For a while now I've been sharing with people about the new phase of our research in connection with the supplemental grant from the Louisville Institute. At times I get the feeling that a few people really get it, but more often than not I think it's difficult for many to connect the dots between the research and its importance for multi-faith engagement by evangelicals. I recently posted something on Facebook that received several comments and really seemed to connect with folks, so I thought I'd post on it here as well.
In the video clip above from the 700 Club, host Pat Robertson illustrates our grant research topics. As you can see in the video, he responds to a viewers written question about what they should do in regards to working around a Buddhist. Robertson's response incorporates the two areas of our research. First, as a conservative, Robertson draws upon purity as a moral foundation, and as a result Buddhists are viewed as potential contaminants that threaten the health of the individual Christian, and by extension, the church as well. Because purity is threatened, Robertson then draws upon a conceptual metaphor of DISEASE and applies that to the Buddhist co-worker.
This may come as a shock to some viewers to compare a Buddhist you work with to an infectious disease, but I have seen this dynamic at play for years among evangelicals. This is a common response to the new religions or "cults" in the evangelical "counter-cult" community, and it is also found beyond there in broader evangelicalism. Concerns for purity and fear of contamination are understandable in a sense in that every religious group has boundaries, and we want to ensure the integrity of the church. But when purity is used in such a way that it cause us to dehumanize other human beings and shun them unless they happen to convert, then this is a problem for evangelicals. It compromises our ability to love our neighbors as ourselves (not to mention loving our enemies).
So in case you've had a difficult time wondering why the Multi-faith Matters team is bringing theology into conversation with social psychology and conceptual metaphor, Pat Robertson is a good illustration. We will learn a lot about our tribe, and contribute to changing the narrative we use in regards to our multi-faith neighbors.