Expanding the Scope of God's Grace: Christian Perspectives and Values for Interfaith Relations
Thomsen, Mark W., Currents in Theology and Mission
Questions and Challenges
Within the Christian community there are many who are skeptical about expanding our understanding of God's grace. Some are convinced that the expansion of God's grace is a modern perversion of traditional Christianity. There is only one truth, one way. Others are convinced that contemporary thought makes all religious values relative to a particular time and place. There are many truths, many ways.
We propose that the affirmation of Jesus as the truth and the way trusts that God's grace is neither locked up in the faith of Judaism nor confined within Jesus' message and mission. It is Jesus himself who declares that God is universally present and active in the world. This is my proposal for addressing from a theological perspective what I call "the Jesus vision." This vision is grounded in three "Jesus values": love of the enemy, recognition of God's universal presence and action, and the power of God's reign embodied in Jesus and manifest through vulnerable, non-coercive love.
In order to address a variety of Christian questions and visions concerning religious pluralism, I will address a variety of Christian individuals. For example, I am addressing Jack and Robert. Jack and Robert are two individuals with whom I have recently talked. They both grew up in conservative Reformation churches--Lutheran and Reformed. During a recent breakfast, Jack said he had been struggling with a question: "How can I say that Jesus is Lord, the Way, the Truth and the Life and still respect people of other faiths?" His traditional faith seemed to exclude Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews from the presence and activity of God. On another evening Robert had even deeper questions and was angry with the God of his confirmation class instruction: "How could the church possibly condemn everyone outside the Christian family?" Since he no longer believed that the church represented God or truth, he would rather not have anything to do with the church.
To both Jack and Robert I suggested that if we would seriously listen to the Jesus of the Gospel traditions, we would see that Jesus insisted that God is present and active to transform and save the world outside Jesus' ministry as well as through Jesus' ministry. An acknowledgment of God's work outside the Christian vision and church is neither a contemporary innovation nor a revision of orthodoxy. Rather, this message goes back both to the New Testament story of Jesus and to traditions in the Hebrew Bible. This vision has relevance for our interfaith conversation.
At the same time there is a younger generation of post-modernists who are very open to a multiplicity of truths and who question any affirmations of an "ultimate truth." While teaching in Chicago at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, I had many students who came from a variety or pluralistic perspectives. They were Catholic, Unitarian-Universalist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and others. Suzanne represents this perspective, which can be illustrated by the story from India of several blind men describing an elephant. One holds the tail and says an elephant is like a rope. Another explores the leg and describes the elephant as a tree. Still another feels the trunk encircling his body and says the elephant is like a snake. A wise man then suggests that the elephant is a mystery to the blind men. Only by sharing their limited experiences can they begin to explore all which they have encountered.
God, the ultimate mystery, is only partially grasped by peoples of particular faiths. Each faith community has a particular but limited vision of the ultimate reality in which we live, move, and have our being. Interfaith conversations lead to spiritual enrichment as we share our visions of God and our shared life together. However, there is one troubling question: Within our common search for Cod, in whom and where and how do we find life and hope right now? When our foundations shake, when stars fall and galaxies disintegrate, in whom or what do we trust?
I want to suggest to Suzanne and those like her that it remains insightful to return to Jesus and the early Jesus community. Jesus saw God alive and active outside his own community and ministry. However, he also announced the coming of God's reign within his own message and mission, want to suggest to Suzanne that even as we are enriched by Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, we are also grasped by the Jesus vision that trusts in the ultimate Abba/Mother, who is passionately involved in the world, encompassing both the joys and brokenness of our lives. The most recent interfaith studies stress the particularity and uniqueness of every faith tradition and propose that each tradition search the depths of own perspectives for ultimate vision and values that may transform our shared life.
