I was just talking with my friend Brian. He is a pastor at a church in Columbia, MO. Somehow we got on the discussion of pluralism in his community and the struggles that his congregation has with it. Columbia is a university town (his wife is in med school there) and has always been a little bit more diverse than the rest of central Missouri. But these days there are Moslems, Sihks, and Buddhists moving into towns. At the same time the population of the city is growing.
The same thing is happening all over the United States. Small cities and towns all over Western Kansas are becoming more multicultural as immigrants move to the area to take jobs in meat packing plants and the like. At first folks move into the small cities, but then soon after they move into the small towns of 750 people or so that have inexpensive housing that surround these county seats.
The truth is that diversity is coming everywhere. Not only racial diversity, but also worldview diversity. The question is, how are those who profess Christ to deal with that diversity.
Many Christians go into their "faith ghettos" of likemindedness. Despite the denegration of this behavior by many, at certain places and at certain points this has a healthy function. Pluralism is causing many of those of Christian conviction to go to their Bibles, friends and their communities and ask, "What do we believe anyway, and why do we believe it?" In our normally theologically milktoast congregation people are beginning to discuss what Islam says and what Buddhists believe (Although we have yet to realize that there is theological diversity within these faith groups as their is in Christian belief.). We actually have had 3 different groups discussing the topic in different ways in the last year. Who would have thought the intolerance of Osama Bin Laden, in some circles, is being redeemed by God in such a way.
On the other hand, I am beginning to ponder how a follower of Jesus gives voice to their faith in a different way considering this context. It seems to me that Christian people need to both know their convictions, but also hold them with humility. It also seems to me, more than ever, Christian witness is going to happen through the embodiment of God's love and grace in relationships and Christian community more than it is going to happen through education and reasoning. Much like the story of Peter and the centurion, it will challenge us to change our attitudes and perspectives and be learners ourselves in the world community in order to reach and touch those outside of the Christian community.
Like Spencer Burke hints at in his book "Making Sense of the Church", we are going to have to move past the metaphors of Christian witness that are all about either sales or warfare. Those metaphors have defined our attitudes. Our metaphors for the future will have to connote inclusion, partnership, and discovery.
This does not mean we need to compromise Christian beliefs. It might mean we have to be more honest. It might mean the truth of Christ is found more in the authenticity of our spiritual journey with Jesus than it is in having it all together with all the right words and the right answers. It might mean the church will use less of a bait and switch approach with entertainment based programs we call Christian education, and walk and talk in way that makes people hunger and thirst for an authenic sip of the Spirit of God through Christ.