Shuck and Jive

Friday, April 27, 2007

What is Pluralism?

On May 27th, many congregations, including First Pres., Elizabethton, will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday. Jim Burklo of The Center for Progressive Christianity has resources for congregations. Jim writes:

We believe Pluralism Sunday is an opportunity for progressive churches to reach some of the many people who are turned off by Christianity because of exclusivist claims some Christians make about it.
What is pluralism? In an interview, Jim explains...

TCPC: So, what exactly is pluralism?

JIM BURKLO: Professor Diana Eck, founder of the Pluralism Project and recognized expert on religious diversity in America, broke it down this way. When you think about relationships between religions, there are three general ways in which they relate. One is exclusivism, which is the idea that my religion is correct, and all other religions are wrong, at best, and evil, at the worst. So that would be what we have with the Taliban, al-Qaida, which are obviously scarier groups than Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, but they would qualify as exclusivist, as well. Fundamentalism is associated with exclusivism.

The next way in which religions relate is called inclusivism, which is the idea that my religion is the only true one, but yours is interesting. I can learn and grow from our relationship; however, the truth in your religion only points to the ultimate truth of mine. We should tolerate each other’s religions and find ways to cooperate and communicate. This is the point of view of the Catholic Church and some evangelical Christians.

Pluralism is the idea that my religion is good for me and your religion may turn out to be as good for you as mine is for me. So, pluralism is the concept that there are multiple loci of truth and salvation among the religions. Now, pluralism does not imply that all religions are the same or that all religions are equal; but it does recognize the possibility that my way is not the only way and that my religion is not necessarily superior to yours.

There is a lot of confusion about this. Pluralism often gets confused with other things, like “relativism.” A lot of people accuse religious pluralists, like myself and The Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC), as being relativists, but the two ideas are quite different. (Read More)
I resonate with Jim. The biggest turnoff for me about Christianity has always beens its claim to exclusivity. The claim is made so loudly and forcefully that many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, think that being exclusive is "the only way" to be Christian. The inclusivist option is softer, but still in my view, paternalistic. It appears to be exclusivism-light.

What does Christianity look like when it is pluralistic? That is a question that has guided my personal quest for some time now. It is a question that has prompted me to attempt a Christian theology for the twenty-first century. I think it is exciting that more and more people are asking that question, and in turn are revisiting how they approach Jesus, the Bible, spirituality, prayer, worship, and ethics.

If you are interested in some faith statements of a pluralistic view of Christianity you might check out the one that led me to First Presbyterian of Elizabethton. The Center for Progressive Christianity has eight points describing a pluralistic faith.

Or, check out the faith statements of the congregations who will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday. You will find that you are not alone by any means!


  1. I think the idea of pluralism Sunday is a great one. The idea of pluralism has been extremely important to my conception of religious faith, and exclusivism has been the biggest objection I have had to much of Christianity.

    I have found that both John Hick and Marjorie Suchocki have offered interesting insights into incorporating pluralism into Christian thought.

    Ultimately, my take on it is that religious paradigms are incomplete models because we are finite humans trying to grasp an infinite truth, much like the blind men and the elephant. That is how different religions can each capture some essence of the greater infinite truth. I am also reminded of quantum physics--which teaches us that light can exhibit both wave qualities and particle qualities, depending on which you are looking for.

  2. The biggest turn-off for me about "anthropogenic global warming" is its exclusive claims to truth. Don't you think that there are multiple loci of truth? Does it even matter that the theories for natural climate cycling are in direct contradiction to anthropogenic ones?

    Besides, non-anthropogenic global warming let's me be faithful to the Gospel of Judas and not worry about the kinds of sick martyr complex that Al Gore is trying to shove down my throat. For instance, if Kyoto Protocols save people from global warming, then it isn't much of a solution if a person doesn't believe in global warming.

  3. Hey Chris.

    Why do you fear looking after your environment? What do you stand to lose if people play better safe than sorry with the ecosystem?
    You got stocks in big oil or something? You profit off of polluting the earth somehow?

    Why so defensive? If you have no money in the issue then why do you have such a problem?

    There's only two kinds of people who oppose these efforts:

    1)Those who stand to lose money like some major industries. And by lose money I mean the execs might have to own a few less houses in the Caymans or downgrade the size of their private jets to pay for the environmental safety upgrades.

    2)Disgruntled Republican scum who would sacrifice God's green earth just to disagree with Al Gore the way they continue sacrifice our troops and the Iraqi citizens just so they don't have to admit they failed. Spite? Is it that petty?

    Which are you?

  4. Now to original topic. :)

    Pluralism? It's the only way for a civilized society to function peaceably. Exclusivist is simply not the way Jesus taught us to be. We learn this through the lesson of the gift of salvation to the Gentiles.
    It was exclusively to Israel at first, but Israel rejected the Messiah and the gift was distributed evenly among all those who are not Jews. Jews too, but not exclusively.

    For the sudo-Christians (American Taliban) that actually believe in this Exclusivism, I just want to let them know that in the five plus years I lived in the middle east and in Islamic nations such as the UAE, that there was always a Christian church there. Right in the middle of Islam. Even Saddam was given the key to the City of Detroit for a huge monetary contribution made to a Chaldean Church in Mich. Saddam was fond of Christians.
    I guess that makes Islam more inclusive than you. Better think about that.

  5. I like the idea of inviting all people to benefit from what is coming out of the church - and sometimes some of the greatest ideas flow forth from there - and each should be welcome to learn. I have no beef with a pluralism that lets all people of all cultures walk one with another in conversation and as fellow neighbors. I read the Quran and the Mormon book just so I can relate better to each group (I see nothing wrong with being a friend to other religions either). I just decide to live my faith instead of always talk it into a dividing line.

  6. Hi,
    Our congregation just voted, (well over 3/4's yes), yesterday to affiliate with the TCPC.

    I found the dissenting and unsure comments very interesting and most helpful to understand what people think.

    A few comments (not all) where relevant to this blog post. There was a question on weather or not joining this organization makes us more inclusive or not? (The following questions are not quotes, but I believe they distill down what people where thinking, I could be wrong, but here goes) Does it set up the idea that traditional Christians are not welcome here? Can you be a progressive church and still support a traditional view of Christianity? Do you still welcome those that accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord? Are we voting Jesus out for something else?

    I think that "Progressive Christianity" is inclusive of traditional Christianity. But its obviously not clear in the grand ideal of "Progressive Christianity". So how you make that clear, or if it is even a clear goal of the general trend of "Progressive Christianity", I don't know.

    To me, in the 8 points by themselves, it is clear, so I don't know how to make it more clear, for that particular action we took yesterday.

  7. Michael,

    I think the TCPCs eight points would include traditional Christians as well.

    People are free to interpret Jesus, communion, baptism, etc. in the way that is most meaningful to them which would include traditional ways.

    Congratulations to your congregation!

  8. I am a pluralist and I think that bringing a celebration of pluralism into the church and onto the liturgical calendar is a great idea, but I'm not sure Pentecost is the time to do it. Not because there aren't some obvious connections there, but because to make pluralism the primary focus of Pentecost risks losing the many other wonderful meaning this feast day already has. I'd rather see it celebrated on nearly any Sunday in Ordinary time.

    Just my two cents.

  9. Aric,

    Thanks for your two cents. Worth much more than that I presume! The connection I find with Pentecost and Pluralism has to do with the text in Acts where all "heard them speaking in the native language of each."

    I love that image. We could apply it , of course, as the Christian message in all languages, or we could apply it as the Divine Spirit speaking in all different traditions. That, I think, is the heart of the message.

    Many Blessings,