I am a big fan of the writings of Tish Harrison Warren--a female Anglican priest in a denomination largely divided on whether or not women should assume leadership roles within the church. To the non-religious person, this probably sounds archaic or just plain silly. To a highly religious person like me, specifically coming from a Judeo-Christian worldview, this remains a valid point of contention. I simultaneously applaud John Piper's editorial letter explaining why he could not bring himself to vote for either 2020 presidential candidate while denouncing his stance on the role of Christian women in their homes, in the church, and in broader society.
In her tribute to Pastor Tim Keller, she mentioned one of many things she appreciated about his character. Keller was a long-standing member of the PBC, a denomination that publicly opposes women in pastoral roles. In spite of this, Keller was a great source of encouragement and support to Warren over the years of their friendship. To me, this is such a delightful picture of what harmonious pluralism looks like.
As an immigrant child, I was handed this fairytale of America. The tale went something like this: you live in the greatest country in the world, a mecca of diversity, acceptance, and freedom unlike anywhere else in the world. And while aspects of this remain true on paper, history and current events tell us that this isn't really true in practice.
According to many media outlets, higher education institutions, and artistic expressions, religion is the enemy of American freedom. Secular entities focus their spotlight on the failings of organized religion--our internal battles, our culture wars, our scandals, our extremist factions. The narrative of militant secularism goes something like this: any religion that doesn't kowtow to our idea of truth is wrong and doesn't deserve to exist.
The reality is that religion has quietly but powerfully shaped society for centuries by providing for the neediest among us. A cursory look at a list of hospitals in America turns up names representing various church denominations: Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Adventist, Latter Day Saints. The church took up the mantle of the sick, disabled, and dying when they were abandoned by their government or even their own families. Nuns and monks before and after Mother Theresa dedicated their lives to serving the poor without any cameras or biographers to capture their work. The vast majority of humanitarian missions in operation today were initiated and sustained by Catholic and Evangelical organizations. Refugee and war displacement work is largely handled by interfaith organizations working together to secure provisions and safety for millions in need without first stopping to discuss the deity of Jesus or to see if their political agendas align.
In a society obsessed with identity politics, religious identity is curiously absent from these conversations. Why is that? My faith permeates every aspect of my life. It affects how I go about my work, how I interact in my relationships, and how I make decisions. I daresay it's the same for most committed Jews, Muslims, and Catholics. My identity within the multi-ethnic family of the Judeo-Christian G-d compels my thoughts and actions far more than my gender, race, and sexual orientation do. And yet, I'm expected to disregard major tenets of this faith in submission to widespread political and social ideologies or risk being unilaterally labeled as a bigot. We are becoming a nation that is increasingly intolerant to those who hold their religion as more than just a private set of ideas and practices.
This "bigotry" as some label it, has somehow still enabled me to treat my atheist and agnostic patients with the same care that I would my own family members. It drives me to advocate for the best interest of alcoholics, drug abusers, prostitutes, and abusive husbands. 'It's what had me up to my elbows in fecal matter helping a trans person manage their leaking colostomy bag so that it wouldn't contaminate the nearby surgical wound when my nurse would have nothing to do with it. I assure you that this person could have cared less what pronouns I was using at the time.
Further complicating matters are militant conservatives (the most vocal of which are Evangelical Christians) who have determined that religious conviction requires verbal attacks and blatant power grasping. One faction of Christianity dominating politics and all major social institutions in this country isn't religious freedom, it's a religious monopoly.
We need more voices like Tish Harrison Warren and Eboo Patel. We also need platforms that are interested in promoting people with strong religious identities as well as the good things about religion. The good that many religions have put back into the world (of course, I can vouch most strongly for Christianity, of course) far outweighs the outright cruelties and complicities with cruelty. I don't deny the wrongs. I'm just pointing out that were the religious underpinnings of the countless adoption agencies, homeless shelters, women's shelters, food banks, and humanitarian charities to disappear overnight, the world would be in crisis.
I hope my small voice and colorful stories add to the dialogue of harmonious pluralism. I hope the tide of combative pluralism in this country is beginning to turn. While I wait for it, you can count on me NOT to hold my breath or my tongue.