Views on politics and current events

Saturday, December 04, 2004

On Being A Non-Exclusive Christian

The term non-exclusive Christian is a relatively recent one. It is a way to define a person and their beliefs within the Christian religion. But what does it mean? A definition for me is:

Someone who has made a choice in their spiritual life to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, but at the same time that person recognizes that there are many ways to lead a spiritual life.

If the span of human history is considered, it wasn’t long ago that for someone to make such a statement would lead to dire consequences. Can you imagine, for example, what the medieval Christian church’s reaction would have been to any member of its congregation saying such a thing? Whether Catholic or Protestant, the answer would be the same:

Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. The only way to the Father is through the Son.

To be a non-exclusive Christian, in the traditional views of the church, would have been heresy, pure and simple. Many people suffered horrible torture and painful death for less radical beliefs, so what would the fate of a non-exclusive Christian be? Although the church no longer tortures or beheads people, the fact is that many Christians would still say that a non-exclusive Christian is a heretic. For these people, their core beliefs have been shaped by two thousand years of official interpretation of scripture by man. For them, there is and can only be one way to salvation and that is through Jesus Christ. Period. Everything else is false.

For me to believe that only Christians are on the right path would also mean that no matter how ethical, compassionate, and unselfish a person may be, they are without hope. They are denied the grace of the spirit. I cannot believe in this. The spirit does not deny anyone grace, nor can I deny anyone their worthiness of it. That doesn’t mean that I agree with everyone, nor does it excuse the evil-doer (which at times includes myself). Does that mean I don’t ever judge when I shouldn’t, or condemn some for their actions? Of course not. If nothing else, I am human, with thoughts and emotions that are sometimes wrong, sometimes inappropriate, and (not nearly often enough) compassionate.

Does a murderer deserve grace? A wife-beater? A pedophile? An embezzler? A thief? A liar? Any doer of anything ‘wrong’ you care to mention? I answer yes. Without a doubt. Our society might rightly forbid these actions and deny the evil doer of their physical freedom. We can abhor their actions, condemn them to life imprisonment or even physical death, but the spirit is still there for them. So if the spirit is there for someone who commits the most heinous act imaginable, then I can’t believe that it would be denied to any spiritual person, regardless of their particular faith.

To deny the believers of a different faith would be to discard my belief in a ubiquitous spirit. A spirit that was, always has been, and always will be, and that doesn’t exist in the stratosphere, but within us all. A spirit that created all of us with a heart to feel and a mind to think. And that belief I cannot discard. It has been a long time coming for me, and was just as much a result of whatever intellect I possess as well as whatever emotions I have.

Being a non-exclusive Christian means to discard many things that were taught to me as a child. And (to use an overused and misunderstood phrase) to be born again of the spirit. But born again with the knowledge that the choice I have made is the right choice for me, and that the spiritual choice anyone else has made, if done with conviction and honesty in their heart, is the right choice for them. Their beliefs do not diminish mine, and mine do not diminish theirs. It means to have courage in what I truly believe, but yet have an open mind to what others believe.

It means to search for answers, even when there aren’t any, to go beyond mere religious tolerance and flow into the grace of accepting others for what they believe and who they are. If the spirit shows grace to all people, can’t I attempt to show grace by acceptance? We are all different, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways. But the key word is different. Being different from some and alike with others can’t be avoided, nor should it be. But when your own personal beliefs (or any given talent you have) gives you a sense of superiority over others, then I believe that is wrong. Different does not mean better or worse. It merely means different.

1 comment:

Dean said...

The problem is that everybody wants to be loved. That means, regardless of our intent to be tolerant, there is that craving within us that someone else understand. In my own case, it is my family. They are the ones who perhaps least of all understand me, and that hurts. Others I can leave to their own pursuits, and even with my loved ones, I can encourage it. But when their minds are closed...when they do not even wish to seek with me...that has to be a that no matter how noble it may be, I do not want. I feel wonderful about the changes that I have made in my thinking, but terrible about their effect on the ones I love. So that is the hitch in all this...for me. I cannot go back. I don't think I ever will be able to. But the chasm is widened.

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