| On May 7th (or other times during the year) – churches dedicate their worship to a celebration of our religiously diverse world.
Progressive Christians give thanks for this diversity! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to others. We recognize that other religions and traditions can be as good for others as ours is for us. We can grow closer to the Divine and deeper in compassion – and we can understand ourselves better – through a more intimate awareness of all the world’s religions and traditions.
Sponsored by ProgressiveChristianity.org, Pluralism Sunday is one way of fulfilling Point 2 of The 8 Points of Progressive Christianity:
On PLURALISM SUNDAY, churches celebrate other traditions in a variety of ways: sermons, litanies, and music; speakers and singers from other traditions, for example. Some congregations have exchanges with other faith communities, going to each other’s houses of worship. It’s entirely up to you!
SIGN UP NOW to be listed as a participating congregation for 2017 by emailing Rev. Susan Strouse, Pluralism Sunday Coordinator. (You can celebrate the event on other dates and still be listed as participants – indicate your plans for the event to Susan so these details can be listed on our site.)
I will admit that the past few days have left me with a mix of emotions from depression to anger and back again. Yesterday, it was anger mixed with just plain grouchiness. Plus I was stressed because I wasn’t getting enough work done due to (see above).
Then a wondrous thing happened. About forty young people arrived at church along with their teacher to learn about Lutherans. The group was from the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution. The class is “What Is Catholicism?” and is a requirement for all students. So it was a pretty mixed bag of Catholics and Protestants (no Lutherans, though). They were visiting various Christian churches and our place on the schedule followed a field trip to an Eastern Orthodox church.
Their teacher had emailed me earlier to confirm and had warned me that his class was feeling pretty upset by the election results, so we might want to deal somehow with that. So my colleague, Anders Peterson from Middle Circle, and I set up a space with a few candles and planned some songs and readings that we could use, depending on the needs of the group.
The students arrived with the kind of energy that only young college students have. Once we got them all settled in, we read a statement and call to action from The Charter for Compassion:
- the process used in Christian-Jewish dialogues that led to repudiation of anti-Semitic writings of Martin Luther and expressions of sorrow and repentance
- the differences in Communion practices between Lutherans and other Christian churches – what kind of bread, for example
- who was allowed to receive Communion
- our understanding of baptism
- why we don’t use the Nicene Creed (which is a First United decision, not a pan-Lutheran one)
- could Lutheran ministers get married
There were many nods of agreement, but there were also a few exchanges of differences, for instance in the use of the Creed.
But it was all done with good will, curiosity, and respect. A real intrafaith encounter! It warmed my heart on an otherwise bleak day. People of differing backgrounds and practices coming together to learn about one another can only contribute to peace in the world.
A revolution of love! Yes!
According to a recent article in the Christian Century (Sept. 28, 2016), one reason America has become less religious is our religious diversity. It goes on to say:
Although religious pluralism is not necessarily the cause of declining religiosity, it does expose people to ideas and prices that challenge their faith.
All I have to say is, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The story of Elsie (see blog post from December, 2015) is a perfect illustration of the above quote – and further rationale for engaging in the intrafaith conversation.
This is not simply an interesting add-on to the work of ministry today. It is integral to the message we preach and preach, the mission we promote, and the church we want to become.
A big thanks to all of you who are reading the book in your churches and passing it along to friends. Keep the movement going!
Here’s a good assessment of our intrafaith milieu . . .
When people ask questions like “Why do we pick and choose our religious beliefs?” they usually don’t mean “we” but “they.” This is because within such a question, there is often an implied criticism of “religion”—however defined—that has not been swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
In this recent example, the question is being asked about America’s youth, and the answer is —what else?— “Blame social media.” A Baylor study, relying on information from Notre Dame’s National Study of Youth and Religion, finds that people who have been exposed to social media from young ages are more likely to agree that it is “OK for someone of your religion to also practice other religions.”
Without weighing in on the merits of this particular study (which requires login access), and after a couple of decades studying and teaching religion/s, I feel safe in saying that “we” pick and choose among tenets and practices because “we” are human and that is what humans do.
The term cafeteria Christianity is one I grew up with in evangelical circles, usually referring to those Christians who went to church on Sundays but then did whatever they wanted the rest of the week. In recent decades though, the left has gleefully co-opted the term, now applying it to supposed Bible-believers for selective neglect of certain teachings, like those on divorce or economic justice or contraception.
Both uses ignore the fact that human beings are reasoning animals. Some humans embrace the traditions they inherit, more or less as they receive them. This does not mean they are—necessarily—mindless idiots, but rather that these traditions work well for them for a variety of complex reasons. Other humans question, ignore, revise, rebel against, or even convert to different traditions. This does not mean that they are—necessarily—selfish, but rather that their forebears’ traditions do not work well for them, again for a variety of complex reasons. There is no simple way to explain why some of us submit to the whole shebang and others don’t.
In the spirit of gross oversimplification, I blame not social media but Constantinian Catholicism—not for intra-religious diversity, but for the idea that life should be any other way. Before 325 CE there existed a vast network of small clusters of pagan and Jewish Christians around the Mediterranean, mostly meeting in people’s homes, sharing a collection of related but not uniform sacraments and stories about Jesus.
But when Constantine became the Roman Caesar he decided he needed to build a more uniform religion for his empire. The religious power elite saw their chance and spent the next decades fighting over which version of Christianity would prevail, developing a biblical canon, determining official formulae for Jesus and the Trinity, and approving only certain ways of doing baptism and communion. By the end of the century, Theodosius I would outlaw all “wrong” forms of Christian belief and practice and punish them severely.
The emergence of an “official” or “orthodox” or “pure” Christianity in the fourth century, however, does not mean Christians haven’t continued to choose their religious beliefs and practices. In the eighth century, for example, the orthodox St. Boniface “had to” cut down an oak tree for Thor that remained sacred to Germanic Christians; the break-up between Eastern and Western churches in 1054 was largely a matter of Roman intolerance of Eastern variety; and medieval inquisitions existed for the purpose of cracking down on unlawful Christian variations. This is to say nothing of the picking and choosing unleashed in the 16th century by Luther and his ilk. (What could be more ironic than any Protestant pointing fingers at anyone about picking and choosing?)
Christian history, in other words, could be uniquely summed up as the millennia-long battle to define “true” Christianity. It didn’t have to be this way. In China, for example, most folks have no problem mixing and matching three or more religious traditions, and the idea of a unified Hinduism was more or less invented in the modern era. But most traditions have at least some who take a my-way-or-the-highway approach and have particular shibboleths upon which no compromise is possible. (What would mainstream religion coverage look like without them?)
Nevertheless, despite the best efforts of those who would make their traditions an all-or-nothing proposition, human beings have gone on picking and choosing, if perhaps never quite as unabashedly as young Americans in the 21st century.
I cannot say it any better than the ancient sage, Qoheleth, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). For that matter, “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Eccl. 7:9).
Religious purity—indeed any kind of pure cultural tradition—has always only ever been a dream for control freaks. It’s high time we gave that dream up, not only in the spirit of neighborly love, but also for the sake of asking more interesting questions.