I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
How do you talk to your friends about Jesus in multi-faith Southall? Answer, according to one six-year-girl, ‘I ask them, “What do you like about your God?” And then I say what I like about my God.’
I’ve been reminded of her response in recent weeks. The election of Sadiq Khan as the first Muslim mayor of a major western city was widely reported around the world. An internal review by the BBC has concluded that the Corporation’s output is too Christian, suggesting that Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths should get more airtime, while plans for new laws to tackle extremism were announced in this week’s Queen’s Speech.
Whatever we make of these issues – and responses vary – they are a reminder, if we need it, of the religiously plural nature of contemporary society. In many parts of the UK, through globalisation and migration, trade and technology, we increasingly live and work in close proximity to people who are adherents of different world faiths.
It’s not the first time the church has carried out its mission in a pluralistic context. Christianity was born into such a situation, and has faced the challenge many times in its history.
That challenge also brings opportunities in public life. In Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, Christian theologian Miroslav Volf argues that world religions can contribute to societal wellbeing not by one winning out over the others or by their amalgamation into a common ‘essence’, but by the recognition that each carries within itself something of benefit to which its adherents can appeal, which outsiders can recognise as they engage in conversation with each other.
Of course, truth claims about Christ and salvation matter. Being civil doesn’t require us to leave our Christian convictions at the front door of any discussion. On the contrary, it’s only as we engage in conversation from a firm stance of faith in Jesus and his lordship over the whole of life that we’re able to find places to connect with others, confident that the gospel answers the deep longings of men and women even while it challenges the way those longings are understood.
The danger would be to dig in or fight back, as if there was no other way but to respond in fear. A six-year-old girl in Southall would beg to differ.