder and executive director.

Robert, I can see that you are very well studied. You have an exceptional background for your work. Let me just go through some of that for our listeners. You hold a BA in Hebrew studies from Binghamton University. You have a JD and an MA in Middle Eastern history from Syracuse University. I understand you're calling us from Syracuse today. And, you are a former U.S. Marine. So, thank you for your service. We do and you also are a Tikvah fellow. I hope that you would explain to us what that is. But I want to say that you founded the Philos Project in 2014. That is the topic that we have today. So. let's start with what a Tikvah Fellow is. Am I pronouncing that correctly?

Robert Nicholson: Yes, you are actually. Tikvah is an organization based in New York City. It is something between a Jewish foundation and a think tank. They are dedicated to developing Jewish conservative thought essentially. I came to tick the sort of, in a strange way. I'm not Jewish. I'm Christian. Shortly after I became a Christian in my early 20s, I started studying Hebrew at a local synagogue and slowly found myself deeper and deeper in this space called Jewish-Christian relations, even though I didn't know it had a title at that point. I applied to the Tikvah fund. Lo and behold, they accepted me, a non-Jew, to study with Jews, religious and secular about some of the things that connect us, Jews and Christians together.

 

·         Join a chapter of the Philos Project

·         The Galilea Fellowship

 

Chris Johnson: So, that clearly presented the foundation for the Philos Project. Could you take us back to the beginning there and tell us what is Philos, and how did it come about?

Robert Nicholson: The technical answer is that Philos is a 501c3, nonprofit based in New York City. We founded it in 2014, so we're about five years old. But the deeper answer is that the Philos Project is really my effort to, you could say, impose my own spiritual journey on other people. I grew up sort of in a Christian home My mother was very Christian. But when I was about 12 or 13, I just disavowed all of that. It wasn't until my early 20s after high school and the Marine Corps, working jobs after I got out of the military, that I started to really feel that there was something missing in my life. Not an unusual story, but I picked up a copy of the Bible and started reading it, I suddenly realized that wow, this is much bigger and more important than I ever thought. The big turning point for me was when I realized that Christianity, which I had kind of always thought about as an American or European religion, was actually a Middle Eastern religion. This was around the time shortly after 9-11. The United States was preparing to invade Iraq. And even as I was digging through the spiritual implications of Christianity being a Middle Eastern religion, I also started to think about, call them the political implications … if it was true that my faith, this faith that I was becoming ever more connected to, was from this part of the world. As I'm watching all of these things happening on the news, what were the implications for my engagement with the people who live there? So, that really started a journey for me. Of course, it connected me with the Jewish people who were really the founders of Christianity, early, some small group of Jews. It also connected me to the Christian communities that still live in the Middle East today, communities that I had really never heard about before: the Copts, the Assyrians, the Maronites … who were these people, and what was my connection to them? That was really the genesis for me. At Philos, our mission is to promote positive Christian engagement with the Middle East. Really what that means is we try to educate Christians who live in the United States or in North America about the Middle East, about their spiritual connection to this part of the world. Also, to help them figure out what they can do to engage with the people who live there today.

 

What They’re Saying About Philos Project

·         “Philos empowered me to pursue one of my biggest dreams; to be a scholar in Brazil researching and speaking about Middle Eastern issues.” – Igor Sabino, Student and PLI Alumnus, 2017

·         “Philos really has impacted me in the most profound way. It has provided me with a pivot point of turning my creativity into advocacy and using my ability to better the lives of others. That is something that is incredibly powerful and long-lasting. Philos will continue to impact my life and hopefully, through me, others.” – Rachel Reynolds, Artist and PLI Alumni, 2018

·         “The Philos Project has not only made my Christian life come alive in a way that I've never experienced before, but it's helped me to gain knowledge that has proved so powerful in not just understanding the Middle East but in empowering me to share my experience and knowledge with others. And so to Philos, I give my greatest thank you.” – David Bereit, VIP trip participant, 2018

 

Chris Johnson: That's quite a journey. So, you're focused on positive Christian engagement, and that seems to signify that there is negative Christian engagement, doesn't it?

Robert Nicholson: It does, and actually that was really one of the founding goals was to show that there is in fact a positive way to engage the region. We, for all kinds of obvious reasons, associate the Middle East with danger and death and destruction and radicalism, and all these terrible things. It’s true that the Middle East is ever increasingly a dangerous place. We need to make sure that we are protecting ourselves from the dangers that that originate there. But there's also other things that are happening. We have friends in the region, and actually the word Philos in Greek means friend. What we're trying to do is to show that friendship, based on Judeo-Christian values, is really a great frame for how we living in the West can connect with this part of the world. So, through trips and through all kinds of educational programs and leadership opportunities, we're building that bridge. We're connecting Christians who live in the West with Christians and Jews and other people who share our values who are living in the Middle East. That kind of engagement, that positive engagement, actually opens up all kinds of opportunities that I think people haven't really thought enough about before.

