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In the span of only a few weeks last fall, Christians managed to ignite controversies with the world's major religions. No small feat.It started in September when Southern Baptists published a booklet encouraging prayer for conversion of Jews. Jewish leaders were incensed: "Any prayer that invites us to abandon our faith is an attack on our integrity and commitment," thundered Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman.Baptist prayers were not limited to Jews: Southern Baptists already had published a prayer guide for Muslims, and released one in October for Hindus. Hindu leaders reacted angrily, one warning of a "holy war." Not to leave anyone out, Southern Baptists will release a prayer guide for Buddhists this spring.In the midst of this the Vatican announced a papal visit to India, prompting hardline Hindu leaders to demand that the pope publicly disavow that Jesus is the only means of salvation.Media reaction was mostly sympathetic to the offended religions, often attaching "bigoted" as a prefix for Christian. One Bible-belt columnist decried the "audacity" of Southern Baptists.The "bigotry" complained of, mind you, is not that of protesters carrying "Death to Fags" signs, nor even handing out tracts; it is praying for conversion, and in the case of the pope, holding an essential Christian belief. So what are we to make of all of this? Memories of the Holocaust and pogroms have strained Jewish-Christian relations; and Hindus fear the political consequences of conversions. But these controversies seem symptomatic of something more—a shift in how we understand pluralism.Our founders, many influenced by Mill and Locke, were seized by the great liberal vision of a society in which ideas arising from a plurality of interests ...

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March 6, 2000

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