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Christians and People of Different Beliefs in a Multicultural World

August 9, 2011

Heritage Day is a celebration of multiculturalism in this wonderful country in which we live. Part of being in a multicultural world, of course, is the reality that we live as Christians with people of different beliefs.

As Christians, we are not relativists. We do not believe that every statement about reality is equally accurate. We are also not reductionists. We do not say something like, “What binds us all together is that we all believe in the one God.” We know, for example, that our Buddhist neighbours will respond, “No, we don’t all believe in God. What would make you think that?”

If we treat someone with respect when we think that, basically, we both believe the same thing, we are really doing no more than respecting our own beliefs. And we face the danger of saying to people, “You don’t really know what you believe as well as I do; the parts of your belief that are different than mine are not important (even if you think they are).” To do this shows less respect, not more. And in truth, we cannot make a common denominator low enough to include everyone (for example, nihilists or Satanists), in any case. The first step towards maturity must surely be learning to allow people actually to believe something different than us, and still treat them with respect. As Christians, we are commited to do this.

On April 14, Peter Adams from St. Mary’s Church in Luton, England, in a discussion with two Muslim scholars entitled “The Mercy of Diversity,” showed this understanding of how we are to live:

We are called to peace. But if we are to be true to our respective faiths we cannot deny we are different, and that peace must work itself out despite the reality of our difference. My faith proclaims beliefs and certainties that conflict with the beliefs and certainties of your faith. Some use that as grounds to say we cannot be friends, we cannot trust each other. But if we are to be true to the full call of our faith we need to learn to be good neighbours, living at peace with one another; to be good citizens, working together for the best of our community and town; and we need to know how to share about our faith in a way that promotes peace. In my mind that sharing of faith takes place best in the context of already existing relationships and friendships. I love to get to know more about Islam from my Muslim friends; it doesn’t threaten me; and I love to share about my faith.

As Christians, we say, “I will treat you with respect, not because of what you believe, but because of what I believe – that you are a precious child of God!”

(from August 7 Sermon)

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