 

·         Watch the story of the Philos Project

 

Chris Johnson: The Middle East is a volatile place. How do you work with people of other faiths there?

Robert Nicholson: So, what's called interfaced engagement is a tricky thing, especially as a Christian who is very much committed to the truth of my own faith. One of the mistakes I think people make in relating to Muslims or Jews or other groups is that they water down the things that they believe in hopes of finding some kind of consensus with people from these other religions. I actually think, and we think at the Philos Project, that's actually backward. It's precisely the things that we hold to be true that make us unique and that allow us to engage with other people who are no less committed to the things that they believe to be true. So, when we are working with Jews or working with Muslims, we're very upfront about the fact that we're Christians. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, is the Savior of the world. We believe in all of the things that come with Orthodox Christianity. But having said that, as people of faith, we understand that that you, the Jewish person, the Muslim person, also are deeply committed to your own faith. We may not share the things that you share, but we respect the fact that you that you cling to a higher truth. It’s actually an interesting situation to be in where, despite all of the many differences we have with Jews and with Muslims, in an era of rampant secularism, secular materialism, there are these moments where you're sitting across from somebody from another faith and you actually say, wow, we disagree on all kinds of theology, but we actually find ourselves kind of in the same boat these days. As the atheistic worldview makes so many gains around the world, it is important for people of all faiths, even as we hold our deeply held truths to say, look, you know, we should work together on behalf of religious freedom.

Chris Johnson: You also have something called the #WeResolve campaign with a hashtag. So, could you tell us about that a little bit?

Robert Nicholson: Yeah. We resolved is an advocacy campaign that we just launched at the Philos Project a few months ago in an effort to rally Christians to stand beside the Jewish people in a moment when anti-Semitism is back. Anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world. We know that anti-Semitism is a huge problem in the Middle East. We also know that it's become a big problem in Europe. Seventy years after the Holocaust, we're seeing the ideas that Hitler was advancing coming back just in a moment when we thought those ideas were defeated. They're coming back, they're coming back in a big way. This huge, huge problem with anti-Semitism in Europe. European Jews report on surveys that many, if not most of them, feel afraid from their fellow Europeans. They feel anti-Semitism rising around them. And it's not just in one or two countries. This is this is across the continent. But something that few people have really been talking about is the return of anti-Semitism right here in the United States. People may know or may not know, but up until not that long ago, 50-60 years ago, there were parts of this country where you could not be Jewish and participate. There were clubs and community associations and all kinds of things that you couldn't do. Universities that you couldn't go to, just because you were Jewish. This is a country that was founded on Judeo-Christian biblical principles. It's really a blight on our record. Thankfully, we've overcome that. But even in the last three, four or five years, things are changing. Things are sliding back the other way and there are all kinds of reasons for this. But whatever the reasons are, this is a major problem. The fact that anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish hostility could be taking root again in a country founded on Judeo Christian principles, is more than a tragedy. It's an outrage. Even though we see Christians standing up and going out to march on behalf of all kinds of important issues related to life and marriage and immigration, I don't see Christians standing up and going out to march on behalf of the Jewish people, the people who really gave us our faith. So, the We Resolve campaign is really an effort to change that. It’s built around a pledge, a petition, really just a short statement of why we believe that anti-Semitism is a problem and why Christians have a duty to confront it. It also includes a number of other things … videos and other resources that people can download, can share, can bring to their pastor and ask their church, asks their community to get involved and really to do something about this problem. A lot of the efforts to fight anti-Semitism are just that. It's about it's about fighting, combating, confronting. It's framed in a very negative way. But really what we need here is the same thing we need in the Middle East, and that's positive engagement. Right now we don't need to necessarily go out and fight anti-Semitism. We need to demonstrate friendship with the people who are the victims of anti-Semitism. We need to stand up, we need to reach out we need to befriend Jewish communities that are living all around us and are feeling the heat. This is only about a year after the horrific shooting in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. And don't think the Jewish people aren't worried. This is, after Israel, the biggest Jewish community in the world and people in the Jewish community are starting to look at one another and say, do we have a future here? Will the United States go the way of Europe? Do we have to escape? Do we have to go to Israel to really live a safe and secure Jewish life? That's, that's a scary thing.

 

Connect with Robert Nicholson

·         At philosproject.org

·         On Facebook

·         On Twitter

Episode Notes

Charisma Connection

With Chris Johnson

Guest: Robert Nicholson

Robert Nicholson is a Christian Zionist who believes in using positive Christian engagement to resolve the difficult issues of the Middle East. Learn more as host Chris Johnson talks with the founder and executive director of the Philos Project about its #WeResolve campaign.

