March 27, 2009
Muslim Priest and Buddhist Bishop-Elect Are Raising Questions About Syncretism
by George Conger
Jesus saves, the Episcopal Church teaches, but a growing number of its clergy and leaders believe other faiths may lead to salvation as well. Long divided and distracted by questions of sexual ethics, the Episcopal Church (along with most mainline Protestant communities) are facing a cultural and theological shift towards religious pluralism--the belief that there are diverse paths to God.
The debate is not just academic. In two current cases, Episcopal clergy are under scrutiny for practicing and promoting other religions. On February 12 a devotee of Zen Buddhism was elected bishop of the Episcopal Church's Northern Michigan diocese. Meanwhile, a Seattle-area priest has been given until March 30 to decide whether she is a Muslim or a Christian as her bishop will not permit her to profess both faiths.
The Episcopal Church's problems with syncretism--the blending of belief systems--comes as no surprise to Wade Clark Roof, professor of Religious Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara and a leading sociologist of religion. "Clearly there are people, including religious leaders, [who find] spiritual wisdom in faiths other than their own," he told Christianity Today.
This openness to other faiths was "in some respects good in an age of global religious diversity when tolerance and respect are essential to our peace if not our survival," he said. There was also something healthy about seeing "Christ in the face of the other," he said, quoting Thomas Merton. "It implies not just acceptance of the religious other, but something of the intrinsic similarities among people despite their differences."
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