From the Jesus tradition we are grasped by the promise that in a broken world permeated by tears and suffering, we can trust in God's creative, forgiving, and transforming love, as God shares our suffering and participates in our struggles for compassion and righteousness. God eternally embraces all creation and all humanity, even though we may be totally unaware of that affirmation, acceptance, and forgiveness. This vision of divine love as concretized in Jesus is central to what Christians can bring to interfaith conversation to share as God's truth, even as we are also recipients of other visions of God's truth.
As we continue our common journey with the Muslim community of 1.5 billion people in the world, it is essential that we also talk to our Christian sisters and brothers whom we will name Esther and Jacob. 'They are convinced that the biblical prophets--Ezekiel, Daniel, John of Patmos, and Paul--speak not only to biblical times and places but also to historical events of the twenty-first century. Through their understanding of prophecy, they are convinced that God is moving history to a climactic conclusion. In their eyes the state of Israel and the United States of America are central to that eschatological plan of God. Esther and Jacob believe that the followers of Jesus are called to ally themselves with the state of Israel in order to be blessed by God and promote the return of Jesus Christ. As the ancient Israelites drove the Canaanites from Palestine to create the original kingdom of David and Solomon, so Christians now are called to support the new Israel as they once again drive from the land of Palestine those opposed to a new Israeli Jewish state.
Esther and Jacob believe they not only are called to support Israel but also to oppose the enemies of Israel who are often Muslim peoples. Today Muslim-Christian relations are intimately related to the Palestinian/Israeli crisis. Esther and Jacob need to rethink the meaning of Jesus in their lives. Jesus did not support chose who fought For an independent state of Judah. In contrast to holy wars of Yahweh, as described in some traditions of the Hebrew Bible, Jesus called his followers to the nonviolent struggle of compassion, love, and truth. Jesus' disciples were not called to hang people on crosses as did the Roman military machine. Rather, they were called to carry crosses and be themselves hung on crosses for the sake of the kingdom of God. Jesus wept over Jerusalem as his contemporaries insisted that rebellion against Rome was God's path; they dreamed of a Maccabean revival. Jesus warned that they had chosen political disaster, the total destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, together with the exile of her people.
As Esther and Jacob ponder the meaning of Jesus, they also will realize that they must discover a new understanding of prophecy. Jesus and his gospel forced the early Christians to reject the popular prophetic eschatology of Jesus' contemporaries. A few years after Jesus was crucified, Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem and Christians fled the doomed city. They abandoned all dreams of holy war against the Roman Empire. They fled the vision of a Messianic David figure, which would restore the glory of ancient Israel in the name of Yahweh. Instead of a conquering Messiah, the followers of Jesus read the prophets and discovered the suffering servant Messiah of Isaiah 53. This was the prophetic dream that spoke, of a crucified Messiah. For the early Christians, the crucified Jesus took the place of the conquering king or a Judas, the Hammer, Maccabeus. From the perspective of Jesus and the apostles, the heresy of the "Left Behind" series is that it once again crucifies Jesus as the Suffering Servant to resurrect a political Messiah and an imperial Jewish state.
Exploring the Depth and Breadth of God's Grace
As resources to the interfaith dialogue, we now turn to two primary motifs which are found within the Jesus story of the Gospels. These two themes challenge Christians to participate more fully in enriching interfaith relationships:
1. Exploring the Expanse of God's Grace to Embrace All Creation and All Humanity
This first theme emphasizes that God's radical love is so wide and deep that it crosses all boundaries and divisions to embrace all creation and all humanity. Divisions between race, nationality, class, wealth, and power are bridged and all humanity is embraced by the love of God. In love God searches for all humanity in order to give us life.
The most destructive division is the line we draw between "us" and "them," friend and enemy. Even this wide chasm has been crossed by the gracious, forgiving God. This "love of enemy" theme is powerfully articulated in the ancient prophetic book of Jonah. Jonah lived at the time of the Assyrian Empire (eighth century BCE), centered in Nineveh in the land today known as Iraq. It was the most powerful empire in the Middle Fast and known its cruelty, cruelty. If a city rebelled against the armies of Assyria, that city's walls were torn down, all males were killed, and their heads were piled at the city gate. Women and children were taken in to exile. Assyrian armies had destroyed cities in Israel and Judah. The Jewish people hated Nineveh and Jonah the prophet hated Nineveh!
