Recently, I attended an Interfaith Breakfast sponsored by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Surrounded by ministers and priests, rabbis and imams, I was reminded how big is God’s family.
Christians (and I am one) believe that as children of God, we are brothers and sisters. What we sometimes overlook is that we aren’t God’s only children.
Exclusivists will pull out that well-worn text from John’s Gospel, “There is no way to the Father but by me,” as a trump card. But in its full context, these words of comfort for Jesus’ disciples remind us that God is not only almighty power, but intimate love. They do not say there is no way to God but through Christ. Hardly ever are the mysterious words of Jesus, also in John’s Gospel, evoked in which he says that he must go to visit his other sheep, although no one has a clue who those other flocks are.
The Way, the Truth, and the Life promised to all through the loving being of God, in the hands of some, has become little more than a excuse to threaten those who do not adhere to their brand of faith. But, as theologian H. Richard Niebuhr once said, "I find it impossible to believe that God condemns some people over a difference of metaphysical opinion."
I came across an interview with a young woman who left a fundamentalist Christian group notorious for protesting at the funerals of slain American soldiers. Along the route of a funeral procession, they hold up signs of vitriolic hatred, attributing to God their hatred of homosexuals and damning America for being a place where personal freedom is enshrined in law.
In the interview, the young woman said that when she asked an elder in that church why they felt such hatred, she was told that they were expressing love. They weren’t the haters, she was told, God is. The church members believed they were just warning people of God’s hatred.
I don’t understand how one gets from the gospel of Jesus Christ to a theology of hatred. The Christian gospel proclaims the revolutionary idea that when we have looked into the face of Jesus of Nazareth, we have looked into the heart of God. The man who ended up stripped and nailed to a Roman cross reveals God in his vulnerability. And the most radical teaching of Christianity is that God places his imprimatur on the quality of life Jesus lived by raising him from the dead.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that we must be prepared to meet the Christ in every stranger — the implication being that the Christ who meets us is likely to expand our view of what God is up to in this world, not that God’s world should narrow to fit our prejudices.
We are children of God. This I truly believe. And Christians are brothers and sisters in this family. But it may just surprise some folks that we aren’t God’s only children.
interim senior minister, St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church