And you will know them by the fruits they bear...

Three religion stories made the headlines in the United States in the last 24 hours - all are fascinating in different ways. The first has to do with old school evangelical, James Dobson, who has just criticized Barrack Obama for a 2 year old speech. In his Call for Renewal the Democratic nominee for President said that "the United States is a highly diverse nation, and no one religious belief has a monopoly on moral values. Even within Christianity... there are many ways to apply the Bible's moral principles." (NPR)

"Would we go with James Dobson's [interpretation] or Al Sharpton's?" Obama asked the cheering crowd, referring to the two widely different religious leaders. "Which passages of Scripture would guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which says that slavery is OK but eating shell fish is an abomination… Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount — a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?"
Peter Gomes, in the most current edition of Yale Theological Seminary's REFLECTIONS, writes: In the early church a Christian was one who believed, on the authority of the witnesses to the resurrection, that Jesus is Lord. In the early twentieth century, some Christians, eventually described as fundamentalists, imposed a series of fundamental belief onto Christianity, including belief in in the literal truth of Scripture, the virgin birth, the second coming and substitutionary atonement. Those who affirmed those things were Christians; those who did not, were not. In the 1920s, Harry Emerson Fosdick condemned fundamentalism for its lack of charity and its refusal to share disputed ground with Christians of other persuasions. He predicted that the kind of narrow, doctrinal piety with which he associated the aggressive fundamentalists of his day would expire in the light of modernity and higher education. He would be surprised and perhaps more that a little disappointed, to find that the modernist position that he espoused has long been in retreat, and that the cultural tune is more often called by an evangelical piety having much in common with the fundamentalism to which he was so adamantly opposed."

Enter James Dobson et al who seem to have forgotten that Jesus has not only given Christians the final exam, but it is an open book take home test. Go to Matthew 26: 31-46 and read about the sheep and the goats. The answer to who will experience blessings now and eternity with their Creator has NOTHING to do with which version of scripture we read, or which denomination we attend or whether we can sign off on the fundamentals of this or that evangelical demigod. No, it all boils down to compassion and justice: when you fed the hungry, cared for the wounded, set free the imprisoned and clothed the naked you did so to the Living God. Indeed, we shall know them by the fruits they bear: compassion or fear and hatred?

NOTE: You may enjoy these two replies to the vitriol of Dobson from two different camps. The first is from within the evangelical world, Kirbyjon Caldwell from Houston, and is called, James Dobson Doesn't Speak for Me at:

The second is Jim Wallis of Sojourner's Magazine reply at:

The other two stories suggest that maybe Dr. Fosdick's disappointment need not be complete. Not only has a recent poll discovered that most Americans are no longer as dogmatic as they used to be about their faith - could it be that the culture wars have sickened us all? - but 92% of Americans believe in a loving and just God.

Peter Gomes writes: If there is any good news that is truly good news for everybody and not just for a few somebodies, it is this: God is greater and more generous that the best of those who profess to know and serve him. This is the radical nonconformity against conventional wisdom that Jesus both proclaimed and exemplified, and, alas, it cost him his life. Will we hope to fare any better, as disciples of his nonconformity?"

Not at all - and it would seem that more are coming to that same conclusion. Indeed, it has only been 2000 since the Gospel of John asked the same question Joan Osborne sang: what IF God was one of us?


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