How big is your Jesus?

Recently my seminary alma mater, Duke University, generated controversy by announcing that they would let their Muslim student organization use the Duke Chapel tower to call Muslims to prayer on Friday, their day of worship. Muslim students have been having prayer services in the basement of Duke Chapel for years. The adhan prayer, usually broadcast from a minaret, serves as a call to worship.

Evangelist Franklin Graham immediately castigated Duke on Facebook: “As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering and beheading Christians, Jews and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism.” He encouraged people to withhold contributions to the university. Criticism of the decision began to pour in.

The next day, Duke rescinded its permission to the Muslim students. Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement, “Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students. However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

I was embarrassed at the intolerant and inhospitable attitude of some Christians and saddened that my alma mater didn’t have more courage.

Larger issue

This small incident brings up a big issue. How should we treat people of other faiths? What is the spirit of Christ toward those who don’t believe in him?

We should do more than just tolerate other faiths. We should be in respectful dialogue with them. In a pluralistic world, we can’t ignore them. In a world torn with religious violence, we should encourage faithful, peaceful expressions of any faith, because extremism in any religion is destructive of faith and community. Most Muslims do not support ISIS any more than most Christians are members of the KKK.

We can respect other religions because we have a big Jesus. He is the Christ, the communication of God to the world. For thirty-odd years, the Christ was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, but it’s clear in Scripture that Christ is eternal with the Father. He is the agent of creation and transcends the human form in which he made the perfect revelation of God to the world (see John 1, Ephesians 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, 1 John 1).

The idea that Christ is the Word — or Communication — of God to the world means that any revelation of God, through nature or another religion, has Christ behind it all. Scholars as diverse as Billy Abraham and Richard Rohr believe the Cosmic Christ has great implications for interfaith dialogue.

Common ground

This is not to say that all religions are equally valid or that Christians do not have any particular claims on the truth. What it does say is that there is common ground between people of all faiths that provides a basis for friendship and dialogue.

In his book “Mere Christianity,” C. S. Lewis wrote:

“If you are a Christian, you do not have to believe that all other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist, you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions in the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right, and they are wrong. As in arithmetic — there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”

Jesus is the right answer. But some of the other answers may not be far off. In John 10:16, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

I wonder what he meant by that?

Being tolerant of other religions is a big step for some. But we should do more. We should engage in dialogue based on respect and encourage all peaceful expressions of faith.

Above all, we should live with the love of Christ. Then we will show the world how big our Jesus is.

This article originally appeared in The Arkansas United Methodist.

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