Introduction

Chris Johnson: This is Charisma Connection. I'm Chris Johnson and I have a guest today who is working for a very important cause: peace in the Middle East. Many of you may read our Standing with Israel content online. So, I think you would want to know about an effort called the Philos Project. That's where Robert Nicholson is founder and executive director.

Robert, I can see that you are very well studied. You have an exceptional background for your work. Let me just go through some of that for our listeners. You hold a BA in Hebrew studies from Binghamton University. You have a JD and an MA in Middle Eastern history from Syracuse University. I understand you're calling us from Syracuse today. And, you are a former U.S. Marine. So, thank you for your service. We do and you also are a Tikvah fellow. I hope that you would explain to us what that is. But I want to say that you founded the Philos Project in 2014. That is the topic that we have today. So. let's start with what a Tikvah Fellow is. Am I pronouncing that correctly?

Robert Nicholson: Yes, you are actually. Tikvah is an organization based in New York City. It is something between a Jewish foundation and a think tank. They are dedicated to developing Jewish conservative thought essentially. I came to tick the sort of, in a strange way. I'm not Jewish. I'm Christian. Shortly after I became a Christian in my early 20s, I started studying Hebrew at a local synagogue and slowly found myself deeper and deeper in this space called Jewish-Christian relations, even though I didn't know it had a title at that point. I applied to the Tikvah fund. Lo and behold, they accepted me, a non-Jew, to study with Jews, religious and secular about some of the things that connect us, Jews and Christians together.

 

·         Join a chapter of the Philos Project

·         The Galilea Fellowship

 

Chris Johnson: So, that clearly presented the foundation for the Philos Project. Could you take us back to the beginning there and tell us what is Philos, and how did it come about?

Robert Nicholson: The technical answer is that Philos is a 501c3, nonprofit based in New York City. We founded it in 2014, so we're about five years old. But the deeper answer is that the Philos Project is really my effort to, you could say, impose my own spiritual journey on other people. I grew up sort of in a Christian home My mother was very Christian. But when I was about 12 or 13, I just disavowed all of that. It wasn't until my early 20s after high school and the Marine Corps, working jobs after I got out of the military, that I started to really feel that there was something missing in my life. Not an unusual story, but I picked up a copy of the Bible and started reading it, I suddenly realized that wow, this is much bigger and more important than I ever thought. The big turning point for me was when I realized that Christianity, which I had kind of always thought about as an American or European religion, was actually a Middle Eastern religion. This was around the time shortly after 9-11. The United States was preparing to invade Iraq. And even as I was digging through the spiritual implications of Christianity being a Middle Eastern religion, I also started to think about, call them the political implications … if it was true that my faith, this faith that I was becoming ever more connected to, was from this part of the world. As I'm watching all of these things happening on the news, what were the implications for my engagement with the people who live there? So, that really started a journey for me. Of course, it connected me with the Jewish people who were really the founders of Christianity, early, some small group of Jews. It also connected me to the Christian communities that still live in the Middle East today, communities that I had really never heard about before: the Copts, the Assyrians, the Maronites … who were these people, and what was my connection to them? That was really the genesis for me. At Philos, our mission is to promote positive Christian engagement with the Middle East. Really what that means is we try to educate Christians who live in the United States or in North America about the Middle East, about their spiritual connection to this part of the world. Also, to help them figure out what they can do to engage with the people who live there today.

 

What They’re Saying About Philos Project

·         “Philos empowered me to pursue one of my biggest dreams; to be a scholar in Brazil researching and speaking about Middle Eastern issues.” – Igor Sabino, Student and PLI Alumnus, 2017

·         “Philos really has impacted me in the most profound way. It has provided me with a pivot point of turning my creativity into advocacy and using my ability to better the lives of others. That is something that is incredibly powerful and long-lasting. Philos will continue to impact my life and hopefully, through me, others.” – Rachel Reynolds, Artist and PLI Alumni, 2018

·         “The Philos Project has not only made my Christian life come alive in a way that I've never experienced before, but it's helped me to gain knowledge that has proved so powerful in not just understanding the Middle East but in empowering me to share my experience and knowledge with others. And so to Philos, I give my greatest thank you.” – David Bereit, VIP trip participant, 2018

 

Chris Johnson: That's quite a journey. So, you're focused on positive Christian engagement, and that seems to signify that there is negative Christian engagement, doesn't it?

Robert Nicholson: It does, and actually that was really one of the founding goals was to show that there is in fact a positive way to engage the region. We, for all kinds of obvious reasons, associate the Middle East with danger and death and destruction and radicalism, and all these terrible things. It’s true that the Middle East is ever increasingly a dangerous place. We need to make sure that we are protecting ourselves from the dangers that that originate there. But there's also other things that are happening. We have friends in the region, and actually the word Philos in Greek means friend. What we're trying to do is to show that friendship, based on Judeo-Christian values, is really a great frame for how we living in the West can connect with this part of the world. So, through trips and through all kinds of educational programs and leadership opportunities, we're building that bridge. We're connecting Christians who live in the West with Christians and Jews and other people who share our values who are living in the Middle East. That kind of engagement, that positive engagement, actually opens up all kinds of opportunities that I think people haven't really thought enough about before.

