; charset=UTF-8" /> Ecumenical and Interfaith News – January : Connecting Voices
Free hacker tools

Ecumenical and Interfaith News – January

(Submitted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region, Disciples of Christ, and the Southern California/ Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ)

Christian Truth Outside the Church

     At this year’s wonderful regional Martin Luther King celebration at the First Christian Church of Orange, we heard our famous Disciples theologian Rita Nakashima Brock show the connections between the “Occupy” movement of the past year and the work of Dr. King.   One fact of which we were reminded is that King’s ministry was decisively shaped by the great Indian spiritual and political leader Mohandas Gandhi.  King’s organizing of national actions to end racist laws and institutions in America was based on his adopting the Gandhian principles of satyagraha and ahimsa.   These are words from the ancient Hindu sacred language, Sanskrit.  Satyagraha means “truth force” or “soul force”, and ahimsa means “nonviolence.”  Gandhi believed that the truth of human nature is the life of renouncing violence and coercion as ways to gain one’s ends.  King knew of Gandhi’s achievements before most other Americans did.  He was deeply impressed that, although it took over three decades of arduous popular protests and nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi’s movement to free India from oppressive British rule succeeded.

     King’s genius lay in creatively adapting the Gandhian methods for use in the American civil rights struggle.  In the later stage of his career, King addressed not only the cause of justice for his own African-American people, but also applied Gandhian thinking to the great issues of war and peace, especially the involvement of the United States in the war in Viet Nam.  Yet King remained, from the day of his ordination to the day of his death from an assassin’s bullet, a minister of the Christian Church, confessing his commitment to Jesus Christ.  Even though his ministry came to embody Gandhian principles, King never considered converting from Christianity to Hinduism.  But he did see that Jesus’ teachings about love, for instance in the Sermon on the Mount, were present in Gandhi’s life and work.  And that Gandhi was in effect embodying Jesus’ teaching in the way he dealt with the liberation struggle of his own people, and doing so  in a brand new way which had not been present in church history, despite examples here and there of Christian believers adopting the way of nonviolence.

       Gandhi had been a law student in England and had become well acquainted with Christianity there.  He came to feel a very deep and strong attraction to Jesus—more than to any single figure in his own Hindu tradition.  Gandhi loved the Christian hymns.  He included Christian prayers in the spiritual meetings he held in India.  But just as Martin Luther King never thought of converting to Hinduism, so Gandhi never felt it necessary to become a Christian.  He saw clearly the gigantic gap between what the Church teaches and how the Christian nations live and act.  Someone asked Gandhi once what he thought of Christianity.  He replied, “It’s a good idea.”  

     Yet Martin Luther King, commenting on Gandhi’s significance, wrote, “It is ironic, yet inescapably true, that the greatest Christian of the modern world was a man who never embraced Christianity.”  Ironic perhaps, but also testimony which Disciples and UCC people, standing in the Reformed tradition of our faith, can see as pointing to the sovereignty of God.   Most likely no other single individual in the twentieth century did as much to give people all over the world hope in the coming of the Kingdom of God as this little bespectacled Hindu gentleman who walked about with a staff, clad only in shawl and loincloth which would hardly be seen as fit attire at most Christian worship services.  Here was a man who remained outside the Church, yet who embodied the truth of Christ in a uniquely powerful and life-giving way.  This is perhaps the most striking example of how the modern contact between the great religious traditions is God’s way of keeping us Christians humble.  We don’t need to doubt our faith in Jesus Christ as God and Savior of the world, but we may need to keep more in mind that God is free to work outside the institutional churches, and train ourselves more to see God’s presence–Christ’s presence–in the other religions.  Those of us who are representing the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ in interfaith gatherings and endeavors in Southern California invite all of you to join us in this exciting journey.

The Changing American Religious Scene

      In the decade since the 9/11 attacks, participation by American Christians in interfaith worship services has doubled.  In 2.000, less than 7 percent of U.S. congregations had engaged in a joint religious celebration with members of other religious faiths.  That has now grown to 14 percent.  The number of local churches and parishes involved in community service with people of non-Christian faiths has increased even more dramatically, with over 20 percent reporting participation on this sort.   There is, of course, still a long way to go.  But we’re on the way, and this means that negative attitudes such as Islamophobia—prejudice against Muslims—are likely to diminish as time goes on.  It’s difficult if not impossible to maintain prejudice against actual human beings with whom you are worshipping or out there meeting community needs.

      On the highly controversial issue of same-sex marriage, attitudes are changing markedly among young Christians, even those belonging to evangelical churches.  A poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that the white evangelical community as a whole is solidly opposed to same-sex marriage, by more than 80 percent.  But “millennial” evangelicals, ages 18 to 29, are now almost equally divided between those who oppose and those who favor same-sex marriage.  (The poll also found that a slight majority of all Roman Catholics (52 percent) favor same-sex marriage, despite the energetic teaching of their church to the contrary.) We hope that our UCC and Disciples congregations can take the lead in sponsoring forums and dialogues on this issue which bring in all points of view and encourage respectful listening and deep biblical reflection.

    Another recent poll demonstrates that Muslims in America think like Americans and feel positively about American culture and the American way of life.  About half of the Muslims polled fault their own religious leaders for not speaking out against Islamist extremists.  However, many also feel that Muslims are sometimes singled out unfairly for increased surveillance.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free