; charset=UTF-8" /> ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH NEWS – October : Connecting Voices
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(Submitted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region, Disciples of Christ, and the Southern California Nevada Conference, United Church of Christ.)EIRC

Saturday morning, Oct. 26: A Chance to Meet Some Cool Muslims

If you haven’t heard yet, there is still time for you to do something fruitful for interfaith relations and also have a good time: come to our morning of conversation with Muslim people from our area who are interested in getting to know UCC and DOC Christians.  The place is the handsome Fish Interfaith Center at Chapman University in Orange.   This will be an informal time, beginning at 9 a.m. with continental breakfast and ending with a delicious meal prepared according to the halal standard of the Muslim people.  We guarantee you these will be really neat folks: Americans just like us and committed to interfaith understanding and cooperation.  This is an especially important ministry these days given the anti-Muslim prejudice which exists in too many quarters.   Contact Jeff Utter (626-794-1839, hefffer@earthlink.net) to register.

What Can We Learn from Billy Graham?

Famed religion scholar and columnist Martin Marty recently reported on a conference held on the life work of Billy Graham.   (Graham is still alive at 95, but in a weakened state, living at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.)   Marty suggests that Graham should be ranked with the great 18th century theologian/  preacher Jonathan Edwards and, in our own day, with civil rights giant Dr. Martin Luther King, as one of the three great shapers of American religion.  Graham is certainly, on a world scale, the most well-known American religious leader of all time. 

Graham was primarily an evangelist.  He had the gift of communicating the Gospel in new and persuasive ways, including putting together mass meetings which were televised nationally and internationally, and which successfully invited thousands of people to come forward and publicly make a “decision for Christ.”   He stressed the inner decision of the individual, but he was also aware that the Christian faith is lived out in community, and he urged those making this fateful decision to be involved in the life of the church.   He was honored by the National Council of Churches for his outstanding contribution to American religious life.

When it came to issues of peace and social justice, Graham began from a rather simplistic conservative view.  He made no secret of his support for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, etc.  Many in the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ were put off Graham’s political utterances.  But the fact is that he did become somewhat more nuanced in his political statements as he got older.  And he was never anything less than courteous in dialogue.  Nor was he an intellectual lightweight.   A  UCC pastor and teacher of this writer attended a conference on religion at Amherst College in Massachusetts at which Paul Tillich and Billy Graham were the featured presenters.  My teacher’s comment: “Graham was better than Tillich.”

What about Graham’s forte, namely, evangelism?  It seems hard for Disciples and UCC people to get their heads around evangelism, but one need only look at Matthew 28: 18-20 to be reminded that spreading the news about the risen Jesus Christ has always been an essential dimension of the Christian life and the Christian task.  Yes, if turning to Christ is understood as abandoning concern for justice and peace in this world, in favor of just sitting tight and waiting for the Second Coming, then there is something very questionable about it.  But many of us have seen a real development in people who became “evangelical” Christians toward involvement for justice and peace and human unity, which may well not have been there without exposure to the Gospel.  Many “evangelical” churches in fact do extraordinary acts of community service.  And often they put acquaintance with the Scriptures at the center of their church life in ways that some of our DOC and UCC churches could well emulate.

Disciples proclaim very sincerely that all are welcome at the table of the Lord.  A recent UCC slogan is, “God doesn’t reject anyone—how can we?”  These are fine as far as they go; they correspond to a fundamentally open stance of which our two communions can be proud.   But don’t we also have to ask how we get people to come to the table, how we get them through the church door?  They’re not going to come by themselves, for the most part.  They will come when they are invited sincerely and persistently, in love, and without pressure.  Why is there such a reluctance in our denominations to speak the name of Jesus Christ clearly  and even urgently to others?  Billy Graham was one of the great masters of all Christian history in this regard.  We can learn from him some important things about what evangelism is at its best.

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