On a recent Sunday, the sermon given really spoke to me, and I feel compelled to share it's message with you of religious tolerance. It's something we encounter every day in our interactions with people, but we may not recognize it for what it is, or how important it is. In fact, here in the self-proclaimed "belt buckle" of the Bible belt, it can be increasingly hard to find.
Religious toleration is the condition of accepting or permitting others' religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one's own. Most people tend to view religions other than their own primarily in one of three ways:
* Exclusivism: One's own faith tradition is the only true religion.
* Inclusivism: One's own faith tradition is the only completely true religion. Other religions are incomplete or partially developed faiths which have some truth.
* Pluralism: All religions are legitimate, valid, and true -- when viewed from within their particular culture. All faith traditions are deserving of respect.
Pluralists may hold very strong personal convictions even while being "tolerant" of conflicting belief systems. They might feel that their own convictions are absolutely true and valid for themselves. But they believe that other people's belief systems are equally valid, if judged within their own cultures.
So, an American Christian could hold very firm religious beliefs. She/he could also accept that Muslim belief systems are also true and valid within Islamic cultures. They could accept that Buddhist beliefs are true and valid for Buddhists. They are probably tolerant of non-Christian beliefs within all other religious groups, ranging from Agnosticism to Zoroastrian, including Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, etc. They would be tolerant of other person's and groups' beliefs whether expressed within their own locality, elsewhere in their country, or in foreign lands.
A person may hold very strong personal convictions and believe that other people's beliefs are either partly or totally false. Still they might respect the fundamental human right of religious freedom.
Religious freedom includes:
* The right to follow one's own spiritual and religious path,
* The right for a person to convert from one belief system to another.
* The right to communicate these beliefs with the hope of converting others.
* The right to assemble with others in religious services, seminars, etc.
So they will work to assure that everyone enjoys religious freedom.
Ultimately, this is the only way to guarantee their own freedom of religion in the future.
A Native American saying goes:
"All the races and tribes in the world are like the different colored flowers of one meadow. All are beautiful. As children of the Creator, they must all be respected."
Toleration isn't much, but it is the first step towards curiosity, interest, study, understanding, appreciating and finally valuing our community's diversity.
In Fulton County alone, we have Interfaith, Baptist, Church of Christ, Methodist, Mennonite, Assemblies of God, Adventists, Non-Denominational, Catholic, Episcopal, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostal, Pagan, Lutheran, and Presbyterian. We are a veritable melting pot of beliefs and paths, all of which lead to a greater understanding of God.
I ask that you endeavor to bring some tolerance into your own life, and in doing so, into our families and our community. By embracing our differences and recognizing our similarities we can make our community strong, and by sharing our faiths and experiences with each other, we make our community even stronger.