The participation of emergent church leaders in an interfaith dialogue raised flags for some conservative Christians who have been concerned over a growing cooperation of emergent church leaders with New Spirituality/New Age leaders.
Prior to Tuesday's InterSpirituality Day panel discussions, hosted by Seeds of Compassion, Christian talk show host Ingrid Schlueter of Crosstalk Radio warned the public that emergent leaders Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church and Doug Pagitt of Solomon's Porch would promote universalism.
The panel included various Christian leaders, a Muslim scholar, a Sikh, and the Dalai Lama, among others, who spoke on compassion and spirituality.
Held in one of the most unchurched cities in the country – Seattle – the dialogue drew over 7,000 people who heard the diverse panel speak about nurturing compassion in a religiously pluralistic world.
"We say we are created by one god. We say we are all the human family. That makes us interdependent. That is the basis of compassion because it is the basis of the morality of the world," said Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Catholic nun.
Young adults posed questions to the religious leaders about overcoming anger, interfaith dialogue, and how spirituality can be a catalyst for compassion and not destruction.
While each religious leader alluded to their personal faith, from Buddhism to Christianity, there was little emphasis on their core beliefs and more talk on spiritual connectedness and the universality of being compassionate – a dialogue that seemed appropriate in a city where many say they are "spiritual" but not necessarily religious.
"When somebody wrongs you ... there is, next to revenge, another option – which is not to hand back the pain; which means, you're going to have to bear that pain," said Bell, also a best-selling author.
"It is going to feel like a death, but it is going to lead to a resurrection. It is going to feel like a Friday but a Sunday is going to come," he added. "That is what changes the world - when somebody chooses not to hand it back."
Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries, which claims to specialize in apologetics and be rooted in orthodox Christian theology, wasn't pleased with Bell's response, saying he did not give a "Christian answer" and avoided mentioning Jesus Christ.
Others weren't surprised Bell and Pagitt joined the interfaith event.
"They teach that you really can't understand the Bible, nor are you supposed to. Rather you need to experience it; it's not what God says, but how you feel about it; its content is to be received really subjectively or experientially." McMahon told OneNewsNow, adding that such teaching essentially rejects the authority of the Bible. "They believe that preaching or teaching Bible doctrines is too authoritarian, so they turn to conversation ... about the Bible – and [in many emergent churches] that replaces teaching from the pulpit."
Some young adults expressed concern over interfaith dialogue and the blurring of faith convictions.
"How can interfaith dialogue nourish compassion without the fear of losing one's religious identity?" one young adult posed to the panel on Tuesday.
Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, believes it would have been in God's power to make everyone the same. But "God created religious pluralism for a reason," she said, "so we can strive as in a race towards goodness."
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated, "All of us who are Christian seek to be inspired by the example of our Lord. How frequently in the gospels do we hear Jesus had compassion?"
"You do not need to be Muslim to be compassionate. You don't need to be a Christian to be a compassionate person," he added. But Tutu pointed out that each person has a purpose in this world as he applauded those who are making the world a better place through compassion works.
"Are you in this world by yourself or is there a purpose by which God made [you]?"
The Dalai Lama said he believes there are different religions so people can find the one that best suits them. "I think everyone, ultimately, deep inside [has] some kind of goodness," he said.
On another note, the Dalai Lama left young people with this message: "Whether we accept religion or not, [it's] up to the individual. [But] once we accept, be serious, sincere."
Seeds of Compassion held a five-day gathering that drew about 144,000 people. The event concluded Tuesday.