“The Buddhists Are Coming! The Buddhists Are Coming!”

To those of you who are American Evangelical Christians, what do you feel when you read these words “The Buddhists are coming! The Buddhists are coming!”? Consternation? Fear? Joy?

This summer, I was invited to share a few words at a groundbreaking event for a Zen Buddhist temple where my dear friends, Kyogen and Gyokuko Carlson, serve as abbots. I have worked with them and their community for several years now in Portland, Oregon, on matters pertaining to spirituality and the common good. When my students (who were also invited to join me) and I arrived, one Buddhist  practitioner exclaimed with a smile on her face, “The Christians are coming! The Christians are coming!” Later, when I shared during the ceremony, I recounted the incident and those gathered for the event laughed. Then I went on to say, “The Buddhists are coming! The Buddhists are coming! And I am glad they are here.”

Many Buddhists as well as Evangelicals may be surprised that an Evangelical like myself would be glad the Buddhists are here. The history between our movements in the States has been fraught with difficulties in that we are often on opposite ends of the culture war spectrum (Kyogen alluded to these tensions when he introduced me). Then there is the traditional Evangelical claim that “Jesus is the only way,” a view I hold. So, why would I say I am glad the Buddhists are here?

Many traditional Evangelicals may think that the only reason I could and should be glad that Buddhists are here is so that I can share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. While that is one of the reasons for my being glad the Buddhists are here, it is certainly not the only reason; nor does it overshadow all the others. Other reasons include the following: the Zen Buddhists whom I know and with whom I work are making a great impact in the community. Among other things, they are revitalizing an urban space, partnering with the neighborhood, a local high school and civic leaders, removing invasive species, and building community gardens. Moreover, their presence allows us Evangelicals the opportunity to address Christian wrongs committed against other religious traditions by being hospitable and neighborly, correcting misperceptions and misdeeds. Whether or not we Christians convert anyone to Christ, we need to demonstrate that we have been converted to Christ by being hospitable to our “religious other” neighbors. Last but certainly not least, it gives us the opportunity as diverse religious neighbors and friends to work together to cultivate the common good for years to come. In other words, we have the opportunity to revitalize our urban community together.

I am grateful to my Buddhist neighbors that they did not find me to be an invasive species at their gathering. Hopefully, those of us who are Evangelical Christians don’t see these Buddhists as invasive either. We need to trust in God’s providence rather than become paranoid about the fast-changing religious landscape in the U.S. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs Christians to be prepared in every occasion to give the reason for the hope that is within us with gentleness and respect. I don’t need to be paranoid about America becoming increasingly a multi-faith society like Peter’s setting in the first century, but rather trust in God’s providence and that God will help you and me become more thoughtful and gracious witnesses in word and deed in the twenty-first century. That way, hopefully when our Buddhists neighbors see us coming, they won’t be alarmed, but rather welcome us as friends.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • Loren Sickles

    “Whether or not we Christians convert anyone to Christ, we need to demonstrate that we have been converted to Christ by being hospitable to our ‘religious other’ neighbors.”

    This line pretty much sums up what has been missing when Evangelical Christians (I know I’m using a broad brush here) interact with the broader community.

    • pmetzger

      Thank you, @lorensickles:disqus. I agree with your assessment that this has often been the case in our engagement of people, especially those of diverse religious traditions.

  • Alyosha

    I was raised in the Presbyterian church and took refuge vows in in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage nearly thirty years ago. Thank you for the sentiments expressed in this post.

    • pmetzger

      Thank you, @disqus_vM9s7P2cQk:disqus. I have valued my interaction and friendships with adherents of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, a few of them are involved in dialogues I coordinate with Abbot Kyogen Carlson made up of Buddhists and Evangelical Christians.

  • Nathan Bubna

    Yup. Hospitality to “the other” demonstrates confidence in God and in our faith. Hostility to “the other” demonstrates insecurity and lack of trust in God’s control of the situation.

    • pmetzger

      Well put, @Nathan Bubna. Right on target.

  • Jerry Lynch

    There was a period in my life when I seriously rebelled against my Christian faith and all things that hinted of it. I read everything I could that challenged Christianity or looked to damage it. I wanted to become a perfect witness vilifying Christianity. At this time, a friend, a practicing Buddhist, gave me the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, which lead me into a four year study of Buddhism…which led me back to Christ. And not because I found Buddhism lacking in any way but because I begin to see the truth of Christ in Buddhism. This launched an intensive study of scripture, something quite lacking in my old Catholicism. For me, as God sees fit to deal with me, I suppose (and hope), the Mystics best reveal the truth of our relationship with God, though for you and others, as God sees fit to deal with you, I believe we share the same Way, Truth, and Life.

    • pmetzger

      @Jerry Lynch Thank you for sharing a bit of your faith journey. It is so often the case, isn’t it, that as we engage the diverse religious other, we come to find out who we are in our own faith tradition? I appreciate your perspective. God’s blessings.

  • M.

    ” The history between our movements in the States has been fraught with
    difficulties in that we are often on opposite ends of the culture war

    How are Buddhists and Evangelical Christians on opposite ends of the culture war spectrum?

    • pmetzger

      Thank you for your question. In general, the movements have taken opposing stands on abortion and gay marriage, among other issues.