; charset=UTF-8" /> ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH RELATIONS – October : Connecting Voices
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ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH RELATIONS – October

(Submitted by the DOC-UCC Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee)

April 6, 2013: Learning the New Interreligious Reality

     Some of us have had at least a brush with the changed religious landscape in America, as this has been described vividly by Diana Eck in her book, “A New Religious America.”  But most of us still have no direct contact with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Bah’ais, and the variety of other  spiritual movements and communities which flourish in the highly pluralistic  society which is the America of the 21st century.  While the United States is still a predominantly Christian nation, the creative and growing edges of the Christian Church are now very much involved in dialogue with, learning from, and cooperating with leaders and communities of other faiths.  But there is much to do, as recent events involving needless violence and conflict in relation to members of these other faiths attest.  The Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, working with Keith Clark of the UCC Conference staff, is putting together a day—Saturday, April 6 of next year—hosted by the Interfaith Center at Chapman University and designed for our DOC and UCC grass roots constituency, which aims to deepen the acquaintance of our people with, and their appreciation for, the manifold and fascinating presence of the Spirit of God, the love and wisdom of God, and the yearning for peace and justice on earth among adherents of other religions.   Outstanding leaders of other faiths will be present as keynote speakers and resource persons, but the day will also be designed to encourage dialogue, learning, and experience of various spiritual practices in several different kinds of small groups.  And our eating together will be a feast of delicious foods from various religious cultures.  It will be a day of hope for human and interreligious unity.

     We ask and encourage all those reading this page to let those in your congregation who may be curious and ready to learn about other faiths as part of their own sense of Christian knowledge and responsibility in the world to know about April 6.  And please consider coming yourselves!

Was Jesus Married?

     Major newspapers recently featured on their front pages the announcement by a Harvard Divinity School Professor of the discovery of an ancient papyrus fragment in which Jesus is recorded as speaking the words, “My wife…”   Another portion of the tiny fragment seems to have him say, “She also can be my disciple.”  The constant attempt of the media to create sensations aside, is there any meaning in this discovery for us who try daily to be true to Jesus Christ?   Apparently the papyrus, written in the ancient Coptic language (we will have a Coptic priest as our ecumenical guest at the Bakersfield Assembly!) has been dated to roughly the year 350.  But it may refer to a much earlier document.  There seem, at any rate, to have been some early Christians who had been told and who believed that Jesus was married.  This is contrary to what most of us assume, based on the fact that while the four Gospels mention other family members of Jesus, they never mention his having a wife.

     The constant attempt of the media to create new sensations aside, is there any meaning for us Christians in 2012, striving to be faithful to our Lord, in this discovery?  It is certainly within the realm of possibility  that the Coptic papyrus records the truth about this.   But does it make any actual difference to our faith whether Jesus was married or single?  Would discovering that he was indeed married, but that the Gospels had, for one reason or another, neglected to say that, affect our own relationship to Jesus?  Would it affect our understanding and valuation of marriage?  Would it call into question the formidable Roman Catholic tradition of clerical celibacy, according to which an ordained minister has to renounce marriage and family?   This after all is a gigantic difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.  If Jesus remained single, and had no offspring, why did he choose that?  What does it mean for us if he had no wife or kids?  What, if anything, was he trying to teach us?  Despite the rule of celibacy for priests, the Catholic Church regards marriage as a sacrament.  We do not.  Why?  These are questions which are well worth asking ourselves as we take seriously our commitment to Christian unity and to an ever deeper understanding of what God is revealing to us and requires of us in our own day.

Freedom of Speech–and Religion

     As this article is being prepared, angry demonstrations, sometimes violent and deadly, are continuing in a number of Islamic countries, protesting a video made in our country which portrays the prophet Mohammed as a sexually crazed fool.  Our President has expressed deep regret about this video, but many Muslims, including some respected Muslim leaders, are saying that regret is not enough.  They are demanding that some kind of justice be done in relation to its makers.   The characteristic response of Americans is that we believe in free speech, so we cannot restrain such speech unless it is involves intentional libel against actual living persons.  A great many Muslims simply cannot understand this, because either their religion has not fostered a similar culture of free speech in the societies in which it is dominant, or else it has not been strong enough to counteract other factors in culture and society which are opposed to free speech.  Many Muslims—not all, by any means–interpret any attack on the founder of their religion as an implicit attack on them.  There is a strong identification of the people with their founder.   This may be reinforced by resentful memories of the way in which many Muslim countries were colonized and exploited by the West.

     What should we Christians think and say about this?  Is there an innate connection between the Christianity which is dominant in the United States and the concept of free speech as enshrined in our democratic legal institutions?   Is it really OK, from the point of view of our faith, to allow a couple of crackpots in our society to produce and distribute a vicious, totally falsifying video about one of the greatest spiritual leaders humanity has produced—with the result that some people die, many others become enraged, and international relationships become even more difficult and tangled than they were?   How would we react—how should we react–if Jesus were depicted in a film for mass distribution as some kind of a nut or a pervert?  These are very complicated  questions, and they show the vital importance of interfaith learning, prayer, and engagement on the part of Christians, Muslims, and all people of faith.

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