How Can the Church Get it So Wrong?
On the 14th of May, 2012, exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was awarded the Templeton Prize, one of the world’s richest individual prizes valued at around $USD 1.8 million.
The award was given for: his work in encouraging scientific research and harmony among religions. It was presented inside St Paul’s cathedral in London, after Buddhist monks spent time chanting and worshipping in God’s house.
So … how could the church get it so wrong? Well, here’s how:
We’ve Misunderstood Pluralism vs Tolerance
Pluralism is the darling philosophy of our age. Anybody who denies it (let’s say … like someone who believes in Jesus) is decried as being intolerant. But tolerance and pluralism are two profoundly different things.
According to the Harvard Pluralism Project, pluralism is not a mere acceptance of diversity, but the energetic engagement with diversity – the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Pluralism is the fundamental belief that deeply different commitments and understandings (such as those found in the different world religions) can and should coexist and through dialog, seek to find common ground so that they can work together.
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but Jesus was tolerant – yet not in any way pluralistic.
When, during his arrest, Peter His disciple cut the ear off one of His assailants, Jesus told Peter to put his sword back in its sheath (John 18:11) and cried “no more of this!” – touching the injured man’s ear and healing him (Matt 26:51). That’s tolerance – He tolerated opposition, even at the cost of his own life.
But a pluralist He was not.
I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. (John 14:6)
Nothing airy-fairy in that about all religions being the same; about accepting a faith in something or someone else as being equally valid. In fact read the rest of the Bible, and that’s something God is very clear on. There is one God. One Saviour. One Way. That’s it.
So – should we again launch the Crusades with sword in hand, to wipe other religions off the face of the earth. Not according to Jesus.
Okay then. Should we instead adopt the enlightenment of contemporary thought, embracing pluralism, inviting Buddhists to worship in God’s house, marching arm in arm with all religions for world peace?
No! Because there is only one Way.
The Popular versus the Unpopular
The Dalai Lama has the luxury of proclaiming a popular message. In covering the fact that he was to receive the Templeton Award, the Indian Express reports that:
The ceremony will celebrate his long-standing engagement with multiple dimensions of science and with people far beyond his own religious traditions, which made him an incomparable global voice for universal ethics, non-violence and harmony among world religions,” organisers said. The Templeton Prize honours a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.
A popular message indeed. Ethics, religious harmony and an affirmation of life’s spiritual dimension. That’s three birds with one stone. That’s a message that many want to pull up next to … at least on the surface.
But it has nothing whatsoever to do with what Jesus is all about. This God of love sends His Son to die for us, but His Son makes it clear that not all would be happy with who He is, what He says and what He stands for:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. (Matt. 10:34-36)
In fact so unpopular and unpalatable was Jesus’ message that many disciples turned back and no longer went about with him (John 6:66). So unpopular was His message, that they nailed Him to a cross.
Something the Dalai Lama Can Teach the Church
Yes – there is something the Dalai Lama can teach the church – especially its leaders. In a recent post, I decried the ineffective communication of church leaders in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus in the media over Easter.
Whilst I disagree with 99.9% of what the Dalai Lama says, and 100% of what he stands for – you know what? He is one of the most effective communicators on the world stage today (if not the most effective). And to be perfectly blunt, he makes most of our church leaders look like troglodytes when it comes to their inability to proclaim the greatest Message of all.
If there’s one thing we (the church) can learn from the Dalai Lama, it’s how to communicate our message.
And just quietly, the other thing he has going for him is integrity – not a sniff of scandal. No systematic cover up of abuse.
So – effective communication and credibility. That’s kind of handy – do you think?
If nothing else, the Dalai Lama is a rude wake-up call to the church. So church … wake up!