R. Kirby Godsey, the former president of Macon’s Mercer University, writes in his new book, Is God a Christian?, about interfaith tolerance and understanding.
Recently, I sent a review of the book to a good friend who replied with genuine concern for my spiritual well-being. This was my response to him:
Thanks for the note. I guess I need to be clear on a few things. I have never wavered from my belief in Jesus Christ, and I also believe that we must love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. However, we are also called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
The problem I have is that far too many people have given the Bible the same status as God or Jesus, and they use it to enforce strict judgment on those who hold differing beliefs.
Many churches are spiritually killing people by the thousands, sacrificing them at the altar of legalism, shame, and judgment. Where is the grace that these souls were looking for and deserved? Clearly many churches do not understand the true intent of “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The church, as we know it, is dying. Rather, it is being destroyed from within, because no community of believers can be destroyed by outside forces.
I understand and believe that God is working in this world and that our responsibility lies in how we make a difference today in this place which will someday be “heaven on earth,” if you believe what your Bible teaches. As the Lord’s Prayer says, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
You asked how I can believe some of the Bible but not all of it. That question only makes sense if you place the authority of the Bible at the same level as God or Christ. The Bible is not God. It is a book about God that was written, translated, and canonized by the same men who in turn declared it to be the actual Word of God.
We, the community of believers, have made it sacred scripture, but we cannot make it God. Moreover, I believe that sometimes the Bible is wrong.
As to the concept of hell generally accepted by Christians, I am not saying that people will not suffer for the choices they have made. I do, however, believe that in the end every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess. That, in essence, is universal salvation, but the very idea is offensive to so many in the church.
We need to stop worrying about heaven and hell, who is in and who is out, and simply figure out what our calling is, and how that calling can make this world a better place.
In the story of the prodigal son, how sad it is that the good, righteous son was angry that his sinful brother was loved and accepted even after all he had done. How could that be fair since he himself had always done what was right?
I believe that this is often how the church responds, and that this attitude is destroying the church from within. It is time for us to be God’s witness to the world, bringing light and hope to all.
God so loved the world – not Christians, Muslims, Jews, blacks, whites, Chinese, Russians, Americans – the world, including all people and everything in it.
I see no distinction or qualifier in that. It is time that we stop building walls and start building bridges.
LT. COL. MARK THOMPSON IS A UNITED METHODIST PASTOR AND A CHAPLAIN AT FORT GORDON.