If our Christianity does not move us beyond our particular Christian group or church or denomination, or our faith system or doctrine, to accept those who believe and practice a different faith than ours, then our faith will most likely be more detrimental than helpful to the work of the kingdom of God on earth. If we cannot embrace others as God’s children without requiring them to adhere to our faith system then we become obstacles, obstructions, barriers to the creation of God’s beloved community.
Our Christian faith should be a resource that compels us to hold our beliefs in humility, to work for peace, to listen to and treat others of different faith traditions with respect, and look for common ground on which we can stand together as children of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus. “Blessed are those who hunger after justice” (the kind that attends to the inequities of the disadvantaged).
Isn’t it ironic and sad that so many versions of Christianity today have the opposite impact and effect, causing division and promoting inequity? Instead of breaking down walls, creating mutual trust, and building friendships, some Christians who press others to conform and convert to their faith system condemn and dismiss those who refuse to adopt their Christian interpretations. Until we all put on the mind of Christ and value others as much as we value ourselves, until we stop preaching at those who are different and accept and affirm them as children of God, there will be no peace and we who claim to be in the kingdom of God will prevent its arrival.
I received an email once from someone who identified himself or herself as “O1T”—meaning “only one truth.” I’m sure this person not only believed that there was only one truth, but that he or she alone (along with his or her group, church, etc.) possessed the one truth. Everyone else, of course, who differed from their version, would need to align themselves with the one truth. This approach to faith is what makes religion destructive and deadly.
There can be no peace, their can be no beloved community, the kingdom of God will not be realized on earth until we are all convinced that every person, whatever one’s faith or religious affiliation, whatever one’s ethnic origin, culture, or social state, whatever one’s mental or physical abilities or disabilities, is a child of God, precious and loved, and that every person—wherever they live, or whatever they believe—has access to God.
Adolfo Perez Esquivel, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was imprisoned by the military dictatorship of Argentina and spent eighteen months in solitary confinement. As we would expect he went through periods of depression and experienced feelings of outrage, but he ultimately decided that if he were set free he would not seek revenge but work to bring in a new order, where people could live in peace and dignity and where life would be deemed sacred.
In the months after his release he struggled to live up to this vision. The words of Jesus from the cross kept haunting him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These words made no sense to him; surely, he reasoned, they new exactly what they were doing. But then it dawned on him. What did his torturers and oppressors not know? They did not realize that they had imprisoned and were mistreating a brother, not an enemy. There were all children of God and the only way he could communicate this truth would be to forgive them and pursue a course for peace.
Until we accept this basic theology that transcends all religion, nationality, and culture and seek constructive ways to embody it, it is not likely that we will make progress creating a world where there is mutual dialogue, trust, friendship, justice, and peace.