Incredibly, God calls Jonah to proclaim God's message of compassion, repentance, and forgiveness to this nation that terrorized Jonah's people. As soon as Jonah heard God's call to Nineveh, he raced in the opposite direction across the Mediterranean Sea. Jonah, however, soon found himself thrown by sailors into the sea and in the belly of a gigantic beast. Once again God speaks: "Jonah, will you reconsider your call?" Finally, Jonah goes and preaches; the city repents and Jonah is furious. He sulks tinder a vine and once again God speaks: "Jonah, do you have a problem?"
Then we learn why Jonah sought escape by ship and wanted no part of God's mission. We thought he was terrified by Nineveh's evil power. But no! Jonah is terrified by the expanse of the grace and love of God. "I knew," says Jonah, "that you were a merciful, forgiving God and that your love even reached out to embrace our enemy" (cf. Jonah 4:2), in effect Jonah says: "I want no part of your disgusting grace. This love of the enemy is nothing but a deplorable weakness. God, why don't you take a stand and bring fire down on these people?"
God replies: "Jonah, do you not realize that there are 120 thousand people here who don't know their right hand from their left? Furthermore Jonah, there are thousands of cattle here which I do not want butchered." This radical love, proclaimed in an ancient book to an ancient people who dreamed of holy war, comes to fulsome expression in Jesus' message and mission. Jesus ministry takes place when another powerful and destructive empire occupies the land of Palestine. Taxes are oppressive; political liberty has been crushed; people long for freedom. In order to drive out the hated Romans, freedom fighters attack from the wilderness. In response to this revolutionary impulse Jesus preaches, "Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you so that your love might be as perfect as the love of God" (cf. Matt 25:43-58). Jesus preached that the reign of God was approaching and permeating life. But God's coming into the world has nothing to do with the violence of freedom fighters or the crushing power of Judean armies. Jesus' followers were called to struggle for justice and peace, yet without military or police power. In contrast to tanks and guns, the reign of God preached and lived by Jesus comes through compassionate service, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and binding up the wounds of victims. His prophetic word called for the sanctimonious, religious elite to repent of their self-righteous hypocrisy, and for the secular, accommodating priests to repent of their corruption of the faith. Jesus called for a struggle of love by those willing to die for the lives of another. Moreover, this was to be a joyous venture, characterized by reconciliation, healing, and sumptuous inclusive banquets. Inconceivably, the way of Jesus even entailed giving the enemy a breather on a hot day! Ira Roman soldier asked you to carry his luggage for a mile (which was the legal limit), one could say: "Have a good day, chap. I'll go with you two" (Matt 5:4 1).
Like the prophet Jonah, most Judeans thought Jesus' reign of God was a joke. Prior to the crucifixion, the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, released the Judean terrorist Barabbas rather than the Jesus who had announced a radically different liberation (Luke 23:18). Jesus persisted in following the will of the God whom he knew as Abba. In the end he assembled no army and called or no military resistance. He was crucified by the Roman military machine and prayed for those who drove spikes into his hands and Feet: "Father, Forgive them, or they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
This vision inspires the Jesus people to action. This message is to be shared and preached when family relations crumble or nations go to war. This is the message that Christians are called to live and proclaim, whenever humanity is gathered and divided by race, nationality, religion, culture, or conflict. We are called to participate in a radical love that has no boundaries, no limits, and no enemies. There are only one people and one God, who in powerful forgiving and transforming love embraces all people and the entire universe.
What totally confounded and transformed the early disciples was their own encounter with this unconditional grace and forgiveness, when they too were the enemies of God. Forgiveness was not just for those who "know not what they do." It even included them when they knew exactly what they had done. They had once been the enemies of God. Peter was haunted by the crowing of the cock after he had denied Jesus three times. He was overwhelmed by a love that continued to call him to feed Jesus' sheep. When he was crucified for Jesus' sake, he asked only to be hung upside down. Paul never forgot that he had been loved, forgiven, and called while cursing Jesus and destroying Jesus people. His utter amazement is expressed in a letter written years later: "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). This same incredible grace permeated the message and mission of Jesus. The parable of the two sons still confounds, listeners. Is such love possible? In spite of the prodigal's disavowal, betrayal, disobedience, and debauchery, he was welcomed into the arms of unconditional forgiveness, astounding grace. It was not the fear of hell and damnation that obsessed the early church; it was the amazing grace experienced even in spite of human denials and betrayals that transformed the world (Luke 22:61).
Christians have often, denied and betrayed this Jesus vision and made a mockery of our faith. The Jewish community for centuries has experienced death and violence at the hands of Christians. Muslims experienced the violence of Christian crusaders, who wept with joy at the slaughter of Muslim people as Jerusalem was wrenched from the hands of the Muslim rule. Asians experienced the imposition of western Christendom as a dimension of violent western colonial expansion. I will always remember a sign posted in a small park in the Shanghai harbor: "No Dogs or Chinese Allowed." The Chinese Communists had left it there as testimony to the Christian colonialists, who sailed under Hags marked by the sign of the cross. Many Christians want to mention that Christians also have experienced persecution. However, this does not excuse the many occasions when we have betrayed God and Jesus by becoming instruments of hate and violence rather than sacrificing, forgiving love.
2. Exploring God's Grace at Work within All Creation and All Humanity
The second basic theme from the Jesus narrative is powerfully portrayed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The first motif centered on the conviction that God's radical, forgiving, transforming love embraces all creation, all humanity, crossing the gaping chasm between "us" and "them". This second motif asserts that God not only embraces in love and forgiveness the whole of creation and all humanity but that God works in love within and through them as well as us. Even as God works like leaven in a loaf of bread, salt within the soup, or light permeating the darkness, so God's truth comes to expression quietly and mysteriously in every people, every culture, and every religion. Glimpses of transcendent truth, revelatory glimpses of life, and footprints of the divine are everywhere.
In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), Jesus is confronted by a legal expert with the question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus asks: "What has been written in the law?" The lawyer replied with a formal, legal answer: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind: and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus answered: "You are right. Do this and you will live." Still the lawyer was not satisfied and continued: "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus next explains with the parable.
A man was traveling down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The road quickly descended from mountain country to the Jordan River valley and at times was dangerous. Bandits attacked the traveler, stripped him of his possessions, and left him near death by the side of the road. A temple priest, a Jew of good standing, was returning home after serving his time in the Jerusalem temple. He saw the beaten man but took no risks, passing by on the other side of the road. Likewise a Levite, a Jew of good standing belonging to the priestly tribe, also passed him by the other side. Finally, a Samaritan, a despised foreigner, had compassion on him, caring enough for this wounded man to stop and take a risk. He applied medication of wine and soothing oil, bound up the wounds, put him on his own donkey, carried him to a local inn, cared for him, paid the bill, and promised the innkeeper to cover future expenses. Jesus then asked: "Who proved to be neighbor to the man who was robbed and beaten?" The lawyer replied: "The one who showed mercy." Jesus concluded, "Go and do likewise."
Jesus did not answer the question: "Who is my neighbor?" Instead, Jesus says that the law calls you to become a neighbor, show mercy, and have compassion. 'Iliac is the meaning of participation in the radical love of God.
Yet there is an even more radical vision in this parable. Jesus chose to identify the merciful one as a Samaritan. Samaritans were reviled, hated by the Jewish people. They were considered heretics, reading the Law of Moses as scripture but worshiping in Samaria rather than in Jerusalem. They were accused of having an invalid priesthood and only traces of Jewish blood. They were a mixed race: part Syrian, Assyrian, and Babylonian, part Jewish. For the orthodox Jews they were the enemy, unclean, and socially unacceptable.
