Have you ever wanted to be called a complete and total heretic by a Conservative Christian? Here is how you do it, speak about Religious Tolerance; yup, that will do it every time.
Over my ministry I’ve been blessed [in the sarcastic Southern Baptist Church kind of way] to speak with many conservatives who have a very distorted view of Religious Tolerance. For many, the idea of Religious Tolerance means, ‘befriending someone of another faith, in order to convert them.’ If conversion is impossible, simply insult the other religion, and move on to the next. Whenever I mention Religious Tolerance to the more conservative of our faith, I find myself having to defend my what I believe – as one young women put it, ‘How can you be a true follower of the true Jesus and see other faiths are right?’ [We would need to kill and entire forest to unpack that question, so let me give a short answer]
For many in the Conservative Religious Conversation, Religious Tolerant seems to mean they need to accept what others believe. For them, it follows they must denounce what they believe; keeping in mind, neither is true. Let me share with you how I have come to understand Religious Tolerance in my faith journey.
Several years back, I was at a conversation involving several different religious traditions. During the gathering, an Imam said something I didn’t agree with, and I told him so. We had a very healthy debate concerning the issue at hand. At that point, all the others in the gathering tried to soften his words, and mine, and neither of us were excited about.
At the end of the meeting the Imam approached me and asked if we could get coffee once a week, and just chat. I told him I would love to, but asked him ‘Why me?’ His reply opened my eyes, ‘When I speak, they will not disagree with me, so much so I keep wondering why they are not Muslim. You are different. I already know what I believe, and I want to have conversations with people who are different. I am comfortable in my faith, and I desire to speak with others who are comfortable in their faith.’His words guided me in understanding how I view Religious Tolerance, and how we need to open ourselves too other. Here are a few things that come to mind.
Religious Tolerance does not mean you have to ignore your faith. One of the greatest things I have seen in my life is people of faith, all different faiths, join together and share their points of view and never once expect the other to convert. Now, let me be clear here, not ignoring your faith does not mean you need to be an ass about it.
Religious Tolerance doesn’t mean you give-up what you believe; in fact, it centers you on what you do believe. Having a conversation about faith with someone from a different faith tradition should cause you to go deeper into your faith. Several times I was asked a question, and had to say “I don’t know, let me get back with you.”
Religious Tolerance encourages conversation. Knowing you are safe in what you believe, and the other person is safe in what they believe, opens the door to some wonderful conversations. I learned more about Islam, and the Quran, from my friend then I could have learned from a conservative theologian.
Religious Tolerance opens us to a new understanding. Meeting with my new friend changed my point of view, not on what I believed, but on what I believed about Islam – and I’m certain what I shared with him over time changed the way he thought about my faith. We got to the point where what we believed was expressed in our understanding of each other.
We have to remember, Religious Tolerance is not denying what you believe in favor of another point of view – Religious Tolerance is living in the tension, knowing we all believe something different, without demanding everyone believe the same things you believe.