A lot happened at the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) last week. Some of it even made national news – and rightly so.
What you might not have seen in the news, but which is a very big deal, is all the interfaith activity. One of the matters brought to the attention of the 927 voting members in attendance was the relationship between Lutherans and Jews. It has not always been a good one.
Years ago, a co-worker who heard I was about to go off to the Lutheran seminary, exclaimed, “I hate Lutherans!” It turned out that her husband was Jewish and she’d read the ugly things that Martin Luther had written in some of his later writings. At that time, I was only barely cognizant of this part of my religious heritage. I didn’t know how to respond.
Many years later, when a group of college students visited my congregation on a tour of local religious communities, one of the first questions they asked was about Luther and the Jews. This time I was more prepared and, thankfully had something positive to contribute.
For one thing, I had studied Church History and Reformation Studies under Dr. Eric Gritsch at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (now part of United Lutheran Seminary) and was aware of his active involvement in the Christian-Jewish dialogue. And although his book, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment, was published long after my seminary days, I do remember him talking about this neuralgic (a favorite Gritsch word) part of our history.
In 1994, “Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community” was released. And in 1998, Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations. Both of these documents are important milestones. But, in my opinion, what took place at the Assembly took our relationship with our Jewish siblings to a new level. Members of the ELCA Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations led voting members and visitors in litany based on the 1994 statement, including this paragraph:
In the spirit of that truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage
must with pain acknowledge also Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes
and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews.
As did many of Luther’s own companions in the sixteenth century,
we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express
our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations.
In concert with the Lutheran World Federation,
we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther’s words
by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism
or toward the Jewish people in our day.
Watch the entire litany here.
And then, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton introduced Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. His address to the assembly was incredible!
Watch it here. You’ll be glad you did!
I’ll be writing about more of the interfaith and intrafaith aspects of the assembly. But I thought this deserved its own post. Anti-Semitism has deep roots in American history, but in 2018, anti-Semitic attacks were near record highs.
All Christians should stand in solidarity with our Jewish siblings.
Lutherans should be in the forefront.
After watching the news from Churchwide Assembly, I believe – by the grace of God – we just may be.
Grace to you and peace, from God our Creator and Christ our Wisdom. Amen.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. I’m always a little flummoxed by the day because I’ve never seen a real-live shepherd. I mean, I get it; the job of a shepherds is to take care of sheep. But I’ve often wondered if there couldn’t be an updated version, you know, one that modern people could relate to. I did see a couple examples (forgive the exclusive language):
A Programmer’s Psalm 23
The Lord is my programmer, I shall not crash. He installed his software on the hard disk of my heart; all of his commands are user-friendly. His directory guides me to the right choicesfor his name’s sake. Even though I scroll through the problems of life, I will fear no bugs, for he is my backup. His password protects me.
An Architect’s Psalm 23
The Lord is my architect, I shall not be mis-proportioned. He makes me enclose beautiful spaces, he builds me erect in tranquility, He restores my deteriorated parts. He puts me together to reflect righteousness for his namesake. Though I am overshadowed by skyscrapers and cathedrals, I will fear no evil, for you stay attentive to me; your pencil and creativity, they comfort me.
But they don’t really do the trick, do they? The shepherd image somehow works, even for 21stcentury, urban dwellers. How can that be? Maybe we can get a hint from Allstate. I almost always mute the sound when commercials come on TV. But there are some I actually like. Like the ads for Allstate Insurance that feature a character named Mayhem.
In one, a man is driving in his car and his cell phone starts buzzing. But the phone has fallen and gotten stuck between the seat and the console. As it keeps buzzing, the man keeps trying to get at it. Mayhem, who we can see lying underneath the seats where the phone would be, is goading him on: “Cold, warm, warmer . . .” until BOOM, the driver rear ends the car in front of him. “Jackpot!” exclaims a triumphant Mayhem.
Now, I’m pretty sure you know there’s no man on the floor hiding the guy’s phone – but you get the message. He symbolizes mayhem. Even if you’ve never dropped your cell phone and rear-ended a car as you frantically tried to find, there’s a whole series where “Mayhem” wreaks havoc in someone’s life. It’s a very effective way of tapping into the common human condition – stuff happens. The good news according to Allstate is: you’re in good hands.
