Living Faithfully in a Pluralistic World

When we look at the public square, it is important that we keep in mind the diversity of persons and values and interests present there.  I doubt Jefferson or Madison ever imagined the extent of religious diversity that marks modern America, though I believe that given their personalities, they would have welcomed these changes.  Religious diversity, however, for them largely meant differences within a predominantly Protestant nation, with a few free thinkers, Quakers, Jews, and Catholics might be thrown into the mix.   Today our cultural and religious differences are so striking that it seems as if our nation could fracture, though despite the vocal minority that stirs the pot, most Americans have not only made peace with this diversity, but welcome it.  In this pluralistic climate it might seem best to keep our religious opinions to ourselves, lest we offend our neighbor, but is this the best way forward?     

            In spite of the obstacles, pluralism is good for our nation and for American religious life.  My encounters with other religious faiths have not just challenged my faith; they have invigorated and enlightened my faith.  I have also become more sensitive to the beliefs and practices of my neighbors.  My faith may influence my public views and actions, but I recognize that there are other religious beliefs and practices living in our communities.  It is appropriate, therefore, to raise questions about the suitability of school-sponsored prayers, prayers at city council meetings, crèches on public property, and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, because the appearance of public support for one particular religious tradition can be coercive and marginalizing to those who do not share the beliefs of the majority.  

I am a Protestant Christian, and though I do not believe Christians should hide their faith or act contrary to their faith, Christians need to remember that as fragmented as our voices may be, they remain powerful in the public square.  Prayers in school and at council meetings may seem innocuous, but do we allow for diverse voices to be heard?  At the same time, do our morals suffer from the absence of prayer, the Ten Commandments or even a pledge of allegiance that does not include “under God”?   I do not think so, because my faith is nurtured by my church, not my government.  

Religious voices are at their best when they are prophetic and free from government influence.  Martin Luther King challenged white America’s racism, and his faith empowered his voice.  The wall of separation is a necessary protection for both religion and state, but it should not exclude the religious voice from the public square.  At the same time, we must protect everyone’s right to practice or not practice their chosen faith without repercussions.  A person’s religion should not exclude them from public service, but, if we are to live together in peace, we must respect, tolerate, and be civil to those whose beliefs and practices differ from our own.  I will continue living a public faith in the public square, but my focus will be on the common good of all our citizens, whether religious or not.   

Although religion is personal, that doesn’t make it private.  If we hold our faith traditions to be true and valuable, then surely they should influence the way we live our lives in public.  Shouldn’t they guide our moral and ethical decisions?  That is, of course, assuming that our faith traditions uphold justice, mercy, and the common good.   But, if faith is to be present in the public square, then we must have a serious conversation about the form that this presence should take, especially in the context of a nation that is increasingly diverse and pluralist in its ethnic and religious make up (see Putnam and Campbell, American Grace, for a detailed explanation of this reality).


John said…
This is what we need to be afraid of:
Brian said…
Here in Independence, Missouri our city council still opens meetings with prayer. I've told colleagues in the Independence Ministerial Alliance that I don't think that is appropriate in this day and age, but I still help out with a prayer here and there. I try to express my views, but also respect the local culture (my culture). I suppose I may be the only one who prays without ending "in the name of Jesus" at public events.

John, that International House of Prayer is from here in the KC area. As is typical, the individuals I know who go there are wonderful people. But collectively they are worrisome. You are right for keeping an eye on them.

When Rep. Cleaver called the budget "compromise" a "sugar coated Satan sandwich" he explained that he called it that because it rejects the basic tenets of decency found in all great religions: care for the most vulnerable. If we make care for the most vulnerable our meeting ground, this can become holy ground (see lectionary this week). On this holy ground we can meet and see the oneness in our great traditions without sacrificing the uniqueness of each.
David said…
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David said…
I heard that radio show John. It's pretty incredible what these groups espouse as fact. I think it's called DE-evolution.

We need to fight this to the end (with votes, not warfare) or it will end our national unity in no time flat. This would just be another form of slavery to those too honest to take the koolaid. I'm looking forward to God's kingdom on earth, but magical thinking isn't the way.

If this group actually gets national power, can you imagine them peacefully relinquishing it? I will not support or tolerate a return to the dark ages.

Aren't they afraid they are the ones who have been anticipated over and over again?

Too many to post, but one of my favorites-

Romans 16:17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
David said…
Of course, I worry about our current government too-

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