Editorial Director’s note: All Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
As a Latino Protestant Christian growing up on Long Island, New York, I was exposed to religious diversity in my largely immigrant neighborhood. I remember running six houses down to play with Vikash who belonged to an Indian, Hindu-practicing family. I recall occasionally accompanying my mom when she worked for Mrs. Yoko, a Japanese woman who had converted to Judaism and married into a Jewish family. As a boy, my mother taught me to respect the faith of those who had, in her words, temor de Dios (Fear of God).
Nevertheless, I’ll admit that it’s taken time for me to develop an intentionally open posture. In my teens, I went through multiple phases in which I defensively clutched to my Christian faith and sought to convert everyone around me. Even though I was surrounded by religious diversity, I was trapped in a circle of apologetics which made it hard for me to truly listen to others. Thankfully, a combination of relationships, life experiences, and education has snapped me out of the vicious circle. Now, I feel as though I’m starting all over again, this time trying to listen and pay attention. It can be a scary and humbling journey. Yet, I find that as I turn to learn from others, my own faith and even my own devotion to Jesus is strengthened.
There came a point at which I had to admit that Christianity does not have a spiritual monopoly on truth. If I truly believe everyone is created in the image of God, then different religious and ethical traditions do—however imperfectly—reflect that. Theological humility requires that I relinquish Christian supremacy, the temptation to think that Christians always have the best angle on what is true, good, and beautiful about God and this world. The more I study, the more I learn about how the Bible and various Christian traditions have been influenced by other spiritual lineages. Even “Christianity” itself is not a wholly pure, self-contained thing.
Being a Christian for social justice and against racism/all forms of oppression means that I must also look at the ways in which Christianity has historically perpetuated injustice. I don’t know how I can truly be an anti-racist Christian without confronting the anti-Semitic legacy of Christianity. It wasn’t until my first semester in divinity school that I grappled with the dangers of Christian supersessionism and early church teachings of contempt for Judaism and Jewish people. If I truly want to engage the Other, I can’t neglect the original Other that Christianity helped construct and the deep ways that this runs in Christian tradition.
Being a Christian in the United States today also requires me to acknowledge my relative privilege, especially in a time in which many Christians here fuel Islamophobia and hatred for sexual minorities. I have a responsibility to defend and affirm all of God’s children. When I see how Muslims and Middle Eastern people are racialized and demonized, I must acknowledge that this too has some tragic precedent in Christian tradition, during the Crusades and the Spanish Reconquista against the Moors, for example.
Being Christian and Afro-Latino is complicated for me. As I learn more about the history of the Americas and my own roots, I’m confronted by the colonial legacy of modern Christianity. In many ways, I feel as though I am a stranger in my own house of faith. In the development of what some scholars call modernity/coloniality, dominant Christianity came to be identified with the White, Capitalist, Patriarchal, and Hetero-normative West. Part of my faith journey is about reclaiming Jesus beyond these associations. Another part of my journey involves re-valuing indigenous spiritual traditions which were denigrated by Christian conquerors. I’m interested in engaging other people of faith who, like me, also feel marginalized within their own faith traditions and are carving out spaces. From faith margins to faith margins.
These are all reasons why I’m committed to building relationships with those from different religious and ethical traditions. People of faith and principles coming together to work for justice and a better world is one of the most powerful and needed things. And I don’t say this sentimentally or as a shallow, multicultural celebration of difference. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about learning to live together in the great “world house” we’ve inherited. He said we must learn to live together as siblings or “together we will be forced to perish as fools.” Today, given ongoing state violence, the extreme greed of various economic visions and the escalating ecological crisis, our sense of urgency cannot diminish.