February 2011 – In a culture that is becoming more syncretistic, it was not surprising to find people from different spiritual backgrounds meeting together for a religious service. In this instance, what was surprising was that it happened in the Bible Belt.
On November 22, citizens of Tupelo, Mississippi, where AFA is headquartered, held their annual community Thanksgiving service at First United Methodist Church. The 2010 service was planned by a well-respected organization, Mission Mississippi, known for promoting unity between white and black Christians.
This community service, however, had something new: The featured speaker was Dr. Jay Dey, a Hindu.
For some in the community, the inclusion of a Hindu was a shock. But Dr. Ed Holliday, one of the leaders of the local chapter of Mission Mississippi, told the local newspaper that inclusion was, in fact, the whole point.
“Since this is a community service, we knew that we needed to be inclusive,” he told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. “I like involving different faiths, and I don’t believe this needs to be an exclusively Christian event.”
In fact, Holliday told the paper he wished Mission Mississippi could have made sure “all of Tupelo’s faith communities [were] represented at the service.” He added: “This is a unique American holiday when we can all come together and give thanks.”
But give thanks to whom? For Christians, what is the purpose of a Thanksgiving service if not to give thanks to Jehovah through Jesus Christ? And if Christians are giving thanks to the God of the Bible, why are they including the followers of false religions? Hindus sure aren’t thanking Jesus. And if we are not giving thanks to Almighty God, then why go through the motions of pretending we are?
Make no mistake, the Thanksgiving service was a religious event: (1) the historical background of Thanksgiving itself is religious, because the event was established to thank God for His blessings; (2) it was sponsored by Mission Mississippi, a Christian group with a Christian mission statement (www.missionmississippi.org); (3) in previous years, the community Thanksgiving service was sponsored by the Greater Tupelo Ministerial Alliance; (4) it was held in a church; and (5) it was publicized as a religious service. In fact, it was the religious nature of the service that seemed to motivate Holliday’s insistence that “all of Tupelo’s faith communities” be represented.
But why should a religious service be inclusive, when the participating religions themselves are mutually exclusive? For example, Christianity and Hinduism hold to mutually exclusive views of God, man, sin and salvation. While participation in a joint religious service might be inclusive, what the practitioners are actually doing is just the opposite. Each representative is praying to a separate god in defiance – and denial – of the other deity. To pretend this is inclusion is just that – pretense. More fearfully, it is the embrace of the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:1-3) precisely because Hindus deny Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul warned Christians to avoid situations in which they were “bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14, NAS). While many Christians rightfully relate this passage to questions of interpersonal relationships – should a Christian, for example, marry an unbeliever – that is not the primary application of Paul’s warning. The apostle’s admonition is zeroed in on religious and spiritual cooperation.
He says Christians should avoid being bound together with unbelievers because there is no “harmony,” “fellowship,” or “agreement” between what is of Christ and what is found in false religions. There is nothing “in common” and thus should be found no “partnership” between the church – “the temple of the living God” – and idols. And the Hindu religion is filled with idols.
To drive his point home, Paul then quotes the Old Testament and states emphatically: “ ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean’ ” (vs. 17).
Surely the phrase “be separate” must include not having a joint religious service with Hindus. Paul asks, “What harmony has Christ with Belial [a demon prince in Jewish apocryphal thought]?” We might paraphrase it thusly: What fellowship has Christ with Shiva [a Hindu god] or Allah or Buddha? The answer to each permutation of the question is the same: None.
Now, agreeing to disagree with the practitioners of other religions is fine. The First Amendment right of every person to free exercise of religious expression is a wonderful privilege. We can respect that and should tolerate other religions – Hinduism included.
But for Christians to hold a joint religious service with the practitioners of what Scripture condemns as false and damnable religions – which keep the souls of men and women enslaved in darkness – is both folly and an affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ.