We now minister in a multi-faith society. Our congregants are living and working in a multi-faith world.
Our congregants of Asian-American heritage may very well attend funeral services of Buddhist family members where incense is burned.
Our church members will probably be asked during a coffee break what they make of the Dalai Lama as a spiritual guide, or what they think of Islam.
Other parishioners might be enrolled in yoga classes or may have close Mormon friends. Our church members need to know how to talk about and interact constructively with those of other faith traditions.
What does it mean to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength" among people who don't acknowledge him as God? What does it mean to "love your neighbor as yourself" when your neighbor's religion is so different from your own?
While it's important to teach the biblical truth of the Great Commandments, it's also important to lead by example in showing how to obey them. Those of us in Christian leadership can be examples of a living faith and love for neighbor in a diverse, multi-faith society. We do that by being gracious and open-handed toward those of other religions while remaining Christ-centered and rooted in biblical truth.
Sometimes we have to seek out relationships with those of other faiths; other times we simply have to respond warmly when they come to us.
Finding Inter-Faith Friendships
I invited the president of a mosque to my world religions class this past autumn, and he told us that the religious tradition his Muslim community has the hardest time connecting with is evangelical Christianity. In his experience, most evangelicals have already made up their minds about Islam and aren't interested in learning about it. By and large, he found evangelicals to be suspicious of Islam and closed to meaningful dialogue.
A few weeks after his time with that class, he invited me to a gathering marking his mosque's 25th anniversary. There he introduced me to the gathering as a friend and dialogue partner. He told this diverse audience how difficult it is to find evangelicals who are interested in engaging Muslims in an open manner.
Along with other faith leaders from various traditions at the celebration, I shared my sincere appreciation for the wonderful work the Muslims of his tradition have done locally, regionally, and nationally. Among other things, they have cultivated the common good by promoting peace, renouncing terror, and increasing understanding about the essential teachings of Islam.
Not once have I been pressured to leave my Christian convictions at the door when engaging this Muslim and his community. During the celebration at the mosque that day, I centered my reflections on Jesus' instruction to love one's neighbors as oneself and to reach out to them, just as Jesus did, and as illustrated in his story of the Samaritan of extraordinary mercy in Luke 10.
In addition to this account, I often think of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Jesus did not allow the religious and cultural divisions between Jews and Samaritans to keep him from reaching out to her compassionately and with the good news.