My wife and I watched the news of the horrible violence committed against Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh. As I saw the faces and stories of the deceased, I recognized people much like them in my churches over a 50-year span. The killer, ill with hate, was undoubtedly influenced by the rise of anti-Semitism (and political rhetoric) in our land.
Hence, here are some thoughts about how people of Christian faith can relate to people of other faiths.
The key ingredient in answering the question is the ethic of love of neighbor, an ethic that allows no room for hatred and dispels fear. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Matt. 22:39). “Perfect love casts out all fear” (I John 4:18).
A second ingredient is what we teach regarding near and distant neighbors of other faiths. I offer below several ways (for exhibition purposes expressed in the first person) and follow with some reflections of my own.
1. Exclusion: “I believe the other faiths are false. There is no common ground for conversation, let alone shared experience, prayer, worship, or fellowship with people of other faiths. Their conversion is the only way to relate.”
2. Simple profession: “This is the faith I profess. I will share it thoughtfully at the right time and place. I believe God’s love is in and over all peoples. I make no judgments about the truth of other faiths.”
3. Dialogue: “I find that my faith is strengthened, deepened, and enriched by dialogue, conversation, fellowship, worship, and service with people of other faiths and humanistic faiths.”
4. Syncretism: “I combine two or more religious traditions into my religion. All the higher religions at their heart contain the same truths. I am very comfortable working, praying, and worshiping with people of other faiths.”
Some personal reflections: As I read the story of Jesus, I find him breaking all the rules of an exclusive religion. He made heroes of those considered heretics. He was always drawing a larger circle of God’s love that included the excluded.
My faith walk has been enriched by friends of other faiths. Authors Abraham Heschel (a Jew) and Thich Nhat Hahn (a Buddhist) are only two, among many, that enrich my understanding.
There will be no peace until people of goodwill and faith are at peace with one another, and how we think about other faiths is critical. Shalom!