Same message as the Good Shepherd. We know that neither God (23rdPsalm) or Jesus (Gospel of John) is a literal shepherd. But like “Mayhem,” the Good Shepherd (the anti-Mayhem?) hits us in the middle of our human condition. We get the message. The good news according to John: we’re in good hands. God cares for us, lovingly, faithfully, consistently. We matter to God. In Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we see that most clearly. The sheep and their shepherd are bound in a relationship that, when expressed in theo-logical language, is very powerful and moving. The 23rd Psalm is a prime example, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Or as one little girl, in telling her teacher she knew the entire 23rd Psalm, recited: “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want.”
Now, today I’m going to focus on women as shepherds. Particularly one woman. In the passage from the Book of Acts, we learned about a woman named Dorcas (Greek), also known as Tabitha (Aramaic). You might recognize the name Dorcas as part of a trio of women commemorated annually on October 25. The official title for the day is: “Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe – Faithful Women.”
But hold up a minute. Because we’re reading in English, it is very important to know that Luke identifies Dorcas with the Greek word ‘mathetria.’ You might wonder why that’s so important. Here’s why. Dorcas is “the only woman explicitly identified as a disciple in Acts, and 9:36 is the only occurrence of the feminine form of ‘disciple’ (mathetria) anywhere in the New Testament.”
Hmm. Isn’t it interesting that “when men take care of widows, Luke calls it ‘ministry,’ but when Tabitha (Dorcas) performs the same services Luke calls it ‘good works .’
“Good question, and one that illuminates for us the power of words, especially when we consider the exclusion of women from ordained ministry for so many centuries (and in some churches, even today).” Sermon Seeds
Scripture, of course, identifies many women who play important roles of shepherding and leading (even without the designation‘mathetria’). And they come by it honestly. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God as a shepherd, including the feminine aspect, Like a shepherd you feed your flock, gathering the lambs in your arms, and carrying them in your bosom, and gently leading the mother sheep.
Shepherds care for the most vulnerable in our society. Jesus followed that job description, and we follow his example. In Jesus’ time, one of the most vulnerable of God’s flock was the widow. In today’s story we know that Dorcas conducted her ministry among the widows of her community. Hebrew and Christian scriptures alike declare God’s desire for widows to be treated with kindness and justice.
The frequency of these urgings suggests that God’s will was not always obeyed. Widows remained very vulnerable. So what does Dorcas do? She makes clothing for them. In the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, her compassion is hands-on. The emphasis in the story is her discipleship among them. She is their pastor.
An interesting fact is that the town of Joppa where Dorcas lived was where Jonah had been called to go to the hated Assyrians. This seems to have been a place where ministry happened on the margins of society. Dorcas ministered with women that society routinely overlooked. They had obviously become a close-knit community. When she died, these women came together to grieve her death – and then miraculously her restoration to life.
This is one of the several ‘restoration to life’ stories in the Bible. They are hard to deal with sometimes because they cause us to wonder ‘why that person and not this person?’ That question was certainly on many peoples’ minds last week after the tragic death of Rachel Held Evans. If you’re not familiar with her, she was the 37-year old mega-popular Christian writer, blogger, and speaker. Her ministry on the margins was with exvangelicals, those who have left evangelical Christianity for a more progressive church. Rachel herself had moved away from being an evangelical Christian to becoming Episcopalian. For many exvangelicals, she modeled the transition away from a constricting form of faith to one of openness and inclusion.
Rachel entered the hospital in April with flu-like symptoms, and then had a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics. Doctors put her in a medically induced coma when she developed seizures. When they attempted to wean her from the drugs maintaining her coma, the seizures returned. Her condition worsened in early May and her doctors discovered severe swelling of her brain. She died on Saturday, May 4th, leaving behind her husband and her children, a 3-year-old boy and a girl who turns 1 later this month. I imagine that Mothers Day will not be a happy occasion for them.
And I imagine that the many faithful people who were praying so hard for her recovery – and today hear this story of the restoration to life – will wonder, “why not Rachel; she was every bit the shepherd/minister as Dorcas.”
