Book Club Channel
Let's Talk About God: A Call to Interfaith Dialogue
Editor's Note: Kirby Godsey's book, Is God a Christian? is currently being featured in the Patheos Book Club.
Opening conversations with people of other faiths is becoming increasingly urgent in a world where people act out their religious prejudices by killing innocents and engaging in other terrorist acts of wanton human destruction. The recent tragedy in Norway reveals the horrors that can be done in the name of faith. Such episodes cause all of us to shudder, wondering how our distorted and sometimes twisted confessions of faith can contribute to such malicious, even psychotic behavior.
The church cannot afford to brush aside these episodes, shaking our heads in disbelief. We, the Christian church, this community of devout believers who believe Jesus is the way, must enter this treacherous territory of confronting the evil that is being sown abroad in the name of God. If we fail to speak, we become complicit in contributing to the abuse of religion and failing to take responsibility for the evils being perpetuated in the name of the faith we affirm.
At the outset, we should set aside the notion that our own faithfulness can be demonstrated by rejecting the legitimacy or integrity of other faiths. The plurality of faiths will not disappear if we simply ignore them. It is foolish to think that God has taken up residence only in our own religion and acts with anger or judgment toward all others. Such a myopic view represents a religion that has been overtaken by narcissism.
God is the God of all people. God's light shines upon all people. As Christians, our confessions should not be used to assert any limitation on the will or the voice or the intervention of God in human affairs. Insecurity in our own beliefs is the chief culprit that causes us to feel that we need to overturn the validity of another's faith in order to be sure of our own. While we can only speak from where we stand, we should leave every other believer free to do the same. We are neither wise enough nor good enough to judge the faith of another.
Christian belief, then, is not about claiming absolute certainty or giving unencumbered allegiance to the doctrines of our faith. Belief is not a set of facts to affirm, but a commitment to make. When we say "Jesus Christ is Lord," we are not stating a fact; we are making a commitment to follow Jesus. As followers of Jesus, our commitment to Jesus as the Christ becomes the defining center of our lives. The integrity of that commitment, however, is in no way dependent upon the invalidity or the lack of integrity of someone else's religious commitment. Our aim should not be to wage war among competing commitments. Both reason and good faith point us in a different direction. Grace will be more powerful than war. Thoughtful conversation will be more productive than religious bullying.
If we are to cultivate serious interfaith conversations, we should realize that understanding begins with listening, not talking. If as congregations of faith we are confident and committed in our own belief, how do we begin to reach out to neighbors who embrace other faiths? If we are able to convert our anxiety and distrust into friendship and understanding, we will have taken a giant step toward peace and building a framework for hope in the world. Jesus embraced and affirmed the worth of people whether they followed him or not. Passing baskets of "loaves and fishes" was not preceded by an altar call. We should feed one another and ask questions later.
R. Kirby Godsey, Ph.D., served 27 years as President and CEO of Mercer University before being named Chancellor in 2006. A dynamic and engaging speaker, Godsey is also the author of several books, including the new Is God a Christian? Read an interview with Dr. Godsey at the Patheos Book Club here.