In telling the story from the Samaritan perspective, Jesus claims that God is present and active outside the Jewish community. God is even present and active in the Samaritan "enemy," those considered heretics, members of an inferior faith. Here the despised and ridiculed Samaritan embodies the compassion and mercy expressed in God's law. This pluralistic vision was not an unusual view or Jesus. Jesus saw authentic faith in a Roman centurion (Luke7:1-10). Jesus saw the care of a widow in the unbelieving city of Sidon for God's prophet Elijah (Luke 4:25ff.). Jesus told a parable of the last judgment in Matthew 25 that encompasses the judgment of all nations: "I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me a drink." The judge of all nations concludes: "In as much as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters you did it to me."
The division between those who are received or not received by the judge of the universe is not based on a distinction between the nations of God and nations of evil; nor is the judgment between those who follow Jesus and those who follow other faiths, such as the teachings of Buddha or the Quran of Islam. In Jesus' parable there is a difference between sheep and goats. It is a separation between those who demonstrate divine compassion and those who resist or tail to demonstrate divine compassion. The question is whether we have surrendered ourselves to God, trusted in God's radical compassion, and lived in the spirit of divine mercy, grace, forgiveness, creative care, and passionate concern for others. Openness to mercy and compassion is participation in the divine life.
In the Good Samaritan story Jesus asserts that the reality of God's compassion and grace is loose in the world. It is shockingly alive. Trusting in divine compassion is participation in that which is more powerful than death. The story of Jesus' resurrection proclaims that when life seems to disintegrate and evil appears to crush truth, righteousness, and love, we can continue to trust that the God of incomprehensible grace is the word of truth!
Grace Today and in This Place
Recalling Jack and Robert, who had questions originating from their early instruction in the Christian faith, Jack was convinced that there must be some way to confess Jesus as Lord and still respect the life and faith of his Muslim and Hindu friends. However, he did not know whether he could legitimately do this as a Lutheran and still be faithful to the gospel. Robert thinks that his confirmation instruction was so wrong-headed that he left his church and became a questioning agnostic. Following the logic of this article, we would need to say to both of them that if Christians really take the Jesus of the Gospels seriously, we would conclude that Jesus does not agree with their confirmation instruction. Jesus did not say that outside the church and outside the preaching of the gospel there is no forgiveness of sin. Jesus trusted that the God, whom he named "Our Father" and the source of gracious forgiveness, was not locked up in a narrow Jesus box.
For Jesus incomprehensible grace, forgiveness, and mercy is the cleansing ocean in which all of humanity swims. In Jesus parable of the last judgment neither the sheep nor the goats perceived that they had met the Lord in the personhood of their suffering, lonely, excluded, oppressed and neglected neighbors. None of them knew they were swimming each and every day in the waters of suffering love. Furthermore, each one had been embraced by God's cosmic compassion, both sheep and goats. This may appear incomprehensible, but the same God incarnate in Jesus wept over the same Jerusalem that within a week crucified him.
There is nothing that any of us can do to create the conditions for such unfathomable depths of unconditional grace. We simply live within a love that will not let us go. Jesus' parable declares that if while swimming in the creating, cleansing, and compassionate depths of grace you despise or ridicule those things which sustain and nurture life, then you do not have to swim in these waters. Yet finally you discover that apart from this ocean of compassion and grace there is no life. We can say to Jack and Robert that we trust that our Jewish. Muslim, and Buddhist friends swim in the same ocean and we desire to share this incredible vision of life with them. An affirmation of God's universal presence is not a form of modernism, nor is it a denial of the Lordship oil Jesus. It is an acknowledgment of Jesus' own faith, which fulfilled ancient hopes, as found in books like Jonah.