Sometimes these Bible stories really hit us where we live – and die. I remember the Sunday after ministering to a couple who had lost their baby to SIDS, when the first reading was the story of Elijah restoring life to the son of the widow of Zarephath and the gospel reading was the one in which Jesus brings back the only child of the widow of Nain. It seemed as if the lectionary was playing a cruel joke on us that week
These are the times we really wrestle with our faith and our understanding of scripture. It’s impossible for us to know the mechanics of healing. Living as we do with both faith in the healing power of God and knowledge of modern science, we wonder. When I was a hospital chaplain in Buffalo, NY years ago, there was a patient who had been declared brain dead. There was no possibility of recovery. But her family, all very devout Christians, believed with all their heart that she would be healed – not unlike the Oakland teenager whose family refused to have her removed from a ventilator after being declared brain dead. I know from working with the family in Buffalo the fine line I had to walk between faith and medical science.
So I wouldn’t want us to get so embroiled in these questions that we can’t answer that we lose sight of some truths that we can know. First Dorcas, though raised up by Peter at this point in time, would eventually die. Death is part of our human condition. We take a whole Easter season to celebrate the fact that death does not have the last word, that it is the gateway into life eternal. What we see in all of these restoration stories is the power of God at work through prophets like Elijah, through Jesus, and through some of the shepherds who followed in his path.
But the one I want to raise up today, on this day that we honor mothers and others who give motherly care, is Dorcas: not only ‘faithful woman’ but a mother of the church, disciple, shepherd, pastor. And all the disciples – women and men – who show us what a shepherd of God’s flock looks like and acts like, so that we can do the same – go out into the margins and care for the most vulnerable of our community. And we do so without fear, knowing we are in good hands – in life and in death. Believing with all our hearts:
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in God’s house forever.
Now in Joppa there was a disciple, a woman named Tabitha—“Dorcas,” in Greek—who never tired of doing kind things or giving to charity. About this time she grew ill and died. They washed her body and laid her out in an upstairs room.
Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples sent two couriers to Peter with the urgent request, “Please come over to us without delay.” Peter set out with them as they asked.
Upon his arrival, they took him upstairs to the room. All the townswomen who had been widowed stood beside him weeping, and showed him the various garments Dorcas had made when she was still with them.
Peter first made everyone go outside, then knelt down and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, stand up.” She opened her eyes, then looked at Peter and sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her to her feet. The next thing he did was to call in those who were believers—including the widows—to show them that she was alive.
This became known all over Joppa and, because of it, many came to believe in Jesus Christ. Peter remained awhile in Joppa, staying with Simon, a leather tanner.
The time came for Hanukkah, the Feast of the Dedication, in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple area, in Solomon’s Porch, when the Temple authorities surrounded him and said, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you really are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus replied, “I did tell you, but you don’t believe. The work I do in my Abba’s name gives witness in my favor, but you don’t believe because you’re not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost. No one will ever snatch them from my hand. Abba God, who gave them to me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal them from Abba God. For Abba and I are One.”
1219 CE: St. Francis and the Sultan
This year marks an important date in interfaith history. Eight-hundred years ago, as Christians and Muslims were in the midst of fighting the fifth crusade/jihad, St. Francis of Assisi had a remarkable visit with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil of Egypt. You can read more about that historic event here.
What I really want to talk about is another, much more recent, historic meeting. Last month, Pope Francis visited Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, and met with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque. What transpired is just as momentous as the meeting of St. Francis and the Sultan.
2019 CE: The Pope and the Imam
On February 4, Pope Francis and Sheik el-Tayeb signed a document on improving Christian-Muslim relations called “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”. It begins: In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace . . .
By beginning this way, the document (hopefully) puts to rest the idea that we do not worship the same Deity, whether we call that Deity God, Allah, Ground of our Being, or Nameless One.
The really stunning part comes two-thirds of the way down. Tucked into a list of convictions essential for upholding the role of religions in the construction of world peace, is this statement: The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. (I know. I have to temporarily suspend all of my convictions about exclusively male language for God. But the implications of the statement are too big to ignore.)
It’s Been Done Before
While potentially provocative, it’s not the first time the Catholic Church has made such adeclaration. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council approvedNostra Aetate:Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Regarding Islam, it said: The church also regards with esteem the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth.
Remember the brouhaha at Wheaton College a few years ago when one the professors was fired for wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims? It was also about quoting the Pope: “As Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” Her reference was to: Meeting with the Muslim Community at the Central Mosque of Koudoukou, Bangui (Central African Republic) on November 30, 2015.
