What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-18-21
You’ve probably heard of the “golden rule”: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). It’s part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. Versions of the golden rule are found in many other sacred texts from other religions, including a version that is known as the “silver rule”: “Do not do unto others as you would not have done to you.”
I recently encountered the “silver rule” applied to the practice of reaching new people in the book Religious Diversity, What’s the Problem? Buddhist Advice for Flourishing with Religious Diversity by Rita M. Gross. Dr. Gross is Professor Emertia of Comparative Religious Studies at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Senior Dharma Teacher in the Nyingma Lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism. Her book was recommended to me by one of the members of Harvard Divinity School’s Harvard Pluralism Project, which I participate in as a representative of the United Church of Christ.
Reaching new people is a mission component of almost every organization–profit and not-for-profit–because every organization is made of people and no individual person lasts forever. So if an institution wants to continue–much less grow–some intentional effort is required. There are many thoughts on how to reach new people as without them no church will survive in the long term, so I thought I would take the opportunity that the consolidation process raises to define more precisely the theology of reaching new people for myself in the hope that others might find it helpful. Dr. Gross’ distinction between universal religion and exclusive religion helpful in this regard.
A universal religion is one that is based on ideas that are potentially relevant to everyone. The three great universal religions are Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Since these religions are based on ideas, they can adapt to many cultures and easily spread around the world. Reaching new people is an important part of universal religions.
A universal religion may or may not also be an exclusive religion. A universal religion is exclusive when it says both “Our religion is true for everyone” and “Everyone else’s beliefs are false.” Historically, Christianity and Islam are both universal and exclusive. The project of the universal and exclusive religion is to eliminate religious diversity. When religious monoculture is the end, all kinds of ethically questionable means are justified. The other option is exemplified by Buddhism, which is a universal religion but not exclusive. In other words, Buddhists believe that theirs is a universal truth that is potentially helpful for everyone, but there is no expectation that everyone must become Buddhist. In fact, for some people Buddhism isn’t particularly meaningful, and that’s just fine. Buddhism is universal and pluralist, that is, accepting of many religions and beliefs.
A universal and pluralist religion follows the “silver rule” when reaching new people: “do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” Do you want someone pushing their religion on you? No? Then don’t do that. Would you like an invitation from a friend to something you’re interested in? Do do that. My approach to reaching new people is informed by Buddhist practice: I try to be invitational without being overbearing. I try to invest in people without expecting anything in return. I try to respect the dignity and inherent worth of every individual. It’s not my intention to eliminate difference; rather, love invites me to join with all beings in celebration of our God-given, baffling, and beautiful diversity.