Wrestling with Religious Pluralism

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 15, 1997 | Go to article overview

Wrestling with Religious Pluralism


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


In the 1950s, America's mainline Protestants were asked to think about "Christ and Culture." Now, it may be "Krishna and Christ."

The National Council of Churches (NCC) this week embarked on educating the 50 million churchgoers in its 34 member denominations about world religions.

As a first step, the NCC polled its assembly delegates on what they see at issue in promoting relations with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Zoroastrians.

"The council lacks a comprehensive policy base for addressing interfaith relations," says an NCC document given to delegates in discussion groups.

The council would like a policy in two years.

"We have truly a multireligious reality on our hands," Diana Eck, a Methodist laywoman and a Harvard University professor, said in a presentation to the NCC meeting, which ended here yesterday.

While the council is on record for respecting all religions and defending everyone's civil rights, the more complex issue is how Christians can adapt to theological pluralism and sincerely study world faiths.

Miss Eck, who heads Harvard's Pluralism Project, told fellow Christians that it's a "scandal" that Christian theology "pretends to circle the wagons around the One we call God" when in truth "the One we call God is not ours."

In 1956, when theologian H. Richard Niebuhr wrote "Christ and Culture," he was warning the middle-class Protestant majority against being absorbed by cultural values of class, taste or nationalism.

Today, some have said religious pluralism is the challenge. Believers of other religions amount to only about 5 percent of the U.S. population, but they generate a lot of impact.

Besides synagogues and Muslim mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples have appeared in suburbs, and students with unfamiliar religious garb or holy days have entered public schools.

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