Culture Shift – A Growing Religious Pluralism

American culture is changing rapidly.  In addition to the increasing secularization of our society, religious pluralism is another significant threat to Christianity.  A growing number of followers of other religious traditions surround us including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.  How is the faithful Christian to respond?

wheresjesus

Where’s Jesus?

Several people have capitalized on the popularity of the old Where’s Waldo books and published Where’s Jesus? books.  You have to find the image of Jesus in the sea of people. Sometimes I feel like that when I look at our society.  As people become busier, care less about religion, and as other faith traditions grow in popularity it seems as if we have misplaced Jesus.

Religious Pluralism in America Today

According to the most recent Pew Forum Research Report, those who profess the Christian faith in America are on a sharp decline.[1]  The number of people who have “no religion” or identify themselves to be atheist/agnostic is on a sharp rise.

When people move to the United States they bring their faith traditions with them.  Many new residents come from other faith traditions, especially Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist.  This increase combined with a decrease of Christians means that Christianity is on the decline.

Consequently our neighborhoods are changing and will continue to change.  We will encounter more and more people of different faith traditions.  This trend is predicted to continue.  Over the next thirty years in America, Christianity is expected to continue this decline while atheism and other faith traditions are predicted to rise.

Christians (including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Mormons) are the largest religious group in America (78%), followed by those reporting no religion (which includes those who consider themselves atheists and agnostics), the third largest religious group is Jewish, followed by Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu.[2]

Buddhism in America is on the rise, reporting a large increase in converts since 1990.  The popularity of Zen Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, meditation and cultural practices continues to grow.  With 1.5 Million Buddhists reported, it is now America’s third largest religion. [3]

According to Pew Report, the Muslim faith is predicted to increase in North America especially in Canada (where it is estimated to triple) but also the United States (where it is expected to double) in the next 30 years.[4]

The population of Hindus in America is steadily increasing.  Interestingly, this is particularly true in North Texas as people move from Asia for high technology jobs.  Census numbers show that from 2000 to 2010, the Asian Indian population in Texas’ Collin County more than tripled.  The Dallas Morning News highlighted the construction of a new $7.5 Million Hindu temple in Frisco, Texas dedicated to the monkey god Karya Siddhi Hanuman.[5]

These statistics illustrate the reality of our changing cultural landscape.  In America, we recognize that we live in a society where “churches are shrinking and the Gospel is falling on deaf ears.”[6]  Every day we notice we are surrounded more and more by persons of other cultures and different religious traditions.  The question for the faithful Christian is “how are we going to respond?”

Paul a Missionary to Rome

Paul was a missionary.  Paul encountered gentiles with a pantheon of foreign gods – the Romans worshipped twelve gods and goddesses.   Rome was a metropolitan city with many cultures colliding and mingling.  In Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts his preaching has an urgency of evangelism – he wants to introduce people to Jesus Christ.  Paul preaches monotheism – one God.  Jesus is God incarnate – the Messiah and risen Lord of all.  Paul was clear about where he placed Jesus.  Not under or beneath or alongside other gods, but above.

Think Like a Missionary

Even though our predominantly Christian culture is now shrinking does not mean it is all bad.  Christians have an opportunity to be missionaries in our own context.  We can think like a missionary every day.  We have the opportunity to live out the gospel and to share the gospel with others.  For centuries missionaries have worked alongside non-believers and made honest friendships, waiting patiently for opportunities to share their faith.

How can we turn this seeming threat of religious pluralism into an opportunity?

First – Welcome others as Christ Has Welcomed You

The news coverage highlighting local Christians protesting for Muslims to go home and get out of our country is unbelievable and reprehensible.  I was shocked to see Christians on television protesting at a local civic center thinking this was a good idea or something Jesus would do.  Christians must let love speak – practicing the greatest commandment to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

With Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists increasing as our neighbors we have a wonderful opportunity to practice what Jesus taught and love our Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu neighbors.  Be interested in their differences and engage in inner-faith dialogue.  Invite them to dinner.  Welcome them and their children.  Our first opportunity is to welcome others as Christ has welcomed us.