When Christians acknowledge Jesus as the way and the truth, we acknowledge that God is fully present and active in Jesus. We trust that what we see and hear in Jesus is God's truth and we find here the foundation of lives. In Jesus we are at the same time called to a radically new vision for God's sake to open our eyes and see what God is doing outside our own Faith community.
When Jesus opens our eyes to the breadth and depth of God's grace, we should not be surprised that the Hindu prophet and saint, Mahatma Gandhi, understood the depths of God's nonviolent activity in the world more fully than most of us who call ourselves Christians. When Jesus opens our eyes, we should not be surprised to have our eyes opened to see a multitude of good Samaritans, who are bringing the compassion of God into life and community.
Let me share a few personal experiences where I was surprised by grace, even when I should not have been surprised. Approximately thirty years ago I was in Cairo, Egypt. Dr. Harold Vogelaar was working there, introducing me to his work and relationships. Toward the end of the day we visited an old Cairo mosque led by gentle, elderly Imam. Through Harold's translation, I asked him how he used his week. The Imam said that he spent much of the week visiting and talking with those attending the mosque. He talked to them about their struggles and the prevalence of poverty. He said one of his greatest challenges was getting the wealthy to share more generously with the poor. He spoke about the Youth who found it difficult to find work and the temptations they faced in the market place Videos and literature filled with sex and violence from Europe and the U.S.A. threatened to undermine their moral values. I asked him: "What do you preach about on Friday, the day of the sermon?" He replied: "I read the Quran and I look for a message of hope. In our world, where life is so often broken, people need hope." As we left, the Imam asked if we would request our Christian friends to pray for his brother-in-law, who was extremely ill and needed the prayers of God's people.
The depths of the Imam's spiritual life and commitment to God and God's people opened my eyes to the reality of God loose in the world, a God who shatters our traditional boxes of orthodoxy, the God both Jack and Robert were longing for.
I thank a Muslim Friend, Dr. Ghulam Haider Aasi, with whom I taught at the Lutheran School of Theology for many years. About twenty years ago I taught my first class with Dr. Aasi, dealing with Muslim-Christian relations. It was an evening class and we were both commuting, so we shared a meal before class. Dr. Aasi's wife, Zubaida, often sent the delicious Food we shared. We often began with a moment of silent prayer. One evening Dr. Aasi asked whether instead of praying separately we begin by praying together. That was a surprising moment of grace.
Experiences with the Cairo Imam, Dr. Aasi, and many others no doubt have led me to read my scriptures differently. My understanding of Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan has grown out of interfaith conversations and relationships. I had missed the depths of Jesus' vision of the reign of God. I had missed that Jesus has told us to open our eyes and see. My God is alive and active even among those for whom we may have suspicion or designate the enemy.
This does not mean that our faith traditions are identical or our theologies the same. But it does mean that we can recognize common motifs that bind us together with the entire human family. Recently 138 distinguished Muslim scholars from around the world sent a message to Christians and Jews titled "A Common Word Between Us and You." (1) They proposed that our common life together, beginning with our shared belief in one God, could be seen in two basic themes: 1) Love of God and 2) Love of Neighbor. Several Christian communities have responded positively to this Muslim initiative. The response has not been a matter of full agreement, but rather that there are values and perspectives within our traditions which can lead to creative dialogue and common visions, which transcend our differences and make our global life enriching for all humanity.
Let us now come back to Suzanne and those who have few or no questions concerning a multiplicity of truths. For most post-modernists it is taken for granted that all religions are on different paths in the search of an ultimate mystery. The story of the various blind men examining the mysterious elephant rings true to them. In most recent discussions concerning religious pluralism there has been recognition that each vision has particular and unique perspectives. Each of us is challenged to explore the depths dour own tradition for treasures of truth that have universal value For our common life together and insight into ultimate reality, the reality in which we all live and move and have our being. With Suzanne we are each seeking for the depths of God's truth. It is also true for the Christian family that within the Jesus story of the Gospels there emerges the conviction that the mystery within and behind the universe is a God of unconditional forgiving, caring love--a love that embraces all humanity--friend and enemy.