There has been criticism of these pronouncements. In 2000, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger issued a warning about the danger of “relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism.” In “Dominus Iesus,” the future Pope Benedict XVI said This truth of faith (that Christ is the salvation of all humanity) does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another.
Of course, the Protestants also got into the act. Hank Hanegraaff, known as the “Bible Answer Man” on his radio show has said that “the Allah of Islam” is “definitely not the God of the Bible.” And the evangelical Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry unequivocally states that Christians and Muslims do not adore the same God, and that the Catholic Church has “a faulty understanding of the God of Islam.”
Now granted, these are positions from the Catholic Church and evangelical Christianity. I have problems with both sides on issues other than this one. But I applaud the efforts of Pope Francis to further our interfaith awareness and acceptance.
What Does Progressive Christianity Say? As a progressive Christian, I agree with the second point of The 8 Points of Progressive Christianity: By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.
The INTRAfaith Conversation
Agreeing to this statement, though, doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the dilemma that exists within these statements, pro and con. I give Cardinal Ratzinger just a tiny bit of credit because he attempted to engage the elephant in the living room: what about Jesus? I don’t agree where he comes down, but he did engage the question. Pope Francis and Sultan al-Malik al-Kami didn’t get into knotty questions, such as the divinity of Jesus or the Trinity.
They were all about peacemaking – and props to them for that!
It is left to us to wrestle with our inherited Christologies (as well as doctrines, creeds, liuturgies, hymns, prayers, etc.) in light of our desire to live in peace and harmony with our religious neighbors. As Kristin Johnston Largen wrote in Finding God Among Our Neighbors, “. . .issues of Christology cannot be avoided in an interreligious conversation that professes to take Christian faith claims seriously.” In other words, who/what is Jesus in an interreligious context?
Such wrestling is what I attempt to facilitate in my book, The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves About INTERfaith Matters?
Pope Francis and the Imam have given us a lot to think about.
World Interfaith Harmony Week was first proposed at the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. Just under a month later, on October 20, 2010, it was unanimously adopted by the UN and henceforth the first week of February will be observed as a World Interfaith Harmony Week.
World Interfaith Harmony Week is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative. This initiative, which started in 2007, called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God, and Love of the Neighbour, without nevertheless compromising any of their own religious tenets. The Two commandments are at the heart of the three Monotheistic religions and therefore provide the most solid theological ground possible.
World Interfaith Harmony Week extends the Two Commandments by adding ‘Love of the Good, and Love of the Neighbour’. This formula includes all people of goodwill. It includes those of other faiths, and those with no faith.
World Interfaith Harmony Week provides a platform—one week in a year—when all interfaith groups and other groups of goodwill can show the world what a powerful movement they are. The thousands of events organized by these groups often go unnoticed not only by the general public, but also by other groups themselves. This week will allow for these groups to become aware of each other and strengthen the movement by building ties and avoiding duplicating each others’ efforts.
The tragic story of missionary John Allen Chau should cause us to ask: what is Christian mission in an interfaith world?
The Great Commission at the end of the gospel of Matthew has always been the impetus for doing mission in the world. It’s so familiar, we might not stop to consider what we mean when we read it or say it. But, in fact, it’s a prime example of our need for the intrafaith conversation. The recent death of Chau – and the controversy over his actions – reveal the dilemma.
He goes on to say, “The Chau story is, in my opinion, linked to question No. 2.”
And what is question No. 2? “Is salvation found through Jesus Christ alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” One of the big questions at the heart of the intrafaith conversation.
So, what’s the debate over Chau’s actions and death? The thing is: the definition and purpose of mission has been changing. In my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), mission is described as a journey, in which disciples walk with others, listen to them, learn from them and with them. The biblical story used as a model is the “road to Emmaus,” in which the gospel is revealed in the relationship that develops among the travelers: in talking, listening, and breaking bread together. This way recognizes the mistakes of past history, such as seeing people as “objects of mission,” and defines mission as accompaniment.
On the other hand, there are those who still subscribe to the goal set forth by All Nations, the mission-training organization which trained John Allen Chau: “to see Jesus worshiped by all the peoples of the earth.”
