Monday, March 10, 2014

Moving Beyond Christian Exceptionalism

The time has come for Christianity to become less dualistic and move beyond exclusivism and exceptionalism in order to embrace and embody a more inclusive gospel. Without a more inclusive and universal orientation, I can’t see Christianity doing much to contribute to a more just, equitable, and peaceable world. 

This is, however, a daunting challenge to overcome. Our Christian exceptionalism is deeply entrenched and often feeds upon American exceptionalism, which our political leaders use to justify all sorts of intrusive polices and actions, such as drone strikes in other countries.

A case in point: The Coca-Cola ad that ran during the Super Bowl sparked a wave of controversy for featuring diverse voices singing America, the Beautiful, in languages other than English. The implication being that true Americans speak English.

Many Christians believe that God’s true people speak only the language of Christian faith. But surely God is larger than that and can speak to others outside Christianity through other means and ways.

In the original story of the wizard of Oz, the Emerald city is actually not greener than any other city. When the wizard is exposed as an ordinary man, he explains that he put green spectacles on everyone so that everything appeared green.

Most of us were taught to see the world through Christian-colored glasses. Those who taught us were not bad people who were intentionally deceitful. They were simply passing on to us what had been passed on to them. 

But now we live in a different world, and the wizard has been exposed. We must take off our singular-colored glasses so we can see the rich colors, textures, and beauty of a diverse world with diverse traditions. Truth is not singular; it is multifaceted, multilayered, and multidimensional. Truth is truth wherever it is found.

For those of us who are Christians, Jesus Christ is the foundation on whom we construct our churches and personal lives. He is our Lord in whom we trust and to whom we pledge our allegiance. We are unashamedly disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.

But God is not limited to the Christian way and path. When Christians claim that there is salvation in no other name, they are speaking of what is true for Christians. No exclusivity need be implied. God can be encountered in innumerable ways. God can be accessed by many names and the Spirit can work in numerous ways. There is a perennial, transformative wisdom that transcends particular religious beliefs and traditions.

In our own Christian tradition, one writer says that God is love, and where love is God is (see 1 John 4:16). Luke attributes to Paul the view that we are all God’s offspring and in God we all live, move, and have our being (see Acts 17:27-29). The writer of Ephesians and Colossians anticipates a time when all reality is reconciled to God (Eph. 1:9-10; Col. 1:20).                

Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies is based on the interconnection and mutual belonging of all people (Matt. 5:43-48). We are to love all people, even our enemies, because God loves all people, and followers of Jesus should be witnesses to and examples of a love that recognizes the worth, dignity, and value of all persons, even those who wish our harm.

The God of Jesus is the God of the whole earth. This world and everything in it constitute God’s temple. We all belong. So we must find ways to work together for the common good and learn how to dialogue about our differences without claiming to have all the truth or seeking to impose our beliefs on others.

We Christians are not exceptional because we are chosen by God over others, or because we possess the truth while others do not, but we should be exceptional in the way we accept others and pursue the truth wherever the truth leads us. We should be exceptional in the ways we love others and identify with the disadvantaged. We should be exceptional in kindness, humility, honesty, and forgiveness, in our care for the suffering and commitment to social justice.

If more of us could let go of our exclusive interpretations of the gospel and become more exceptional in the ways we practice hospitality, generosity, and engage in the common good, we could lead the way forward in helping to heal and give hope to our world.

1 comment:

  1. I've been struggling a lot with my spirituality and faith, and almost giving up my faith path because I feel it's too exclusive and based on corrupt religion...this post really spoke to me.

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