Saturday, June 17, 2017

Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Since last week’s commentary on religious exclusivity, that topic has reverberated through the media.  It demands a second look at the question: Does religious exclusivity—the belief that God condemns unbelievers to eternal damnation—matter in politics?

            The greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves—including neighbors of other races and religions—is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  A belief that God limits his love and salvation to those of one religion and condemns all others to eternal damnation is in conflict with that love command.

            Proselytizing is a mission priority of exclusivist believers, but it demeans other religions.  Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion and taught that all who did God’s will were part of the family of God.  Exclusivist church doctrines that established Christianity as the one true faith and defined hell came later; they were created and promoted by the church.   
            Fareed Zakaria has reminded us that our nation is polarized on “core issues about identity, culture and religion” that make compromise seem immoral.  Religious and political reconciliation is a priority, but religious exclusivity is an obstacle to that reconciliation.  If God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity and Satan’s will is to divide and conquer, then Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in the church, mosque and in politics.

            Michael Gerson has pointed out that 80% of evangelical Christians, 63% of Catholics and 76% of Muslims believe that God condemns all unbelievers to hell.  Those statistics indicate that religious exclusivity will be an obstacle to political reconciliation.  That certainly matters in politics, but Gerson does not reject exclusivist religious beliefs in arguing for religious pluralism.

            Jacob Lupfer criticized Bernie Sanders as the unwitting star of cluelessness on religion at the confirmation hearing for Russel Vought.  He praised Vought, who “without explaining or defending his belief that Muslims stand condemned stated I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs.”  

            It defies reason to think that a person can believe Muslims “stand condemned” by God and still consider them “…made in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect.…”  But Lupfer avoided that contradiction by arguing that religious beliefs should be ignored in confirmation hearings, where only political issues like health care policy should be considered. 
            The theological arguments underlying religious exclusivism will not be easily resolved.  Religions will continue to defend their exclusivist doctrines, and tradition is a powerful force in opposing progressive change.  Since exclusivist believers promote religious division, how can progressive believers promote religious and political reconciliation?
            Reconciliation requires countering the divisiveness of religious exclusivity with love for our neighbors of other races and religions.  To that end a group of prominent religious leaders, including Pope Francis, Ayotollah Sayyid Fadhel Al-Milani, Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein and the Dalai Lama, has issued an appeal for believers to make friends with those of other religions.  Friendship is a mutual act of love that truly matters in religion and politics.

Notes and related commentary:

On last week’s commentary on religious exclusivity and discrimination in politics see

On Michael Gerson’s commentary on Bernie Sanders’ crusade against…believing in hell see

On Jacob Lupfor’s commentary on Bernie Sanders as the unwitting star of liberal cluelessness in religion, see
On the world’s top religious leaders issuing a rare joint appeal to make friends of those in other religions, see

On all who do God’s will as brothers and sisters of Jesus in the family of God, see

On apostasy and blasphemy laws undermining a common word of faith, see

On promoting religion through evangelism and proselytizing, see

On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see

On the need for a revolution in religion and politics, see

On the relevance of Jesus and the irrelevance of the church in today’s world, see

On intrafaith reconciliation as a prerequisite for interfaith reconciliation, see


  1. The bar is set high for every one of the bloggers out there.Joseph Hayon

  2. But these very elitist notions are why, as a young adult, I reached out to many other traditions and discovered how narrow and oppressive a viewpoint like this can be.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Mark. I see that you focus on psychic and mystical matters. My faith is grounded in mystical beliefs, but I, like Thomas Jefferson, have chosen to address the moral imperatives of faith that relate to politics and leave mystical beliefs to individual believers.