Christians are minority communities in Pakistan, in India, in Indonesia, in Palestine, in Egypt, in many African countries and in many other nations of the world. These Christians have learned to live with their neighbors. They have built community around common goals. They have educated their children about tolerance and love of the neighbor. They have witnessed to their faith through their living.
The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Each immigrant group has brought with them their religion and has planted that religion in American soil. In the planting has come changes to how the faith is practiced, but the possible changes to this nation are still in process. The bulk of U.S. citizens do not appreciate religious difference and certainly have a great deal of ignorance about even the major faiths of the world (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) let alone those who have fewer followers.
We have religious freedom in this country. That freedom did not come into being easily and as each new immigrant group arrived in the 18th, 19th and 20th century the concept had to be reinforced. The Puritans wanted to establish Massachusetts as a Christian state and put Roger Williams on trial for disagreeing with them. Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were established on the principles of religious freedom and it wasn’t until 1786 that Virginia adopted a statue on religious freedom that was the model used in the Bill of Rights. This freedom is not easily maintained and “requires the revisiting and reclaiming the energy and vision of democracy in every generation and with every new arrival.” It is because of this freedom that we now have religious diversity and this needs to be celebrated.
How are we going to work with our sisters and brother of other faiths? Are we willing to become people that can go beyond a recognition of our diversity to actively engaging others/ Are we willing to dialogue about the issues of faith with each other and thus to grow in our own faith? Are we able to commit to the ongoing process of participation and community building with each other? Are we really committed to love our neighbor, to be people of hospitality and builders of a pluralist society?
These are difficult but necessary questions. Add to these the questions of theology that have stymied and polarized Christians for years. Is God present or absent in the religious life of those of other faiths? Are we worshiping the same God? Is interfaith worship theologically correct? What is salvation and is Jesus required for salvation for those of other faiths? What does it mean to affirm the Lordship of Jesus and be a faithful follower and witness of him? We will not agree on the answers to these theological questions, but we must be willing to engage in conversation, dialogue, and community building with our neighbor and let our deeds and words be a profound witness to the Christian faith.
I recommend for your reading “Holy Envy” by Barbara Brown Taylor in which she tells of her experiences as a teacher of Religion 101 at Piedmont College.
Joyce D. Sohl, Laywoman-in-Residence
Joyce D. Sohl has been Laywoman-in-Residence since 2009 as a full-time volunteer. She retired as CEO of United Methodist Women in 2004. She is the author of 4 books, a teacher, retreat leader, writer and non-professional musician. Here at the Center her work is in the area of Spirituality & the Arts with such programs as Tuesdays in the Chapel, Vespers & All That Jazz, Poet’s Corner, quarterly retreats, and art exhibits.