Among the requisite qualities for my new job as SMU Chaplain, I find these three: (1) passionate commitment to Christ, (2) strong United Methodist identity and (3) openness to people of other faiths. The third point is particularly important because of the number of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other students. I am eagerly looking forward to getting acquainted with them, but I am also aware of the tension in the aforementioned job requirements.
One might reasonably ask, “How can you be passionately committed to Christ and be open to other faith expressions?” Part of the way one would answer that question depends on how one defines “open.”
Some religious beliefs have universal implications, meaning that if I believe ‘A,’ then by believing ‘A’ I cannot coherently believe ‘B.’ I think the belief in God as Trinity and the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus of Nazareth fit this logic, which prevents me from believing certain other beliefs about God and Jesus.
Drawing these conclusions, how, then, do I “be open” to other faith expressions? When we lived in the Chicago area during graduate school days, our next door neighbors to one side were Chinese Buddhists and our neighbors on the other were Jewish. They were our friends. Period. Did we talk about Jesus? Yes. Did we manipulate conversations and twist and turn them in order to “witness” about Jesus? Absolutely not. You don’t treat friends that way.
Part of faithful Christian witness is the appropriate use of power inherent in relationshps. We are both powerful and vulnerable in real relationshps. We can uplift or harm others and they can do the same. In addition to my beliefs about Jesus, I have other beliefs (that come from Jesus), about how to treat people.
In the sermon, “On Living Without God,” Mr. Wesley has the following to say (Warning: it’s a long quote in 18th century idiom): “Let it now be observed that I…have no authority from the word of God ‘to judge those that are without [i.e. outside Christianity];’ nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to Him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh;’ who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that He hath made.”
My translation: It’s God’s job to judge, not mine (thank God!). God made all people, so we can leave the sorting out of people’s eternal destinies to God. Since God made all people, God loves all people. Furthermore, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors. Hopefullly, I embody the love of Jesus for all to see. When I am given the opportunity to talk about my faith in Christ, I will do so with clarity, passion and gentleness.
In other words, I am not a pluralist. I’m not interested in “blending” or matching doctrines from diverse religions for the sake of peace. This approach demeans the integrity of all religions. As a passionately committed believer in the Triune God, then, I am eager to undertake my responsibility to welcome people of other faiths, to make sure they have all appropriate means to exercise that faith as they see fit and to learn from them as God continues to work, however mysteriously, in us all.
There is much more to say on this matter, I know. I’ll keep thinking about how I should say it.