It’s about time. There are already some who are shaking their heads and clucking their tongues that it’s the beginning of the end of “real” Christianity. But I say, it’s about time.
The Claremont School of Theology (my alma mater – to note by bias), has made public its plan to include the training Muslim and Jewish leaders in its curriculum, and possibly for Buddhists and Hindus. It is a bold move, one fraught with severe reactions from people who fear losing the depth and breadth of their own faith tradition. Fear is never a good long term motivational strategy.
We live in the most diverse region on the planet. Los Angeles City is the first world city with people from every continent but Antarctica. California is one of the most diverse states in our country. No longer do people from different religions “keep to themselves” in their own complete economic enclaves and social communities. We live in a democracy with people from a host of different faith traditions. Our world is increasingly smaller and people from different religious traditions are interacting with greater frequency in business and government. Shouldn’t our religious leaders, our Christian religious leaders be given some introduction to how to navigate these waters?
If you believe that Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation and that everybody else is going to burn in hell, then any move to have conversation with people of other faith traditions that doesn’t involve conversion will be abhorrent to you. There are plenty of Biblical texts to back up this theological view. However, there are plenty more Biblical texts to back up a view of universal salvation, meaning Jesus may be OUR way as Christians, but Jesus is not the ONLY way. Perhaps God’s grace is bigger than our imagination.
The time we inhabit is a time of transition; renown author, Karen Armstrong, has called it an axial age. There have been others in the past: the beginnings of world religions for example. This axial age is a time of in between: in between what we have known and what we cannot yet quite imagine. Transitions are fraught with peril and opportunity. The peril we have seen splashed on the front page in religious clashes in the Middle East, in parts of Asia. The opportunity we can help create when we recognize the humanity of another person, that they too are created in the image of God. The opportunity we can help create as we learn to welcome and work with people whose religious views are very different.
Instead of watering down our own faith, conversations with people of other faith traditions are opportunities to deepen our own faith. Why are people afraid that we will “lose our faith” if we work with people of other faiths? Because, I think, they are not secure in their own.
The decision to bring developing religious leaders from different traditions under an educational roof for a short while is one small, bold step to offer an antidote to the religious fundamentalism that seethes in cultures around the world, including our own, including Christianity. This is not a time for tolerance. This is a time for understanding.