Other Sheep, Other Folds

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In our Gospel reading for this Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the author of John has Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd. . . . I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” (John 10:11-18) Wait a minute! “Other sheep”?! And, they’re not in this—our—fold?! There are other folds?

Who are these “other sheep,” and what fold(s) do they belong to?! I think that this year’s EfM (Education for Ministry) focus, Living Faithfully in a Multicultural World, is all about opening my eyes to the other sheep and the other folds. Our reading for this past week, Globalization, Gender, and Peacebuilding: The Future of Interfaith Dialogue, offers some provocative insights into those other sheep and other folds when the author, Kwok Pui-Lan, introduces me to a new term, “polydoxy”:

Polydoxy, a space for many opinions about belief within a body of belief, or alternatively a place of many faiths within a circle of faith, implies an openness to diversity, difference, challenge, and multiplicity. (quoting Colleen Hartung, “Faith and Polydoxy in the Whirlwind,” in Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation)

I have spoken about that “space for many opinions about belief within a body of belief” before when a friend’s daughter drew a picture of “The Good Shepherd” and “The Sheepfold”:

 Cellas Sheepfold

As she so beautifully illustrated, we are all welcome in the sheepfold, but the rest of that definition of “polydoxy”—“a place of many faiths within a circle of faith”—expands the welcoming beyond our own sheepfold. As Kwok puts it later:

A group of scholars . . . has suggested the term polydoxy to capture the idea that Christians do not have a monopoly on God’s revelation and that divinity should be understood in terms of multiplicity, open-endedness, and relationality.

This thinking echoes Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a speech he gave to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2001:

 . . . no religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth.

Isn’t Paul saying as much when he says, in First Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass darkly”? If we can only see through that glass darkly, might not others be looking through it, too, and seeing the same thing quite differently? What would happen if the world’s religions—and governments—each approached the others in this attitude?

Polydoxy. Maybe, just maybe, that “diversity, difference, challenge, and multiplicity” that Kwok speaks of in defining polydoxy are Jesus’ “other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” How would that change our approach to other people of faith?

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