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And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the...
March 23, 2016
A-Case-for-Confident-Pluralism-CUWith all the contestation surrounding religious freedom and difference in beliefs, there are certainly times where we might think that the world would be better without such conflicts, or any differences for that matter. But differences are what enrich our lives, sharpen our minds, and expand our creativity.

When we look at the First Amendment, we can believe that our Founding Fathers never intended for us to be the same – they hoped that future generations would build a nation not of weak conformity, but of confident pluralism. In an article for Christianity Today, Washington University’s John Inazu argues just that. Pluralism doesn’t mean relativism, but instead offers both Christians and non-Christians a way to live without undermining their convictions:

Confident Pluralism takes both confidence and pluralism seriously. Confidence reinforces the convictions we hold. Pluralism recognizes and reinforces the differences that exist. Confidence without pluralism misses the reality of difference. It suppresses difference, sometimes violently. Pluralism without confidence ignores and sometimes trivializes our stark differences for the sake of feigned agreement or false unity. Confident Pluralism allows genuine difference to exist without suppressing or minimizing firmly held convictions.

This is not a distinctly Christian idea, and Christians and non-Christians alike could embrace it. Indeed, the origins of the phrase point toward that possibility.

He continues to explain what is needed to support Confident Pluralism, as well as what Christians can do to take positive, profound steps toward being a ballast for our country and embracing their Christian identity:

Confident Pluralism depends upon both legal frameworks and personal commitments. Legal frameworks focus on what we require of government to ensure the conditions that make Confident Pluralism possible. Personal commitments point to what we ask of ourselves.

The legal frameworks in this country are not where they need to be to foster Confident Pluralism. While our nation has a longstanding commitment to protecting difference and dissent, current constitutional doctrine fails to do so in important ways. In particular, current Supreme Court case law insufficiently protects the voluntary groups of civil society through a weakened right of association and an enfeebled public forum doctrine. These shortcomings risk harm to citizens of all stripes—religious and nonreligious, liberal and conservative . . . The personal commitments—what Confident Pluralism asks of us—cover the ordinary spaces of our lives that, for the most part, lie beyond the reach of law.

Christians can pursue these aspirations in the spaces that the law does not regulate; we can choose to model kindness and charity across deep differences without sacrificing the claims upon which we stake our lives. That posture will affect how we talk to and treat others. The aspirations of tolerance, humility, and patience do not prevent us from expressing moral judgments or public claims of faith. But they will inform how we express such judgments and faith claims.

The aspirations of Confident Pluralism can help us recognize a common humanity in our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. We can work toward partnership even when our differences will not be overcome. And we can find common ground even in the absence of a shared common good.

 Above all, Confident Pluralism allows for people who have a host of different beliefs to co-exist without infringing on one another:

Confident Pluralism allows for disagreement over claims about truth and ultimate reality. Just as we would expect non-Christians to allow Christians to believe and live out the claims of Christianity, we must also allow others to act out of their own beliefs and commitments. Some Christians worry that this kind of forbearance will collapse into relativism, but it doesn’t have to. And if it’s truly confident pluralism, it won’t.

…Each of us, religious or non-religious, live out our beliefs in our actions. Christians act on a belief that the claims of Jesus Christ are true. Non-Christians act on other beliefs. As theologian Lesslie Newbigin observes, “We are continually required to act on beliefs that are not demonstrably certain and to commit our lives to propositions that can be doubted.” Recognizing this fact of the world does not make us relativists.

Even though Confident Pluralism is one practical outworking of Christian witness in a liberal democracy, it finds resonance in Christian theology. For example, in our English translation of Psalm 118:9, we see the psalmist proclaim, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” And the well-known verse from Hebrews asserts that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (11:1).

Christians are called to be a light to the world. This involves embracing their beliefs unabashedly. Yes, the legal framework of the U.S. has failed to support Confident Pluralism, but this does not mean that it is unattainable. If Christians are willing to courageously express their beliefs in the public square and support Confident Pluralism, which benefits both Christians and non-Christians alike, the surrounding culture will assuredly take notice. Confident Pluralism is what our country truly desires; it is up to us to take the first steps in pointing culture in that direction.
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