One of the conversations that often comes up in my intercultural setting is how Christians should relate to people of other faiths. This comes up most often around Buddhism since many of our Cambodian and Southeast Asian members either converted from Buddhism themselves and/or have family members who practice Buddhism. As in any religiously blended family, there are questions around what practices and beliefs from other faiths can still be observed by Christians. For example, we talk about whether a Christian can participate in Buddhist prayers at the funeral of a Buddhist family member. Some of my people say that it is okay to pray with Buddhists at the temple as long as in your heart you maintain faith in God alone. Others say that it is not okay for a number of different reasons: perhaps others will be confused by your praying and think you have left the Christian faith, damaging your Christian witness. Perhaps your own heart will become confused and you will be led away from faith in the God of Abraham. As pastor to this community, I generally instruct my people to search their own hearts and prayerfully discern what seems right in the particular situation and given their particular faith convictions.
Recently, we have been able to have this conversation around Christianity and Islam. We have been invited to share our space with a local mosque to host an iftar (breaking of the fast meal) during Ramadan. The event will include a lecture by the imam, discussion with Q&A, sharing a meal, and the traditional Muslim evening prayer for Ramadan. We have reflected on what it means to have non-Christians pray in our church. Does it damage our Christian witness? Could members who are weaker in faith be led away from Jesus? These are valid questions, and worthy of discussion.
In the end, our session agreed that hospitality to our Muslim neighbors does more to enhance our Christian witness than damage it. I will spend the next three Sundays using my sermon time to preach about Christianity and Islam, examining our similarities and our differences as a way to strengthen our own faith and respect our neighbors in theirs, without either having to compromising our core convictions. I will post those sermons as they come. In the meantime, you might enjoy this article A Biblical Foundation for Interreligious Engagement on the Patheos blog.