our year of understanding

Last week the mayor of Grand Rapids declared 2012 the “Year of Interfaith Understanding,” and today’s paper included a column from our religion editor (Charles Honey) which supports the cause.

I’m always happy to dialogue, and I agree that we need more understanding, but I wonder whether the planned program can be as religiously neutral as it claims. For example, read this excerpt from today’s column:

“Note to skeptics: This is not about pushing any religious perspective. It’s not about minimizing differences, asking anyone to endorse someone else’s beliefs or water down their own. As Kindschi put it, ‘We’re not promoting faith. We’re promoting understanding.’ Nor is there a hidden agenda to proselytize. In fact, that is one thing participating congregations may not do. The only agenda is to better understand other faiths and get to know the people who practice them.”

Here is my question: if the “one thing” that participants “may not do” is “proselytize,” then doesn’t this Year of Understanding ask evangelical Christians “to endorse someone else’s beliefs [and] water down their own”? Sharing the evangel is in our name, and we would not be faithful to who we are and to what God has called us to be if we didn’t always seek the salvation of our non-Christian friends. I appreciate that this drives some people crazy, and maybe it’s why we come from a long line of martyrs.

This doesn’t mean that we turn every interfaith dialogue into an evangelistic presentation. Of course we want to listen to other religious viewpoints so we can better understand and dialogue with them. But at the end of the day, we want our non-Christian neighbors to know and love Jesus. Can anyone imagine the Apostle Paul participating in a religious dialogue that included the ground rule, “No proselytizing”?

If evangelism is the one thing excluded from our Year of Understanding, then the year has already excluded evangelicals. Thanks for understanding.

3 Comments

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  1. Excellent commentary on a loaded and potentially destructive approach to Interfaith relations. Liberty means to let one present his or her case as he or she thinks and feels best. The antiproselytizing requirement is really a slap in the face of religious liberty. Thomas Jefferson understood this. Surely, the fact that he attended worship services of a church in the capital building during his Presidency clearly underscores the nature of true religious liberty. The only things skeptics have to fear is truth and its powers to convince. Error might deceive for a while, but, sooner or later, its omissions and misrepresentations of reality become glaringly obvious even to those with only a modicum of discernment.

  2. Also in the paper was this quote from First Park Church, “We’re a public church not concerned about people’s relationship to God through Jesus Christ, but making a difference in people’s lives and in the world.” How can one truly do latter without a regard to the former?

  3. What do the Sanhedrin and the mayor of Grand Rapids have in common?

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