Friday, March 02, 2012

Evangelicals and the Challenge of Relationships and Civility in Religious Engagement

Recently an essay in The Orange County Register by Jim Hinch titled "Rick Warren builds bridge to Muslims" discussed Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, and his efforts to develop relationships with Muslims in southern California. An important part of the essay was the mention of criticism that Warren has received from evangelicals, some accusing him of fostering "Chrislam," a heretical syncretism of the two religions. The article notes that Warren has stated publicly that this is not the case.

The pastor in the video clip above likewise received criticism from evangelicals for his actions. These events indicate that evangelicals face a challenge when they move beyond proclamation of their message, and a defensive posture in regards to other religions, particularly Islam. And it's not only a challenge for adults. It's also impacting our youth. Consider the 2011 Barna survey on why young adults are leading the church. Here was issue number 1:
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
A few of the defining characteristics of today's teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).
Connected to this idea is the possibility that church's are too protective when it comes to exposing evangelical young adults to an understanding of and engagement with those in other religions.

We must recognize that evangelicals are not only called as Jesus followers to value the missio Dei, the evangelistic sharing of their message, but also to be peacemakers, and that it is possible to share the Christian message with conviction and without compromise, while also doing so in respectful and civil ways that value persons of other religious traditions.


John L said...

John, I'm wrestling with the notion of "Christian Identity"

I wonder if Jesus came to create a new kind of religious tribe, or to free us from the need from religious tribalism. I'm wondering if Jesus is asking us to replace religious identity ("I'm a Christian, I' a Catholic, I'm a ________") with radical new ideals of selfless love, embracing even those farthest from our own group identities - embracing those we formerly considered outsiders, even enemies.

Trying to understand all this in context of baptism, gathering together, the "us" in Mk 9:40, Lk 9:50, etc..

The more I observe, the less it appears we're to assume some kind of religious-tribal identity, but rather become free of such baggage.

When we value our turf and our identity above others, it requires protection, and we end up protecting our ideas about religion and faith. But does Spirit needs our protection?

Perhaps "civility" is just the beginning in a move towards deeper human embrace, and away from today's forms of religious identity.

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks for your thoughts, John. I think a key identity here is as a follower of Jesus and his way of engaging the other and building the Kingdom. Establishing interreligious relationships and civility is certainly a way of expressing that new identity, or freedom from other forms of identity formation in the past.

John L said...

John, that sounds good, but in practice it so often seems like institutional and tribal behavior (us vs. them) wins out over empathy and brotherhood. Too often, small-c community trumps the sense of global community. Religion all too commonly becomes a form of group-think politics.

It's increasingly apparent to me that many beliefs and ideals promoted by any particular religious tribe are really just universal human and moral values that need no religious validation.

John W. Morehead said...

I agree that there are some universal human values involved, but also some particulars, that bring them into line with various religious communities. In addition, ideological values are grounded into something transcendent, or some ultimate immanent, so I don't know that such values find or need no validation.