Who are Today’s Samaritans? Engaging New Religious Movements
Integrator: Cory Willson
A jog through the urban neighborhoods around my apartment in Long Beach reveals the familiar landmarks of the Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic, Methodist, and Lutheran presence in this city, but also buildings for smaller religious groups such as the Community of Higher Consciousness and the Morningland Community of the Ascended Christ. This city is a microcosm of the larger pattern of emerging religious pluralism in the United States.
But religious diversity is not celebrated by everyone in the U.S. While in theory it is politically correct to be tolerant of other religious groups, the proximity of such communities—especially those labeled by some Christian apologists as “cults” but are described less pejoratively by others as New Religious Movements—can surface primal dispositions of fight or flight in even the most “open-minded” of Christians. “Can I pray with a Mormon neighbor?” “Should I allow my child to go to a slumber party at a friend’s house whose parents are Muslim?” “What do I do if my son starts to date a Jehovah’s Witness?” Questions like these raise real challenges of ordinary life in religiously pluralistic contexts in the U.S. And if a recent discussion with a group of forty adults from my church is any indication, underlying these questions are deep-seated fears of possible spiritual contamination, doctrinal compromise, and loss of religious certainty. These primal emotions require us to examine our own dispositions along with our theological framework for relating to those who belong to new religions.
In the lead article, John Morehead provides an overview of evangelical approaches to New Religious Movements in the U.S.—those religious groups that have emerged alongside of historic world religions either as restorationist movements aimed at recovering lost religious truths or as movements that are novel in origin. Morehead goes on to argue that the New Testament stories of Jesus’ encounters with Samaritans are instructive for how we approach those who belong to New Religious Movements. Following the example of Jesus, Morehead argues that evangelicals should trade their fearful suspicion of these religious groups for the grace-shaped approach revealed in Jesus’ actions towards people from minority religious groups.
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