Friday, September 17, 2010

Religious tolerance

I thought I'd tackle a somewhat serious issue today.

A friend and I were discussion whether religious tolerance is supported by the Bible. This was in reference to the debate about the "Ground Zero Mosque" which is actually a islamic community center that includes a mosque being built (possibly) two blocks from Ground Zero. I'm sure you've heard of it.

So the question was how Christians should deal with other religions. After all, if we believe that Jesus truly is the way, truth, and life, don't we have an obligation to fight against religions that say different? After all, we're right, they are wrong, so why should we tolerate their presence at all?

This question has existed since the dawn of Christianity. Back then, 'The Way' was just one of many religions, and Jesus was seen as just another household god, like Zues. Christianity had to live in harmony with other religions because it was young, growing, and not exactly popular with the local authorities. Of course, there was also the issue of Jesus telling them to love their neighbor and treat others as they would want to be treated.

Of course, the early Church didn't exactly leave those other religions alone. But rather than see them as enemies to be banished, they saw them as people to be rescued, freed from their religious bondage and given the Gospel, the Good News. When Paul journeyed to Greece, he didn't tear down all the other idols, he instead engaged the people (Acts 17: 16-34). He spoke, debated, fellowshipped, and engaged the people of different religions. In the end, Christianity was to become dominant not by hostile takeover, but by sharing love and offering hope to those who never had any.

And what of those who didn't decide to follow Christianity? Jesus had advice for that, too. In Matthew 10:14 Jesus told his disciples to shake the dust from their feet and move on. Of people didn't listen, that was God's business. We Christians have better things to do than stage silly, pointless protests.

That's religious tolerance. We speak the Gospel and then move on if no one is interested. Holding protests or making other religions into enemies isn't productive. If God truly has a problem with people who won't follow Christ, HE will deal with them. (Matthew 10:15). That's His job, not ours.

So yes, we are called to religious tolerance. That's what it means to lvoe our neighbor and our enemy. That doesn't mean we keep quiet about our faith, just that we don't act like jerks and treat others poorly. If they aren't interested, we move on.

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