Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Sikh Issue: Pluralism Versus Relativism

I recently had someone send me a note who was concerned about my physical well-being. He saw this article as having possible death threat implications, especially in the last line of the publication, which reads, "As American Sikh Citizens, Let us defend our religious rights and stop ill minded pastors like Kent from bullying Sikhs." How will they "stop ill minded pastors like Kent from bullying Sikhs?" I'll let you decide whether you think that is a physical threat to me or not.

The Backstory

To give some context to what this issue is, let me give you the back story. Many years ago, the U. S. Sikhs built a temple in our town of El Sobrante. Around this area in California, we have a multitude of immigrant Sikhs who have moved here from Punjab, India, the place of origination of the Sikh religion. Twenty years ago when we started the church here in the East Bay of the SF Bay Area right away we began meeting many Sikhs while going door to door. Like with every other person in this area, we became concerned with the salvation of the Sikhs. The Bible teaches that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ, and that outside of Him is destruction (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; John 3:18, 36). This is not a new message. This message has been preached by Bible-believing Christians for two-thousand years, and is even the message of the Old Testament, when one considers the Messianic prophecies, making this a message as old as the earth itself. We believe in shaping our evangelistic approach to a particular false belief system. The Gospel is always the same, but spiritual warfare considers the particular stronghold in the hearer's mind (2 Cor. 10:3-5). For that reason, I wrote a tract designed specifically for Sikhs. I also wrote one for Buddhists, Catholics, and others.

A little more than a year ago, the Sikhs obtained permission from the Contra Costa County and the town of El Sobrante to have a parade right down Appian Way, a major thoroughfare here in West Contra Costa. The parade was held on Sunday and it started before our Sunday services were ended. During our services, while I was still preaching, we heard loud chanting in a foreign language over microphone and loud speakers. I had no idea what was being said. The chanting was accompanied by music that was definitively something Indian in nature that was in fitting with their chant and their religion.

As soon as our service was over, I took a stack of about fifteen of our Sikh tracts down to Appian Way to begin handing them out to the Sikh people. Several of our men followed me there to join me in that activity. We handed them out in a friendly, civil, and peacable way, smiling and complimenting the very modest and distinct dress of these Punjab Americans. When I got down to the road, what I saw was an all Sikh parade with an all Sikh emphasis. They said that it was a kind of "march for peace" between religions. On their flat bed trailers were huge pictures of their gurus and the loud chanting was only in their language.

About a week after the parade, I got a phone call from a newspaper writer, who asked me questions about the whole incident. I didn't remember an incident. What had happened was that a local Sikh leader called the paper to complain about our activities that day. Of course, all we did was hand out our Sikh tract, something we had already been handing out for many years to hundreds of Sikhs. This was old news. The urban newspaper, huge in its circulation, printed the article, which was not unfavorable to what we did. On their website, they also included a scanned edition of the tract which we handed out. What we did, however, that is, passing out tracts quietly during a very loud Sikh parade, was condemned by one local businessman and then by the El Sobrante Municipal Advisory Committee in one of their meetings.

A few weeks ago, while I was out of town, they had their second annual parade, which was even bigger than the first. Men from our church, including Pastor Sutton, walked down again to hand out tracts. This time our men were surrounded by these "peaceful" Sikhs, who hurled angry epithets at our men, ripped tracts from their hands, surrounded them in a threatening manner, and bumped up against them, essentially breaking the law and impeding our right to free speech. On both occasions, the parade blocked the entrance/exit to our church property, making it very difficult for our people to go home after church services. We were extremely inconvenienced by the whole thing as it stopped up the flow of traffic on Appian Way.

Some Questions

Let me ask you a few questions.

1) Do you think our county and town would allow a Baptist or Bible parade in which we shouted Bible verses over a microphone and loud speakers?
2) Do you think we would complain to the newspapers about Sikhs passing out Sikh materials to people along our Baptist parade?
3) Do you think we would consider peacefully and quietly handing out Sikh materials to our people in any context would be considered to be bullying Christians or Baptists?
4) Why do you think that the county and town sympathizes with the Sikhs, but not with us?
5) If we had a Baptist parade and ran it right in front of the Sikh temple, do you think that the ACLU might get involved over "separation of church and state"?

It is easy to see that the Sikhs are being given not only their rights, but even more rights than what we would be given if we tried to do the same thing that they did.

Pluralism and Relativism

So what's the situation here? These immigrant people do not understand the freedom of America, the liberty for which U. S. citizens have fought and died in great numbers. They come here to enjoy these freedoms, and when they arrive they don't see the difference between what we have here and what they had in their native country. I have great compassion for them and I really do forgive their ignorance. I wish they would leave us alone to some degree, but I understand their confusion. They don't understand the difference between pluralism and relativism.

If they read the Wikipedia articles on religious pluralism and relativism, they could understand. What you'll notice in the essay on relativism is that Sikhism itself is relativistic, which is where the rub comes as well. Sikhs have the freedom in this country to believe and practice relativistic, but that doesn't mean that everyone else must. Do you understand that a relativistic by nature and to be consistent with his own belief has no basis for criticizing another religion, especially for being absolute. We believe that truth is absolute, but since they don't, it shouldn't matter to them. They should see our beliefs in their own relative fashion, since that is how they view the world, and we will look at things in black and white, since that is how we view the world.

Pluralism says that religions may coexist peacefully and still contest each other ideaologically, spiritually, and philosophically. Pluralism is strongly defended by the first amendment. We can believe and practice what we want in this country. This is also an honest and consistent approach. Two positions that contradict cannot both be true. They shouldn't be treated like they are both true, just for the sake of the relativist.

For all Sikhs who read this article, I ask you to consider your rhetoric and how that it sharply contradicts religious pluralism. If you are true relativists, you should be happy that we can believe and practice as we wish. You should not encourage our belief and practice to be "stopped." You should understand as well that by calling for us to cease, that you are denying your own relativistic religion, bringing into question whether you actually do believe what you say you do.


William D said...

we both serve in an area surrounded by middle eastern religions. God bless you for your faithfulness and concern for their souls! You have encouraged me today.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks William. They are part of every creature and God seeks from among them for true worshipers.

Don Johnson said...

Hey Kent,

Is your tract available for download somewhere? Or can I get it the old fashioned way (i.e., snail mail)??

We have a number of Sikh's in our area. I would like to have something specific to use when I run into them.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Sure, Don. I'll email you.