Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“On what worldview—whether Christian or non-Christian, whether religious or secular—are we willing to stake the meaning of our lives?” —Thomas Cathcart
In recognition of the rare convergence of the observances of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter, we hosted an interfaith conversation with Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and humanist leaders who talked about the power of redemption in their respective traditions. While the panelists shared significant historical and theological developments within their traditions and highlighted religious inter-and intra-faith differences and tensions, they consistently affirmed their religious faiths as sources of meaning. Their faithful adherents stake the meaning of their lives on something lasting and consequential. None of their perspectives or expressions of faith evinced any chauvinism or fundamentalism. I couldn’t help thinking that anyone would be lucky to be a part of these traditions. Unfortunately, this is often not the approach the nonreligious get to see from the religious.
At the close of the conversation, an attendee from the audience pointed out that few people present were younger than 40 years old. I worry that young people have not seen the kind of open, hospitable, safe face of religion we saw on the panel that day. A few hours later, I witnessed a different image of faith. I watched a television special featuring an established, famous stand-up comedian who was expected to use his coveted premium cable channel show to come out as gay. The comedian’s story took a heartbreaking, less comedic turn when he described his mother’s cold response when he came out to her. She said to him, “I can’t go against Jesus.” As if Jesus is opposed to anybody or that Jesus enlists the faithful to deny dignity and personhood to anyone. How many people come to church with questions, doubts, and religious scars only to be met with a divine presence withheld from them?
I think I am safe in assuming that most religious collectivities do not intend to turn off potential adherents. Others believe that their traditions and theologies demand a forbidding approach to those considered outside of the faith, such as humanists, agnostics, and LGBTQ people. I have had my share of forbidding, judgmental treatment in my experience of Christianity. I have often wondered how the church has gotten so bad at freshly voicing the good news of God in a current atmosphere of hunger for meaning. The ground on which we have staked meaning in our lives is formed and nurtured by timeless grace, love, and justice made real in the life of Jesus, which means that our traditions and theologies have never been bound in time and history but live on in new ways and contexts. Our task must be to invite seekers, leavers, and doubters to a life of meaning that combats alienation from God and community. May we discover anew how to present that face of God and religion to the world. May it be so.