America is increasingly a land with religious and spiritual options. For some time now there has been a general turn away from interest in and involvement with institutionalized forms of religion, such as Christianity, and a corresponding move toward an inward and subjective expression of spirituality. This development in the ways in which people pursue their religious and spiritual practices means that the spiritual marketplace is not only made up of institutionalized forms of alternative spiritualities expressed in more familiar groups such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also in more fluid and individualized forms of spirituality such as Neo-Paganism and Western esotericism. In addition, large numbers of people pursue their own unique forms of Do-It-Yourself Spirituality drawn from elements of popular culture and diverse religious traditions.
So while forty years ago, an interfaith encounter might have involved a Methodist living next door to a Catholic, in the 21st century the situation has changed dramatically: and your neighbor might be a Mormon, a Wiccan, a Pagan, a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Buddhist. This exotic mix of religions perplexes most Christians, but this new reality cannot be ignored since increasingly family members, loved ones, friends, neighbors, and co-workers are adherents of these movements. As followers of Jesus Christ, how are we to respond to our changing society?
Currently, for those who want to share their faith, there are few options. The church in the United States has been paralyzed for three decades in knowing how to respond to this new and uncomfortable spiritual reality. The fact is that as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, there are few Christians who even know much about these new religions, much less how to respond to and to how to live among the adherents of alternative spiritualities in America's neighborhoods.
This paltry understanding of new religious movements by American Christians is woefully inadequate to meet the great challenge of the new century. Most available materials on the subject simply contrasts Christian beliefs with the beliefs of a select handful of non-Christian religions and spiritualities, and most of this information is both academically and practically inadequate to build bridges to alternative spiritualities in ways that make the Gospel of Jesus Christ understandable and appealing to them.
The Western Institute for Intercultural Studies (WIIS) exists to meet this need. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, we educate and equip individuals, congregations, and Christian academics to communicate the Christian faith to adherents of new religious movements with understanding and sensitivity. WIIS partners with churches, Christian colleges and seminaries, and parachurch ministries. We affirm the doctrinal platform of The Lausanne Covenant.
We produced a video trailer that summarizes the above and describes why WIIS exists, what we do, the resources and training we provide, and how you can get involved in supporting this work. For further information see What We Do.