What is our problem? How have we developed such a narrow-minded faith that we cannot interact with people who believe differently with any kind of tact, grace or kindness? Why can we not “offer an invitation” to know our God without turning it into a defiant line in the sand? Day after day there are new stories about Christians attacking non-Christians, and Christian leaders saying all kinds of nasty things about Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews. Uhm, did I miss something? Aren’t we supposed to speak truth in love and manifest the fruits of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control — especially with those whom we disagree?
I have been promoting interfaith and interreligious cooperation and communication — especially in light of what has happened in Haiti — and I am getting my head handed to me. Christians from all over are accusing me of heresy and compromising the purity of the gospel. I am hearing from people who want to have nothing to do with “towel-heads” and “Satanists.” People who would never engage in racial slurs have absolutely no problem practicing religious bigotry at the drop of a hat. Question: is a child of God any less a child of God simply because he or she doesn’t believe in God? Is our edict to treat each person as we would treat the Christ any less binding on someone who doesn’t believe what we do? Come on!
I have encountered a growing interfaith intolerance over the past decade. Now, I am not sure that the intolerance is growing, but I am spending more time promoting ecumenical and interfaith engagement. Some truly spiritual visionaries — calling us to a global compassion and justice — are Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus (as well as Christians). Is the vision false or corrupt simply because it comes from “the wrong mouths?” Can the word of God cross lips that preach another belief system? Is our God so weak and impotent that other’s words can negate God’s truth and purpose? In my own twisted opinion, it is not those who seek interfaith collaboration who lack faith, but those whose beliefs are so fragile that they think they might be tainted by engaging with non-Christians.
I once wrote that Bernie Glassman’s, Bearing Witness, was the most Christian book I had read in a long time. Glassman was raised Jewish and became Buddhist, but in a very real sense he is first and foremost a deeply spiritual, fundamentally good, person. I received hate mail from United Methodists appalled that I would recommend “sacrilegious” books. When I reviewed and highlighted Mariana Caplan’s excellent, Halfway Up the Mountain, a book that explores the dangers of taking shortcuts and over-simplifying religion and spiritual enlightenment, I had pressure put on me by a bishop to take it off the website because it “honored anti-Christian, godless” belief systems.
The ultimate flaw in this kind of logic is this: just suppose we are right and everyone else is wrong. If we want to continue to be a positive witness for Christ, how can we do that by slamming the door on all contact and dialogue with people who believe differently than we do? I want to WITNESS to the power and goodness and life and light that comes from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I want to let people see how wonderful this life can be. I want to share the core values, beliefs and practices of a life-affirming, loving and just faith with others. I want to offer Christ to everyone, and hope they find enough value to accept it for themselves. I want to find out how others think and believe so that I can find common ground and celebrate the ways we share a vision for beauty, truth, and justice. My faith in God is strong — I’m not going to lose it because someone else shares a different, attractive faith.
We live in an ever-expanding, ever-integrating global community. Competition and an unrelenting “us vs. them” mindset will do no one any good. We must find gracious and healthy ways to disagree, yet enjoy one another’s company. We have got to develop open means of communication that don’t necessarily imply agreement, but do convey respect. And we need to soften our language so that we don’t tell others “we must,” “we’ve got to,” and “we need to” all the time. (See I’m self-aware…)