Nobody is really a pluralist, and why that’s okay

It is surprising (and oh so refreshing!) to see crossover between our new urban Asian context and where we used to live in the United States. I don’t know yet if the crossover is because our context is becoming more westernized or if it is because the West, in some ways, is becoming more like our Asian context. Either way, I have discovered that both cultures put a high emphasis on pluralism.

I was speaking to a pastor who is ministering in our same city who described this pluralism like this: people are okay with Christianity, they only get irritated when you bring up the exclusive claims of Jesus. Now if a statement like that doesn’t make you feel homesick, nothing will.

But that’s not tolerance, that’s saying you are okay with my faith as long as you can change it. If I was to approach an atheist and say that I, as a Christian, am okay with his belief system as long as he recognizes that Jesus is really the savior of the world, he may call me a lot of things, but tolerant would likely not be one of them. That is because I conditioned my acceptance of his worldview on taking out a fundamental tenet of what he believes and substituting my belief system for it. Not only would this not make me tolerant, but it would make me disingenuous.

And so it is with any pluralism that refuses to say that anyone is wrong. Many faiths hold out exclusive claims, to say everyone is right will inevitably cause the majority culture to mold and shape the religions of others. But there is a better way forward. You can say I’m wrong. I can take it. And I will, in turn, call you wrong. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still be friends. The solution to the conflict between those with different belief systems is to hold out the option that I can love you and disagree with you at the same time. We don’t have to minimize our differences. Instead, let’s get along, disagree, and work together to figure out what is true.

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