Second –Reclaim a Robust Christology

Last year I had an extremely interesting conversation with our seventh grade youth.  All of the children had a Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu friend at school.  All of them had engaged in friendly conversations at school about their respective faiths, holiday traditions and practices.  The overriding response of our youth was – “I didn’t know enough about my own faith to explain what Christians believe.”

They asked me questions like, “Why don’t we fast, my friend fasts for Ramadan?”  “Why don’t we pray throughout the day, my friend prays several times a day?”  “My friend says Christians believe in three gods, I tried, but I couldn’t explain the Trinity.”  “I didn’t know how to explain to them about Jesus.”

Even though they had spent years in Sunday school and gone through Confirmation, they confessed their inability to discuss the Christian faith with non-Christians.

I find many adults ill-equipped to confidently discuss the basics of the Christian faith.  Surrounded by other religions we need to be able to explain and articulate what we believe.  More than ever we are called to proclaim a strong and robust Christological understanding of the incarnation, resurrection and Trinitarian theology.

Jesus Buddha Mohammed

Some people like to show Jesus standing alongside of Buddha, Muhammed and Moses.  Jesus is not just another prophet, teacher or holy man.  We may believe in the same God, but when it comes to the worship of God our understanding is quite different because Christians worship a triune God – one God experienced in three ways – God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit.  When we gather to pray, baptize, sing and send one another out we do so in the name of the Trinitarian God.  This is resolutely not understood and clearly rejected by the other religious faiths.[7]

Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our risen Lord.  Christians have the opportunity to claim a robust, vibrant, rich and full understanding of God.  “The encounter with Islam makes manifest how unique and rich our vision of God truly is.”[8]

Believers have a fresh opportunity to embrace the fullness and distinctiveness of the Christian tradition and reclaim it for this generation.  We must be clear on why we think Christian belief is true and why it matters.  We must have robust doctrines and theology within our local church, not a deficit of understanding or weak faith.

Third – Seek Christian Unity

Most of my ministry career I have seen deep divisions between Christians – the Catholics don’t agree with the Baptists, the Methodists disagree with the Calvinists, the non-denominationals are in competition with the main line Christian traditions.  In many towns the churches don’t speak to one another, work together or even pray together.  Mostly they compete against one another for members.  That must stop.

Christians have differences in doctrine, polity, ordination, sacramentology and the interpretation of scripture.  Instead of focusing on our differences we must focus on what we share in common. We must hold strong to our common belief in Jesus as the Son of God, Lord of all, Messiah and Savior of the world.  We are strong as we are united.

Jesus is not Misplaced, Jesus is Risen

Amidst the growing number of non-believers and religious pluralism – Jesus seems misplaced.  There were three women who couldn’t find Jesus one day — Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James.  They arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning and Jesus was missing.  Gone.   Jesus wasn’t there where they expected to see him because he was risen.

Jesus is not misplaced, nor threatened by our American culture shift.  Jesus is our risen Lord,  powerful, mighty, merciful, loving, sitting at the right hand of God, Prince of Peace and Lord of heaven.

From Sermon preached by Rev. Jan Jokinen Davis at First Rowlett United Methodist Church on Sunday, February 8, 2015.  www.firstrowlett.org/media/audio.

Resources:

[1] Pew Forum, Pew Research – Religion and Public Life Project, Religious Landscape Survey (Pew Forum for Religious Life, 2010), http://religions.pewforum.org/reports.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jane Lampman, American Buddhism on the Rise (The Christian Science Monitor: September 2006).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eden Stiffman, Construction of $7.5 million Karya Siddhi Hanuman temple to serve growing Hindu community, The Dallas Morning News, August 2013.  http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/frisco/headlines.

[6] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks – The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986) p. 6.

[7] William Abraham, from class notes from Evangelism and the Modern Culture discussion on his paper “God” in Christianity and Islam: are they the same “God”?

[8] William  Abraham, Shaking Hands with the Devil-The Intersection of Terrorism and Theology (Dallas, TX: Highland Loch Press, 2013), p. 5.

Published by

janjokinendavis

Follower of Christ, United Methodist Pastor, Preacher, DMin Student

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