Friday, September 9, 2011

The Interfaith Memorial: Didactic or Dangerous?

Just under ten years ago, on a clear, cool late summer afternoon the people of a nation froze in disbelief. They could not believe what they were seeing when they looked on their T.V.'s, or outside their own windows.

Shock.
Panic.
Grief.

As free-lance photo journalist, Michael Walters said;

"All of a sudden there were people screaming. I saw people jumping out of the building. Their arms were flailing. I stopped taking pictures and started crying."

Mass terror came to American shores on a level that exceeded even the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Suddenly doctrinal squabbles, creedal differences, economic backgrounds, genders, political affiliations became irrelevant.

On that day we were all simply Americans.

By and large, internationally we were all suddenly, simply, human beings who were reeling in shock as the ugly nature of what can linger within the human heart revealed itself.

How quickly we can forget these things, and slip back into our own little worlds of pettiness.

The Interfaith Memorial service that is scheduled this weekend caused some controversy when Southern Baptist and other self-proclaimed evangelical ministers were excluded from the invitation.

Some voiced outrage.

Others took a different view...

In a recent post ,by popular blogger Justin Taylor, regarding the Interfaith Memorial Service, some readers were downright relieved that evangelicals were not invited.

Their reasoning?

One wrote:
"...when a public gathering is a pagan worship service (and what else would you call a group of non-Christians gathering to pray?) then we need step step aside and leave them to it.
Would we participate in a Muslim worship service? Then why this?"


Another comment left noted:

"I think it’s kind of awesome, to be honest. I mean, thank you Washington for realizing that we aren’t going to accept that invitation….at least, we shouldn’t."

The view, held by several readers, is that somehow attending an interfaith service would lead to a compromise of the "exclusive truth of the gospel" of Jesus Christ.

Really?

Is that really the concern of self proclaimed evangelical Christians?

By attending an interfaith memorial service, one is somehow compromising, or even negating, the integrity of the message of Jesus? And somehow this experience will so contaminate the integrity of this message, that it will challenge everything they have personally experienced in their own life?

To some, maybe this would be compromising, I wouldn't know.

It could be argued that the purpose of this service is to acknowledge that somehow all gods are equal, and "on par" with each other, and that by attending this memorial one would be endorsing the idea that all religions are the same.

Again, this could very well be true for some, but is this the only perspective a Christian can take toward this particular event? I would say no.

This interfaith memorial isn't really about acknowledging that all gods are the same. It isn't about somehow surrendering your own personal convictions.

This memorial is about people of different viewpoints coming together, (as any interfaith project is), putting aside their differences, and being honest that there is something wrong in their particular community, city or country. It goes beyond religious claims.

It is about humans working together toward a common goal.

This service is about commemorating those lost in a vicious terrorist attack, which was carried out against innocent civilians.

Do you think that Jesus would agree with commemorating the lives lost?
I believe he would.

This service does not demand an acceptance of other ideologies, but it is merely an identification of similarities running within each faith. The idea of a longing for peace.

This idea is central to humanity, and I believe it is very Christian in nature, because God desires peace with mankind.

This is the whole story of Christianity, isn't it?

God was in relationship with man.
Man chose another way, and placed himself at war with God.
God initiated reconciliation through a sacrificial process.
But then God chose to make the ultimate sacrifice, declaring once and for all, "it is finished."

The God of the Bible isn't a god of violence and anger, but one who longs for reconciliation and peace with His creation. He will go to great lengths to get it.

To say that Christians have absolutely nothing in common with people of different faiths is, I feel, a rather naive thing to think. Like, somehow Christians have figured everything out, and everyone else is screwed up, or somehow less "enlightened."

This interfaith memorial demands nothing of those that attend.

It is merely a sharing of different beliefs, united in a common longing that is central to humankind.

A call to end oppression.
A condemnation of violence.
A longing for peace amongst all people.

Isn't this what Christians believe that God does, and desires?

It is very interesting because the center of the Christian faith, a man named Jesus, was the type of person who did the very sorts of things that the religious people were too afraid, or arrogant to do.

He didn't wait for people to acknowledge his sovereignty.
He didn't wait for people to come to act on his terms.

He was relational.
He met people where they were at.
He associated with the people who were not considered "in" when it came to the religious circles of the time.
He spent time with the tax collectors, the "sinners", prostitutes...."pagans", even?
He invested in those who didn't believe exactly as he believed, and he changed their lives.

Would this be possible at an interfaith memorial service?
I think so.

Is it possible that Christians, those who believe they are God's "elect", could have much to learn from those of other faiths?

I know that I sure do.

I love learning from my friends who don't share my personal convictions.
I love sharing my ideas with them, and letting them share their ideas with me.
Isn't that what the purpose of this life is?

Whatever your view on the issue, you are certainly entitled to it.

Perhaps it would be something that would shake your faith, or compromise Jesus' integrity. Maybe it would be an acknowledgement of all gods being the same, or "on par" with each other...

But what if that wasn't the case?

What if you attended and met someone who asked you your story?

What if your presence showed someone who is hostile to the ideas of Christianity and Jesus, that you long for the same things as they do?

What if that created a spark of interest in their heart?

What if you ventured into an environment that you didn't know much about and...
What if you actually learned something from it?

In my personal view, there is always opportunity in trying new things.

The only way to eliminate opportunity is to eliminate possibility.

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