This past week, my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), held its triennial Churchwide Assembly. One of the main events was voting on the proposed policy statement: A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment. I’m proud to say that it passed 890-23.
That might have been due to the fabulous array of ecumenical and inter-religious guests!
There was, however, one moment of concern from the intrafaith perspective. An amendment had been submitted calling a section of the policy statement “inconsistent with Scripture,” which proposed striking some of the language of the statement under the heading “Limits on our knowing” (lines 630-655). The author of the motion based his challenge on our old friend John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In the amendment he wrote: “We have a clear statement from Jesus, who is fully God and fully man. We do therefore have a basis to know God’s views on religions that do not require faith in Jesus Christ as God’s son.”
Speaking from the floor, he added: “I am here to speak truth to power, even if it is an inconvenient truth. I would urge this assembly to repudiate and repent of any false teachings.”
The only other person who came to a microphone stated, “I’m embarrassed that we’re having this conversation in front of our interfaith guests.”
The motion to amend was overwhelmingly defeated and the policy statement was adopted.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am delighted that this policy statement has been adopted. But I’m also disappointed that this very appropriate question was not adequately addressed. To be fair, I doubt that it could have been adequately addressed in the context of the amendment’s discussion time. And I have to wonder how many other voting members had similar questions but not the courage of this one lone amendment-maker. Having the discussion with all the interfaith guests standing right there on the stage might not have been an embarrassment, but it sure might have been a deterrent.
As I have said innumerable times, the “What about when Jesus said . . .” question has come up in virtually every interfaith workshop I’ve ever led with Christians.
Here is an audio version of the interview I did on Pastor to Pew a few years ago. We talk about my book, The INTRAfaith Conversation. But mostly it’s my take on John 14: 6 and how taking the intrafaith question seriously is a necessity for today’s church.
Presiding Bishop Eaton said (in reference to our ecumenical relations) that “ecumenism is not an add-on, but a central part of what it means when we say we are church.” I know even that’s a stretch for many congregations, but I wish that our inter-religious relations could also be central to what it means to be church.
But if we do take interfaith seriously,
we’re going to have to also take intrafaith seriously.
Thankfully, there’s a resource for this! (Shameless self-promotion warning)
“. . . meeting and respecting a person of another religion confronts us all with the question raised by Marjorie Suchoki in Divinity and Diversity:
Our Christian past has traditionally taught us that there is only one way to God, and that is through Christ. But we are uneasy. Our neighborliness teaches us that these others are good and decent people, good neighbors, or loved family members! Surely God is with them as well as with us. Our hearts reach out, but our intellectual understanding draws back. We have been given little theological foundation for affirming these others – and consequently we wonder if our feelings of acceptance are perhaps against the will of God, who has uniquely revealed to us just what is required for salvation.
“As pastors and lay leaders we are responsible to our congregations to provide the theological foundation for affirming ‘these others.’ Rather than succumbing to what John Cobb calls ‘the danger that sensitive Christians will simply delete central beliefs rather than transform them,’ I believe that we have some serious theological and Christological work to do in defining, or perhaps re-defining, ourselves in light of our interfaith milieu.” (The INTRAfaith Conversation, Introduction)
I really hope we take up the challenge to build relationships with our inter-religious siblings. I also really hope that we’ll also take up the challenge to engage folks like the writer of the amendment. That’s not an add-on either, but should be part of what it means when we say we are church.
then intrareligious dialogue must accompany it.
– Raimon Panikkar