The people on both sides of this interpretive chasm are faithful Christians. However, one side looks at the Chau story and sees an oblivious young man propagating the worst of Christian imperialism. The other sees a martyr who died attempting to fulfill Jesus’ mandate. Both have biblical texts and theologies to support their positions. Who is right?
The better question is: how do we talk with our brothers, sisters, and siblings in the faith about such matters?
“Need for intra-faith harmony, says ex-Prez” is the headline in The Pioneer, the second oldest English language newspaper in India.
Remembering Swami Vivekananda’s historic appearance at the Chicago World Parliament of Religions, held in 1893, many notable personalities, including former President of India Pranab Mukherjee organised a interfaith meet at Vivekananda Mission on Wednesday to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the historic speech.
Celebrating the anniversary, Mukherjee said,
“There is perhaps a need for intrafaith harmony
even more than the interfaith harmony.”
“The Shoe Is On the Other Foot: Pluralism and the Qur’an” is a terrific article by Professor Jane Smith from Harvard Divinity School. She raises the question of whether or not Islam itself can find a way to live out the pluralism that many are persuaded is at the heart of the Qur’an’s message. She writes:
It seems to me that the future of Islam, at least as I understand it in the American context, has much to do with the way that Muslims figure out how they are going to position themselves on the question of pluralism. That we all live in a religiously differentiated society is a given. But is that a good thing in the Muslim perspective? While Muslims struggle to be truly accepted by Christians, Jews, and other groups in America, can they promise the same in return? And if so, at what level?
This is the crux of the intrafaith conversation within Islam. Mostly the same kind of questions as within Christianity. The content of the issues is different but the process is essentially the same.
A new documentary asks the question: Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?
Same God, which will be screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival later this month, is based on the story of Professor Larycia Hawkins and her experience at an evangelical Christian college. You can see a trailer for the film here.
I’ve been interested in this story since it broke in December 2015, when Professor Hawkins, the first female African-American tenured professor at Wheaton College, announced her intention to wear a hijab during Advent in solidarity with Muslims.
But it wasn’t just this announcement that put her in the Wheaton crosshairs; it was a Facebook post in which she said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This caused administrators to question whether Hawkins had violated the school’s statement of faith. They put her on paid leave, and on January 5, issued a Notice of Recommendation to Initiate Termination-for-Cause Proceedings. That’s when I posted about it on this blog, calling it a classic example of our need for an intrafaith conversation: Wheaton College: an Intra-faith Controversy
Intrafaith Controversy Redux
In October, 2016, the New York Times Magazine published an article entitled “The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity – Then Lost Her Job” and I wrote anupdate to my blog. My contention was – and still is – that it’s a perfect example of the necessity of intrafaith discussions among Christians of differing theological perspectives. I wrote: Dr. Hawkins identifies as a Christian. Her Christianity allows her to make the statement she made by wearing the hijab. The administration and many alumni of Wheaton College have a different interpretation of Christianity. Rather than dismissing this popular, well-qualified educator, would it not have been wiser to use the controversy as an opportunity for an intrafaith conversation?
The Story Continues . . . Linda Midgett, director of Same God and a graduate of Wheaton College, admits that she didn’t think much of the situation at the time. But when she realized the uproar among students, alumni, and within the larger evangelical community, she said: A rift quickly formed. On one side were those, like me, who felt her gesture was unmistakably Christian in nature. On the other side were those who felt she was guilty of heresy, and deserved to be terminated.
As the controversy continued, Midgett began to ask, Do evangelicals worship the same God? It’s the question that led me to direct this film, and one I continue to ask as evangelicals split over Donald Trump.
. . . Into Politics I believe that Linda Midgett is right; this question is a key part of how Christians do politics. Watch the movie trailer and tell me you don’t agree. Ironically, Wheaton has now launched a scholarship in Hawkins’ name which is designed for students pursuing summer internships in peace and conflict studies. But even this – as an article in The Christian Post reflects – has only fueled the controversy.
Wouldn’t it be wise of us – as we strive to rediscover our capacity for civil discourse in the political arena – take on the elephant in our own Christian living room? The Intrafaith Conversation is not a frivolous enterprise. It endeavors to help us get past our differences (without denying them) in order to find common ground.
Maybe this film will be a good discussion starter.
