KELLER, Texas (ABP) — In an increasingly connected world where “religion is furiously alive,” the matter of how people of faith can live with their deep differences assumes growing importance, social critic and author Os Guinness told a Texas Baptist congregation's recent Global Faith Forum.
Speaking at NorthWood Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Keller, Guinness said three of the key issues related to globalism directly deal with religion:
• Will Islam modernize peacefully and become a force for peace?
• Which faith will replace Marxism in China?
• Will the Judeo-Christian West sever or recover its roots?
The Internet has created an emerging global public square for the exchange of ideas, said Guinness, senior fellow with the EastWest Institute in New York. Attempts to create a sacred public square where one religion is preferred or even established or a naked public square stripped bare of any public reference to religion both are “unjust and unworkable,” he insisted.
Instead, he called for a civil public square where people of deep faith engage public life. Civility, he stressed, involves treating people who hold different views with respect -- but it doesn't mean jettisoning one’s own beliefs.
“It’s different than the kind of interfaith dialogue that seeks a unity underneath everything that is not there. There is no lowest common denominator,” he emphasized.
“The right to believe anything does not mean that anything people believe is right,” Guinness said.
In place of “a sloppy form of intolerance and indifference to truth,” he called for a robust conversation that respects the freedom of conscience of believers.
Eboo Patel, founding executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, challenged people of faith not to allow hateful extremists to become the dominant voices of religion.
“We forfeit the most precious thing in all the world to those who would build barriers and bombs,” he said.
Patel, a Muslim, encouraged “positive, mutually enriching conversations about religion.”
The forum, held Nov. 11-13, included presentations by Prince Turki Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia; Ambassador Le Cong Phung of Vietnam; Henry Mikhail, a Palestinian-American Christian; and John Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown University.
People of faith need new platforms for multifaith understanding built on mutual respect, rather than compromising deeply held beliefs, said Bob Roberts, founding pastor of NorthWood Church and organizer of the Global Faith Forum.
“God expects us to get along. There is not enough peace between people of different faiths,” said Roberts. “I want everyone to be able to express their faith.”
As an evangelical -- a second-generation Baptist minister -- Roberts made clear his own views about orthodox Christian doctrine, including the nature of Christ and the importance of sharing the gospel.
But he described his church’s journey in working with communists in Vietnam, Muslims in Afghanistan and Palestinian Christians in the Middle East as moving from fear of those who are different to loving people with all their differences.
Meeting needs by building schools, staffing clinics and creating micro-enterprises to lift people out of poverty offer opportunities for Christians to share God’s love and possibly introduce some people to faith in Christ. But if people of other faiths -- or no faith -- never become Christians, followers of Christ still can love them, Roberts stressed.
Christians engage in acts of mercy “not to convert others but because we are converted,” he said.
Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard