Monday, January 30, 2006

The Church at the End of the Spear

There has been much ink spilt (or digital bytes "internetted") over the controversial decision to have homosexual activist/actor Chad Allen play the role of Nate Saint and his grown son Steve Saint in the recent movie "End of the Spear." Sadly, this role has given Allen a platform to espouse his views on homosexuality on Larry King and in magazine interviews. He mentioned his church in some of those interviews. What do you find when you visit the website of ALL SAINTS CHURCH in Pasadena, California.

Here are some excerpts from a sermon found online:
The elephant in the room of this gospel lesson is obviously the oft-quoted sentence, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Now I know how biblical literalists deal with this sentence (I was formed by that way of dealing with this sentence). It goes like this: If you don't profess Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, you're going to roast in hell forever. I don't believe that and I don't believe Jesus believed that. In the Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church is a part, we do not believe that Scripture is the only source of authority for truth. The Bible must always be in dialogue with our reason, with our experience and with the living experience of the community called tradition. And our minds and experience teach us that brother Gandhi, who was Hindu, and brother Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was Jewish, had valid and fruitful and mystical relationships with God apart from the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

What "No one comes to the Father but by me" means, I think, is that you cannot get to the God of peace, the God of reconciliation, the God of forgiveness, inclusion, nourishment, playfulness and joy by paths that are not peaceful, forgiving, inclusive, nourishing, playful and joyful. If you use violence, war and genocide to try to get to God or if you participate in war and genocide and say that you are getting to God through Jesus then the god you reach is a god of your own creation and is not the God of the Prince of Peace. Jesus is the embodiment, the incarnation of the virtues of peace and reconciliation, forgiveness, inclusion, nourishment, playfulness and joy. That is why Jesus is the embodiment of the way to God without being the only, the exclusive embodiment of those virtues as we see in the lives of Gandhi, Heschel and many other holy people of other paths.

Just forget for a moment that this church has a very strong and active homosexual agenda. Read the following statement on its own merit and decide just what kind of church this truly is:
  • ...we do not believe that Scripture is the only source of authority for truth. The Bible must always be in dialogue with our reason...
Here's one more sermon excerpt - it is chilling to read and you will find it nearly impossible to believe this is preached in a Protestant church (sorry for the length but it all matters and the lengths evades the charge of "out of context" quotation):

During my entire ministry at All Saints Church, I struggled against exclusivism. We wanted to have an inclusive spirit in all that we did. Carl Sandburg was asked just before he died what he thought was the worst word, the most despicable word, in the English language. Without hesitation, he replied - exclusivism. Exclusivism. It means to exclude, to shut out, to keep out, to dispose, to resist admission to the outsider. ...

In today's Gospel, John puts words on Jesus' lips that have led Christians through the centuries to claim an exclusive way to salvation. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me." That is one of the most difficult verses in the Bible to interpret adequately. Those who claim Christianity is the exclusive way to a saving faith cling tenaciously to this verse. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me." If my reflections on this verse are to have integrity, I must speak as though my close friends Rabbi Leonard Beerman and Rabbi Steven Jacobs, in whom I have seen the glory of God, are sitting right here in the front row. I want Leonard and Steven and my other Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist friends and colleagues to hear my words for they have illuminated my journey into God. They have helped me see God in new ways. ... I can no longer think about Jesus as the only way to God and a saving faith. ...

"I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me." The first thing I want to say is I simply refuse to hold the doctrine that there is no access to God except through Jesus. I personally reject the claim that Christianity has the truth and all other religions are in error. I think it is a mistaken view that says Christianity is superior to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism and that Christ is the only way to God. Ours as the one, true religion is deeply engrained in Christianity. Many good people take deep pride in their exclusive claims. Yet it is a terrible arrogance to believe you alone are right.

Although the majority of American Christians probably believe that salvation is possible only through faith in Jesus Christ, I believe that it is a profound distortion of what Jesus was about in his ministry. My reading of the Bible points me to a God whose love is inclusive and universal in its dimension. This thought is very significant because it was this proclamation of universal love that got Jesus into trouble. The flags of exclusivism were flying all around Jesus, and he steadfastly resisted each one of these seductive invitations to belong to us only and exclude the rest. Jesus loved them all. He put his arms around everybody - and they killed him. Ideally, it is much easier to talk about one human family in God's love if it is seen in generalities - but it falters when it means putting our arms around those who look and think and believe and live so radically differently than we do. The love I see at work in Jesus is inclusive, a love that reaches out to everyone. Nobody is outside the pale. And yet in the name of this loving Christ, some of the most vicious acts of exclusion are perpetrated.

Christianity is not the only guilty party. So much tragedy throughout history and into this resent hour have come out of those religions that find their core message in exclusivism. The suspicion, fear and hatred of the other - the one not like me - is the fundamental disease of the heart. It is the source of every pogrom, every genocide, every ethnic cleansing, every holocaust. It is the disease at work in Sri Lanka and India, in Israel-Palestine, in South Africa and Somalia and on and on it goes. In the United States, this disease of the heart is the source of every racist episode, every urban riot, every gay bashing, every skinhead outbreak. ... I truly believe All Saints Church with its ministry over the decades has tried to set its face against the tide of this disease of exclusivism.

These words are put on Jesus' lips: "No one comes to God except through me." It is the traditional interpretation of that text that concerns me deeply. Not only is this exclusive claim that Christ is the only way to God a distortion of the total biblical message, it is the source of the most deadly conflicts over the centuries down to this present hour. The terrible effects of the Christian exclusionary claims to salvation have not been confined to the horrendous persecution of Jews. We have mounted deadly crusades against Muslims, and Christians have killed other Christians in the brutal wars of religion - all in the name of bringing others to the correct understanding of how God is uniquely known in Jesus Christ. The arrogance of conviction. God be merciful. Until this murderous and arrogant history is faced with a genuine spirit of repentance; until we Christians confess that our exclusionary theology has led Christian groups, Christian leaders and churches as a whole to unspeakable sins against other Christians, other religions and against God - until we face squarely and honestly this truth about Christianity, there can be no possibility for the Christian Church to be an unequivocal force for peace and justice in this radically pluralistic age. ...

"There's a wideness in God's mercy," we sing in that great old hymn. It's the wideness of mercy in the divine that provides the theological imperative for pluralism. Here we don't need to build walls to exclude the views of others, nor do we erect a universal canopy capable of gathering all the divine faiths under our own Christian domain. The multitude of religious expressions can't be limited to or encircled by one tradition. So the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Jew, the Christian - all have their boundaries. But they do not have to be places where we stop and struggle with our differences. They might be places where we meet and catch a glimpse of the glory others see in God. We do not bring God to these non-Christian faiths. God is already there actively at work. In the presence of some Muslims I've come to know and respect, I sometimes think I hear those words God spoke to Moses by the burning bush addressed to me: "George, George, take off your shoes - for the place where you are standing is holy ground." This is a radical change for Christians. No tradition can claim the truth as a private property. Pluralism is not just diversity. It is open engagement and participation in dialogue with those who are different and remain different.
There is SO much error in those few paragraphs. Fortunately, there is little explanation that needs to be given to point out these errors. It is truly amazing how easily a human being can rationalize the message of Scripture away in a futile attempt to justify their own sin.

Lord, keep us from doing the same in our own lives (divorce, lust, adultery, lying, pride, idolatry, and many more "lesser" sins in the evangelical closet).


Jim Pemberton said...

A stunning array of illogic. This Episcopal priest's core problem is that he assumes his rationalle is perfect where others are flawed. Otherwise, there is no reason to believe in Jesus Christ at all unless the Bible is to be understood according to the most obvious rules of linguistics, i.e. the Bible means what it says. If one has the ability to reason flawlessly enough to make the Bible read figuratively something other than what it says literally, then truth is contingent not on God's nature, but on one's ability to reason. For any who disagree there is no basis one can assume proprietorship over the truth.

Therefore, a literal interpretation is not arrogant because the literalist does not assume to know anything beyond simple rules of language. The non-literal theologian is arrogant because he assumes he is right and others who espouse other views are wrong for no other reason than they don't agree with him.

Noah D. Lee said...

Hebrews 10:26-31 (ESV)
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, [27] but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. [28] Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. [29] How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? [30] For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." [31] It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

If what this "preacher" said at All-Souls "Church" is not spuring the Son of God and profaning the blood of the covenant, nothing is. How dreadful for him and for all who would believe his lies.

One day, all those who deny Christ will fall into the hands of the living God, and what a dreadful day that will be.