 

·         Watch the story of the Philos Project

 

Chris Johnson: The Middle East is a volatile place. How do you work with people of other faiths there?

Robert Nicholson: So, what's called interfaced engagement is a tricky thing, especially as a Christian who is very much committed to the truth of my own faith. One of the mistakes I think people make in relating to Muslims or Jews or other groups is that they water down the things that they believe in hopes of finding some kind of consensus with people from these other religions. I actually think, and we think at the Philos Project, that's actually backward. It's precisely the things that we hold to be true that make us unique and that allow us to engage with other people who are no less committed to the things that they believe to be true. So, when we are working with Jews or working with Muslims, we're very upfront about the fact that we're Christians. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, is the Savior of the world. We believe in all of the things that come with Orthodox Christianity. But having said that, as people of faith, we understand that that you, the Jewish person, the Muslim person, also are deeply committed to your own faith. We may not share the things that you share, but we respect the fact that you that you cling to a higher truth. It’s actually an interesting situation to be in where, despite all of the many differences we have with Jews and with Muslims, in an era of rampant secularism, secular materialism, there are these moments where you're sitting across from somebody from another faith and you actually say, wow, we disagree on all kinds of theology, but we actually find ourselves kind of in the same boat these days. As the atheistic worldview makes so many gains around the world, it is important for people of all faiths, even as we hold our deeply held truths to say, look, you know, we should work together on behalf of religious freedom.

Chris Johnson: You also have something called the #WeResolve campaign with a hashtag. So, could you tell us about that a little bit?

Robert Nicholson: Yeah. We resolved is an advocacy campaign that we just launched at the Philos Project a few months ago in an effort to rally Christians to stand beside the Jewish people in a moment when anti-Semitism is back. Anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world. We know that anti-Semitism is a huge problem in the Middle East. We also know that it's become a big problem in Europe. Seventy years after the Holocaust, we're seeing the ideas that Hitler was advancing coming back just in a moment when we thought those ideas were defeated. They're coming back, they're coming back in a big way. This huge, huge problem with anti-Semitism in Europe. European Jews report on surveys that many, if not most of them, feel afraid from their fellow Europeans. They feel anti-Semitism rising around them. And it's not just in one or two countries. This is this is across the continent. But something that few people have really been talking about is the return of anti-Semitism right here in the United States. People may know or may not know, but up until not that long ago, 50-60 years ago, there were parts of this country where you could not be Jewish and participate. There were clubs and community associations and all kinds of things that you couldn't do. Universities that you couldn't go to, just because you were Jewish. This is a country that was founded on Judeo-Christian biblical principles. It's really a blight on our record. Thankfully, we've overcome that. But even in the last three, four or five years, things are changing. Things are sliding back the other way and there are all kinds of reasons for this. But whatever the reasons are, this is a major problem. The fact that anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish hostility could be taking root again in a country founded on Judeo Christian principles, is more than a tragedy. It's an outrage. Even though we see Christians standing up and going out to march on behalf of all kinds of important issues related to life and marriage and immigration, I don't see Christians standing up and going out to march on behalf of the Jewish people, the people who really gave us our faith. So, the We Resolve campaign is really an effort to change that. It’s built around a pledge, a petition, really just a short statement of why we believe that anti-Semitism is a problem and why Christians have a duty to confront it. It also includes a number of other things … videos and other resources that people can download, can share, can bring to their pastor and ask their church, asks their community to get involved and really to do something about this problem. A lot of the efforts to fight anti-Semitism are just that. It's about it's about fighting, combating, confronting. It's framed in a very negative way. But really what we need here is the same thing we need in the Middle East, and that's positive engagement. Right now we don't need to necessarily go out and fight anti-Semitism. We need to demonstrate friendship with the people who are the victims of anti-Semitism. We need to stand up, we need to reach out we need to befriend Jewish communities that are living all around us and are feeling the heat. This is only about a year after the horrific shooting in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. And don't think the Jewish people aren't worried. This is, after Israel, the biggest Jewish community in the world and people in the Jewish community are starting to look at one another and say, do we have a future here? Will the United States go the way of Europe? Do we have to escape? Do we have to go to Israel to really live a safe and secure Jewish life? That's, that's a scary thing.

 

Connect with Robert Nicholson

·         At philosproject.org

·         On Facebook

·         On Twitter

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Philos Project Promotes Positive Christian Engagement in Middle East