Obama's Religion Doctrine: Almost There
"5. The danger of extremism." Markoe completes her analysis of the Obama Doctrine on Religion with a reference to the President's call to marginalize those who resort to violence for whatever reason, whether hatred of America or Israel. Here Obama could have gone further and mentioned the related danger of thinking that it is just "them" who harbor extremism and the extremists. Muslim and Jew, Christian and Pagan, Buddhist and Hindu, struggle with the presence of those in their religious communities who fuel the flames of violence. Extremism must be addressed within religious communities by their own adherents and in partnership with like-minded individuals across religious traditions.
All of these elements are important, and can comprise not only an Obama Doctrine of Religion, but also point the way toward a general prescription for interreligious engagement in a post-9/11 world. The President is almost there, but one significant element is missing. He doesn't go far enough. How do we address a situation where people must overcome religious stereotypes and prejudices, to arrive not merely at a place of tolerance, but rather to genuine relationships, understanding, and embrace of diversity and our differences? The answer is found in relational encounters where we share our disagreements and competing truth claims in a process of civil contestation.
As Charles Randall Paul, founder and President of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy shared with me in our interactions over Obama's speech,
"In this new era we who care about our loved ones and improving the world should stand up and advocate with clarity our inspiring beliefs and ideals. And when our different ideals conflict with those of others we must have the courage to engage eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart in a respectful contestation of truth without threat of coercion. God has not imposed one religion on the world by force, and we humans should never try to do so. We all know that only by means of honest persuasion can the human heart can be opened to change. We can contemptuously tolerate our critics but nothing will change. If however we honor our religious critics and rivals with honest, quiet conversation—listening as sincerely as proclaiming—we will find a new love arises in our hearts that yields an unusual admiration and a stern patience without compromising our integrity. This is the right way to improve our world and remain true to our faith. We must teach our children how to do it by example. So every one of us that desires our religion to influence the world for good should act now by listening to and openly befriending someone who disagrees with our religion."
In response to 9/11 a past president articulated a doctrine related to a "War on Terror." Years later we continue to wrestle with the impact of these ideas, and now another President has presented a new doctrine related to religion. How do these doctrines relate? With continued tensions in the world related to religion, what is the best prescription for interreligious engagement and peace? Hopefully these questions and their related responses can find their way on the agenda of evangelicals just as they now dominate the thoughts of our political leaders. President Obama has articulated a prescription for the religious problems that ail us. People of faith must provide the missing element and move it forward.
John W. Morehead is the Custodian of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, the Director of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, and has been involved in interreligious dialogue for many years in the contexts of Islam, Mormonism, and Paganism. He is editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega.