Monday, February 04, 2013

Grand Rapids, and Interfaith?

Grand Rapids, Michigan is not the first city that comes to mind as an example of Evangelicals grappling positively with religious pluralism, perhaps even in an exemplary way. But according to a recent segment at Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on PBS it is. Here's a segment of the transcript from the video:
Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a city with deep roots in conservative Calvinist Christianity—a place where dancing and card playing were once banned, mowing the lawn on Sunday was frowned upon into the 1960s, and in more recent years, a professor who taught evolution at Calvin College encountered harsh criticism. Though the Dutch Reformed Church and its more conservative offshoot, the Christian Reformed Church, is still a strong presence here, Grand Rapids today is also home to 82 Catholic parishes, five mosques, two synagogues, and Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh temples. Interfaith dialogue would have been considered unacceptable by many here in the past. But in the last year, with support from the mayor and a wide range of community leaders, Grand Rapids has held 250 events aimed at deepening interfaith understanding.
Of particular note in the video is Dr. Douglas Kindschi with his distinction between "thin" and "thick" forms of dialogue, with the latter not compromising on religious convictions in interreligious encounters. Another is Pastor Kyle Ray's concerns that many forms of dialogue do indeed compromise religious truth claims, and the pastor reflects the concerns many Evangelicals have about dialogue. Dr. Kindschi's call for "thick" dialogue is the right approach to such endeavors, and the one advocated by the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.

The video also details a key demographic in receptivity to interreligious engagement via younger members of a religious tradition. High school as well as college and university students are already interested in engaging other religions more positively, so this makes for the right audience. Even so, it can also be a challenge in that many younger Evangelicals can also be hesitant to engage in "dialogue" and are more interested in evangelism.

Yet in spite of these promising developings in Grand Rapids, it appears that it has yet to impact a key religious demographic, that of Evangelicals. In my follow up to Kelly James Clark in relation to this activity, he responsed that this has yet to spill over into Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids has connections not only to Calvinism and the Christian Reformed Church, but also broader Evangelicalism, including the Evangelical publishers Kregel and Thomas Nelson. If programs like this cannot find a way to prepare Evangelicals in Grand Rapids to embrace a new way of engaging those in other religions that is faithful to their religious convictions and makes a more positive contribution to the common good in the public square, then it cannot serve as a model for the rest of the nation given the size and prominence of American Evangelicals.

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