Romans 8:35 “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, one of the premiere animal welfare organizations in the country, decided this past Spring that it was important to talk to religious communities about animal care. To that end, they invited a group of religious leaders who are concerned about animals to their sanctuary in Kenab, Utah to draft a proclamation that leaders of all faiths could sign. I was invited to be a part of that group, but was unable to attend the Utah event because of commitments already made here, but I have had some involvement as a “remote attendee” through the web.
While I hope later to be more involved in the drafting of a specifically Christian document, I have learned a lot from hearing the interfaith dialogue about how to word the proclamation. For instance, it was news to me that there are “non-theistic” traditions that consider themselves to be a religion—their religion focusing not on belief in a deity but on adherence to certain practices. That there would be concern about mentioning God in a faith statement by religious leaders was a stunner for me.
More telling, however, was the debate surrounding a foundational phrase indicating that God created out of love. One rabbi pointed out that a God whose nature is love is a distinctly Christian concept. Others objected to the sense that we could ascribe any motivation for creation to God at all. We ended up talking about compassion rather than love, but many are still quite uneasy with that.
Of course any group that gathers for interfaith dialogue about animal welfare is not going to be full of conservatives. So the problematic assumptions that Christians are the only ones in God’s favor or that the “dominion” language in Genesis means we are free to stomp on what we please were not even going to come up. Which made it all the more interesting to see the phrases that flew from the pens of liberal Christians but that could not pass an interfaith muster.
The process helped me understand others, but it also helped me to better define my own Christianity. At its most basic level, it seems that the thing which separates Christians from other faith traditions is the idea that God is, at least to a small degree, knowable and that the peek at the nature of God that we get, reveals love.
For Christians, Jesus is God being willing to be known by human beings--God willing to be exposed to all the joys, risks and agonies that love brings. The good news that so many Christians have died for across the ages is the same message that the angel brought to Mary: “Fear not, the Lord is with you.” Word made flesh. There is not an ounce of me that doesn’t believe that. I attach many different interpretations to the life of Jesus and the teachings of the Bible than my conservative colleagues. Like the Christians gathered at Kenab, I don’t believe God has it in for those of other faiths. Jesus says that those who seek will find, and I believe that to be true—no matter what religious tradition you are seeking from.
But I do hold the inherently arrogant belief that when a person does find God, whether from Christianity, Islam, Judaism or anywhere, that they will find Love, with all that notion implies about intimacy, intention, and action. It’s what the Sufi mystic, Rumi, found; it’s what the Jewish Pharisee, Paul of Tarsus, found; and it is what I found through the twists and turns of my Christian faith. It’s the one thing I couldn’t deny, even if the gallows waited. As I receive criticism from some in Christian quarters for focusing on “God is love,” it was comforting in this process to discover that my core belief is, at least in the eyes of those from other faiths, what makes me a Christian.
Thank you, God, for allowing us to know you. Amen.
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