The intrafaith conversation is not a necessity for Christians alone. Divisiveness occurs in most, if not all, all religions. I once asked a Jewish friend to name the biggest issue that divides Jews, and she immediately replied, “Israel.”
So I was intrigued by the title of this articleon theGetReligionwebsite: “American and Israeli Religious Infighting: Could It Destroy the World’s Lone Jewish State?”
Surveys contrasting the political and religious views of American and Israeli Jews are produced with such frequency as to make them a polling industry staple. In recent years – meaning the past decade or so – the surveys have generally shared the same oy vey iz mir (Yiddish for “woe is me”) attitude toward their findings, which consistently show widening differences between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.
Compare, for example, the vast differences on moral and cultural issues between the institutionally liberal American Episcopal Church and the traditionalist Nigerian Anglican church leadership. That, despite both national churches belonging (at this moment in time) to the same worldwide Anglican Communion.
Why should the Jewish world be any different? It’s like the old real estate cliche, location – meaning local history and circumstances – is everything.
Religion is just not the broad intra-faith connector some would like it to be. Often, if fact, it serves to fuel intra-faith rivalries rooted in strongly held theological differences.
Judaism even has a term for it; sinat chinam, Hebrew for, translating loosely, a “senseless hatred” that divides Jews and can even lead to their self-destruction. Intra-faith Jewish differences, however, take on an added layer of global importance because of the possible geopolitical consequences they hold for the always percolating Middle East.
There’s a lot of talk going on these days about what it means to be a Christian. There are lines being drawn: specifically between the Christianity of the white evangelicals who claim #45 as one of their own and continue to bless his behaviors, actions, and policies and the Christianity of those who see Jesus as the champion of those most impacted by those behaviors, actions, and policies.
Jesus Suddenly a Hot Topic of Conversation! I’ve been noticing Jesus popping up in unexpected places. Just this past month, I’ve noticed that on MSNBC’s The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell has been unabashedly preaching about Jesus in reference to the latest immigration nightmare (see ” These are Animals” and “From Abhorrent to Evil”.Although I am a Proud Member of the Religious Left, it was (pleasantly) startling to hear on a left-leaning network.
And Now There Is a Movement!
The Reclaiming Jesus statement was released during Lent this year and signed by many leaders of a variety of Christian denominations. And on May 24, Reclaiming Jesus held a vigil and demonstration in Washington D.C. to protest #45’s “America First” policies: . . . we reject ‘America first’ as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal. We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources, toward genuine global development that brings human flourishing for all of God’s children . . .We pray that we, as followers of Jesus, will find the depth of faith to match the danger of our political crisis.
However . . .
I will admit to some hesitancy to endorse this statement. While I applaud the inclusion of issues of racism, misogyny, treatment of the most vulnerable, authoritarian political leadership, and the “regular purveying of falsehoods and consistent lying by the nation’s highest leaders,” I was struck by what was not included. There was no mention of respect and support for members of the LGBTQ community. I suspect that it was a line that some signatories could not cross. I did hear that some of the speakers at the worship service before the vigil did affirm our LGBTQ neighbors and denounced homophobia from the pulpit. But I wonder how we can use the document without adding another “We Believe” and “Therefore We Reject” paragraph.
Who Else Is Missing? I’ve also learned that the probable reason for there being no Lutheran signatory to the Reclaiming Jesus statement is some theological differences. Well, I’d expect that there would be some differences, seeing the list of signatories all the from evangelicals like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallace to progressives like Walter Brueggemann and Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I don’t know what Presiding ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s theological issue was. I do know there were many ELCA members, both clergy and lay, at the demonstration.
The Dilemma So here’s the quesiton: can I be critical of the ELCA for not signing on because of theological differences while I myself am critical of the statement’s exclusion of LGBTQ folks, which is probably itself a theological difference? This is where the intrafaith rubber hits the road. IF Christians of varied stripes – and it’s a big if – can come together in agreement that something has got to be done to counter a Christianity in service to empire, then we can be a powerful force for good.
What do you think? Are there lines in the sand you can’t cross? Can you be part of a movement to reclaim Jesus even if you disagree with some of the other participants?
Hmm, maybe what we need, in order for us to reclaim Jesus together, is an intrafaith conversation! It might be the most patriotic thing we can do.