What does it look like to live out the Christian faith in a multi-faith society? My recent Leadership Journal article titled “The One and the Many: Ministry that’s clearly Christian in a multi-faith world” begins with the following words:
We now minister in a multi-faith society. Our congregants are living and working in a multi-faith world.
Our congregants of Asian-American heritage may very well attend funeral services of Buddhist family members where incense is burned.
Our church members will probably be asked during a coffee break what they make of the Dalai Lama as a spiritual guide, or what they think of Islam.
Other parishioners might be enrolled in yoga classes or may have close Mormon friends. Our church members need to know how to talk about and interact constructively with those of other faith traditions… (The full article can be found online at Leadership Journal)
In addition to what I write in the article, where I draw from the examples of military chaplains, pastors and Dr. Billy Graham participating in multi-faith settings of different kinds in grace and truth-filled ways, it is important that we continue to reflect on how to live out the Great Commission in our day as we train those entrusted to our spiritual care. Such training will include teaching those we mentor to obey all that Jesus commanded, taking to heart the staggering claim that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus’ instructions included the Great Commandment of loving God with all one’s heart and the ensuing instruction to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22: 34-40; Mark 12:28-34). Certainly, this is a tall order! What does such training look like for Christians seeking to live out the New Testament teaching that includes baptizing people in the singular name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19) in a multi-faith society in the twenty-first century? Certainly, Jesus and his followers like Paul lived in a multi-faith society. In many ways, ours is similar. In other ways, it is quite different. More on that in a later post.
What I write here is intended to stimulate ideas and cultivate conversation. By no means should these brief reflections be taken to be exhaustive. Moreover, I plan on writing a series of posts on this subject.
Teaching our disciples/parishioners to love God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves will move us beyond avoiding how to engage people of diverse religious backgrounds and beyond compromising our faith to engage them. So, where might one begin?
While one may be overwhelmed by the prospect of interacting with someone of another faith tradition such as Islam, Buddhism or Paganism if one does not know much about that particular tradition, one can still learn to ask good questions that invite rather than negate conversations. Inquisitiveness rather than an inquisitional posture is key. One can be inquisitive in a way that does not leave one’s own faith behind, and which is informed by one’s faith. In fact, the answers people of other faith traditions provide can shed light on parallels and also distinctive and unique features of the respective faith traditions that further inform one’s own faith.
Just this week I was in a conversation with a person of a different faith tradition, where I asked the individual in question what it is she believes and practices and why she finds her particular tradition so fulfilling. I asked simply out of a desire to understand. None of my questions were loaded, though I always welcome the opportunity to share the reason for the hope that I have in Christ in a manner that is hopefully gentle and respectful, as Peter commends (1 Peter 3:15).
If I care about my diverse religious neighbor as myself (and based on Jesus’ teaching in Luke 10:25-37, my neighbor is not simply the person who believes like me!), I will take an interest in what matters most to that person, just as I would hope the person in question would take an interest in what matters most to me. Taking an interest in what matters most to another person does not entail compromise. In fact, I may strongly disagree with this or that adherent of another faith tradition, and in the right context and in a gracious and truth-aspiring spirit, express how my convictions differ and why. Going further, far from compromising my faith, taking the views of another human being seriously is for me bound up with taking Jesus seriously, who knows intimately every detail of our human condition and all our aspirations.
More to come.
This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.