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Pluralism: Educating That We’re Better


In my previous article, Pluralism: The Reality Adventism Can No Longer Ignore, I address the need for the Adventist Church to recognize and engage the diversity of faiths within a pluralistic mindset. Now, I want to highlight one key area in which we are failing to adequately teach our high school students about other faiths.

In Charles Scriven’s article Time to Start Over: The Quest for Community – Church Life Re-imagined he prompts us to rethink our engagement with other Christians. What if we turn this renewal to non-Christians?

Our context as Gary Krause points out in his historical essay is that:

Adventism as always maintained a core suspicion within Christianity, meaning that any form of inter-religious practice, being outside of our faith, “…seems incompatible with the traditional Adventist mission agenda.”

Enter in our church’s Encounter Bible program, which in grade 12 contains a quarter year unit plan on world religions. Within this one unit we see a well-written learning plan of ignoble dialectics aimed at establishing Adventism as the sole source of truth. Casting all faiths as ‘sinful’ (a concept that has almost no meaning outside of Christianity) and ‘less than.’ Because this unit expresses Adventism as the sole holder of truth (even within Christianity itself) it has no need to adequately teach basic understanding of non-Christian faiths. Instead, it rummages through major world religions while planting the seeds of trained ignorance. Is this what we want the next generations of church members to be like?

A look at some simple word counts within this unit on world religions is telling.

Top People Search
Ellen G. White—45

Top Holy & Non-Holy Books Search
The Great Controversy—25

A learning plan such as this develops a superiority complex within Adventist students through lessons well below their intellectual abilities. It fails to recognize the absurd in promoting Adventism as having the “full truth.” For such a claim will always be false by virtue of finite beings trying to grasp at the infinite. Is there truth? Yes. Do we as Adventists have it all exclusively? No. When we let go of our paranoia for fortifying our Adventist identity at the expense of others, we will no longer need to see other faiths as “fallen.” Rather we can see them as worthy spiritual partners, though both agreements and disagreements or in other words—dialogue in action.

I see this world religions unit as an appalling attempt at understanding the religious world around us. Many elements of the material are out of line with the reality of religious diversity, and it also does not establish spiritual life-long learners. But most of all, encountering Jesus cannot in any way include the degradation of others or their beliefs. The word “respect” appears twelve times in this unit plan, yet not one lesson is present on teaching a clear methodology of respect. Instead, students are told to be kind to others in hopes of evangelizing them. Is that truly Jesus’ call to love others as you love yourself? If Encounter Bible is to fill the role of learning about other faiths, it must be thoroughly reconceptualized and rebuilt. (An attempt at this concept was completed through my major graduate project: click here for a free copy)

Religious diversity is the reality of an ever-globalized world, and it needs to be met with strategies of understanding and relational interactions. A curriculum is needed that seeks to provide students with the tools to navigate our religiously diverse communities from a pluralistic mindset within a framework of respect. The core question of searching is: How do we live well in a religiously diverse world? [1]  Following the charge left by Max Muller “to know one [religion] is to know none,” students must be taught to explore the worldviews and spiritualties of major world religions with honesty, thoughtfulness and relatability.

However, if the point of SDA education is to encounter the god of Adventism at the detriment of other faith traditions, this Encounter Bible unit needs to be retitled as “Adventism as the Sole Source of Truth and My Faith” to avoid any further confusion.


Notes & References

[1] Kevin Minister, "Transforming Introductory Courses in Religion: From World Religions to Interreligious Studies." In Interreligious/interfaith Studies: Defining a New Field, ed. Eboo Ratel, Jennifer Howe Peace and Noah J Silverman (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), 63-64


Previous Article in this Series

Pluralism: The Reality Adventism Can No Longer Ignore,  April 26, 2021


Kevin R. McCarty is writing on the topic of SDA inter-faith education for his master’s level thesis. He is an Adventist teacher in beautiful British Columbia and an advanced graduate student in Indigenous & Interreligious Studies at the Vancouver School of Theology.

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

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