I remember an early conversation with my parents when they sat us down and explained we would not be sending out Christmas letters to friends and family, because not everyone celebrates Christmas. Instead, we sent out Thanksgiving letters (sorry, Native American friends).
I could decide that all religions are basically the same, because they point to the same things, but I don’t actually believe that. Different religions are quite distinct. There are some qualities shared across religions, and many beliefs in different religions that have no equivalencies. To reduce religions to some vague sense of shared values is disrespectful to religions and their adherents, with complex systems developed over centuries, often across multiple cultures. Religions are not faceless topics. Religions are lived out by people, some of whom I love very much.
My experiences of being Christian in a world that is multifaith are about relationship. Like a growing number of American Christians, particularly those who are people of color, my theology is shaped by my interreligious reality.
Because my family is multifaith, and the quality of our relationships has little to do with religion, I have approximately zero minutes available to talk to people about whether or not non-Christians are saved.
I don’t care who’s saved and who isn’t.
I do care about evangelism, oddly enough, but my preoccupation is less about people going hell and more about sharing this incredible truth of living fully in God’s love and grace. I remember sitting in on a workshop at a conference whose participants were filled with anxiety because their non-Christian relatives weren’t saved. I felt so odd in that space. I felt relaxed, in comparison. (If you’ve met me, “relaxed” is not the first adjective that would come to mind.)
I don’t care, because I live in the assurance of two assumptions. The first is that God will do what God will do, regardless of anything we do or do not do. God is sovereign. God will decide this salvation thing without us. I try not to pour my energy into things that I can’t control. The second is that I live knowing the deep truth of God’s grace. It is a mysterious thing. So I can’t worry about it.
I spend all my energy worrying about hunger and racism and gun violence and homelessness and incarceration and deportation and the church’s witness on these things. I worry that mainline Protestantism has an unhealthy obsession with a narrative of impending doom that may coincide with a national obsession of a largely white country being overtaken by people of color. I worry that the church downplays mission when it becomes preoccupied with what survival looks like, as well as whether or not I’m contributing meaningfully to work and community and family and home life, anyway. I have a limited amount of energy.
(I told a Filipino colleague I don’t care about things that don’t worry me, and he said, “So Asian.”)
When I think of Christians, I think we have a very mixed reputation as neighbors in the world. We are known for building hospitals and schools, providing sanctuary to refugees and unauthorized immigrants, and showing up to be with people facing displacement, disaster, and death. We are known for beautiful worship. Some of my Jewish relatives have been known to attend Christmas Eve services just to hear the music.
We are also known for sanctioning or failing to halt the destruction of peoples because they are not like us, wreaking havoc on the lives of trans and queer people, and providing cover for patriarchy and militarism to flourish.
I know that somehow, my Buddhist and Jewish relatives who became Christian had some interaction with Christians that wasn’t all negative, otherwise they would not have joined us. I know my Buddhist great-grandmother carried a rosary with her throughout her life (her father tended the grounds of the local Catholic mission). I know Christians protected Muslims during prayer throughout protests in Egypt, and vice versa. I know Christians cooperate extensively in their communities with Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, and people of other religious groups.
What does it mean to be a neighbor? What does it mean to be a Christian neighbor to those who do not share in our faith?
Neighbor: Being Christian in a Multifaith World (click for more information) is an upcoming conference I helped to plan at Montreat Conference Center October 12th-15th. We are going to gather and talk about how we as Christians relate to our neighbors of other faiths. Speakers include Brian McLaren, Valarie Kaur, Najeeba Syeed-Miller, and Rabbi Judith Schindler. The preacher will be the Rev. Frank Thomas.
I hope you can join us.
And for a good read (appropriate for group study as well as personal reading):
What Christians Can Learn from Other Religions (Click for more information)
For a few chapters on who gets to heaven, turn to Martin Thielen’s What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? (Click for more information)