Traversing our journey toward this mystery, the Jesus vision is like a Global Positioning System (GPS). Let's call the Jesus vision a "Galactic Identification System." Within a cosmos of billions of galaxies, we MIA in the promise about from whence we come, to whom we belong, and for whom we live. No matter how mysterious or terrifying our life experiences may be, we are invited into the depths of a life together where we can trust that God's grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness make us whole. Along this journey we hear the promise of Jesus as a gift; "Open your eyes and see what else I am doing in the world!"
Finally, I wish to speak to Esther and Jacob, who have been captured by one of the great heresies of the contemporary church, as popularly portrayed in the "Left Behind series. If they are willing to reread the Jesus story, they will discover that according to Jesus the coming of the reign of God occurs through vulnerable, nonviolent love and compassion. The coming of God's reign was visible in the life and mission of Jesus. It came through prophetic words of truth that exposed the hypocrisy of Jesus' contemporaries; it came in works of COM fort and hope that offered forgiveness and future to those who believed they had been damned by God. It came through acts of mercy that healed the sick and made the blind to see; it came through joyous banquets with our casts and chose despised by the cultured and rich. It came as Jesus prophetically challenged the sale of sacrificial animals in the temple. It came through an infinite love that aimed to remove suffering from the world by bearing the pain of all creation, the cost of fulfilling the prophetic mission of God. It came through a forgiveness that sought the transformation into friends of the enemies who threatened the very life of Jesus.
Jesus did not advocate violence either to fulfill the will of God or to create an independent Israel through rebellion against Rome. Instead Jesus said: "Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; do good to those who despise you" (cf. Matt 6441. We are not called to be the prophets of end-times holy wars, but are called to be a community of servants, surrendering our lives to Jesus as nonviolent, vulnerable instruments of peace in the world. How does this relate to Christian-Muslim relations? Twenty-five years ago in Cairo, Dr. Chelery, executive for the Muslim Mission to the World, asked Harold Vogelaar and me: "How can you speak of better Christian Muslim relations when the Christian countries have stolen our homeland, given it to the Israelis and today still support the destruction of the Palestinian people?" Roland Miller has responded well; "Perhaps Muslims will be willing to listen to us when Christians are willing to die for them."
An authentic Jesus community is found in the occupied territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River. They are a small Christian minority, threatened daily by the Israeli occupation. They see American Christian Zionism not only as heresy but as a threat both to their very existence as Palestinian Christians and to their Muslim neighbors. Within the chaos and tragedy of continual violence they believe they are called by Jesus to a nonviolent struggle grounded in compassion, reconciliation, justice, and peace. In the words of Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem: "Our struggle is through love to transform our Israeli opposition into our friends." This is what the Jesus vision is all about. Palestinian Christians, united with Jewish people opposed to militant Zionism and working together with Muslims committed to a nonviolent jihad for peace, seek to transform our world of hatred and oppression into a world in which God's compassion flows forth as forgiveness, mercy, and justice! (2)
(1.) Miroslav Volf, Ghazi bin Muhammad, and Melissa Yarrington, eds., A Commom Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 28-50.
(2.) This article originated in a presentation made at Carthage College and Wartburg Theological Seminary.
Mark W Thomsen
Director of World/Global Mission in the ALC and ELCA, 1982-1996
Director of PhD/ThM Studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1996-2006…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Expanding the Scope of God's Grace: Christian Perspectives and Values for Interfaith Relations. Contributors: Thomsen, Mark W. - Author. Journal title: Currents in Theology and Mission. Volume: 40. Issue: 2 Publication date: April 2013. Page number: 85+. © 2009 Lutheran School of Theology and Mission. COPYRIGHT 2013 Gale Group.