A Message from James C. Sprouse, Senior Pastor
Have you taken a stroll at Tyson’s Corner recently? As you walk through the mall, how many different languages do you hear spoken? How many different cultures do you encounter? How many persons from other religious traditions are right before your eyes? We live in a world growing more religiously plural by the hour. How do you and I live in a world where we ask what the yogas mean for Hindus; what is Buddha’s goal of blissful unconcern; what is Confucius’ ideal of the gentle soul; what are Islam’s Five Pillars; what do the Exodus and Yom Kippur mean to Jews; and what is the Good News to the world about this Jesus Christians claim is Messiah?
As Christians we are required to develop a respectful appreciation for faith traditions not our own, even though we may not always agree with their teachings. Sometimes I think the best that can be hoped for is that we learn to understand them as faiths of real people, people who ask similar basic questions, and are fellow seekers of a more illumined life.
What is to be the relationship of all these world religions to each other on our little planet? That is the question. There are three answers which suggest themselves at first blush. The first answer is: In the midst of all the religions of the world there stands one so incomparably superior that no significant religious truth is to be found in any of the other others.
A second answer to the question of relation between religions is that in all important respects they are essentially the same. Does each not contain some version of the Golden Rule? Do they not all regard human self-centeredness to be the source of trouble and contention? Some claim that all truth essential to salvation can be found, to one degree or another, in all the great religions.
A third possible answer to the question of the relation between religions is best defined in contrast to the other two: It doesn’t find all religions saying the same things; superficially they may all look similar, however, on deeper levels they all part ways.
You can probably locate yourself in at least one or two of the traditional answers given. The great religions of the world have much to say to each other, and current events constantly beg us to enter dialogue at a time when human spiritual life and human rights issues face severe threats from nationalism, materialism, and phony religious conformity. The future of our planet stands in urgent need of immediate, sincere, soul-searching conversation.
My mind tells me we must listen to the faiths of others… even when I assume they don’t have any truth to convey that can’t be found in Christianity. My heart tells me I live on a planet where no single tradition will ultimately dominate, but that one day we’ll worship in spirit and truth. Daily our world grows smaller, leaving mutual understanding and respect as the only foundation on which peace can build a home. My mind tells me that we are not ready to embrace a notion of equality of all nations. My mind reminds me of our tendency to identify much that is familiar with what is superior. Yet, my heart goads me with the notion that much of my life has been lived in a century heralding scientific achievements but they must be matched by comparable achievements in human relations and human rights. My heart yearns for understanding among the world’s religions that brings mutual respect. And mutual respect prepares the way for a higher power – Love; and love is the only power able to quench the flames of fear, suspicion, prejudice and hatred.
My mind tells me understanding can lead to love. My heart tells me love leads to understanding. Perhaps the two are reciprocal. As a Christian pastor I must be true to my own faith. My mind tells me there is no greater way to depersonalize the other world’s faith traditions than to speak to their followers without ever listening. My heart reminds me that I must “Do unto others as I would have them do unto me.”