By NEMS Daily Journal
Almost the whole American religious community seems to be in some state of upheaval. Tensions, anxieties, accusations, suspicions are hurled casually and frequently at people of other faiths and even within faith communities.
Is all of this mean-spirited public criticism what faith is meant to offer?
Everyone has a right, of course, in this country to say terrible things about another person’s faith. The Constitution guarantees it; its writers were reacting to narrowly defined acceptable religion, and even government sanction against some faiths in some parts of the American colonies and in the early United States.
The tolerance that free speech is meant to offer often leads to intolerance made public, and that practice stretches across the canvas of American history.
Pick almost any faith stream – Baptists, Roman Catholics, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Quakers, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jews, Muslims – to find evidence of having been intolerant or having been the victims of intolerance in the history of the United States.
It is easy, as history proves, to adopt an attitude of getting even in the name of religion.
Such practices can’t sustain themselves. Northern Ireland tore itself part before a civil peace finally quieted religious violence between Protestants and Catholics – only in the last dozen years.
The late Rev. Dana Ferguson was a Batesville native who became the associate executive pastor at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she preached a notable sermon in her congregation, and it suggests lessons that should be widely revisited, especially among Christians, America’s dominant religion:
“We live, my friends, as Christians, not according to what has been done to us but by what has been done for us. Who we are is not decided by murder or terror, economics or envy, hatred or evil. Who we are is defined by what has been done for us. Who we are is defined by a judge who becomes our companion in Jesus Christ, by a Savior who went to the cross, went to the cross that we might live life and live it abundantly serving friend and enemy alike, who went to the cross that we might stand hands outstretched to those we meet, like or not alike, needy or needing to give. We are defined by a God who comes to us first not demanding vindication or vengeance but offering us forgiveness, drawing near to us as an ever-faithful companion and comforter.
“Citizenry, patriotism, Christianity. Faithfulness. Our God calls us to be faithful: faithful to the word written, committed to understanding it, to be led by it, to be centered on it. Our faith calls us to be persistent, persistent as the widow is, faithful to the living Word, Jesus Christ. We are called to be persistent in praying for those who grieve, for those with tough jobs to do, for those who are persecuted, for those who are poor and those who are sick, and for those who persecute us. And to continue in ministry … ever committed to living out the Word of God, reconciling enemies and friends, serving the hungry and the homeless, supporting those who work for freedom, working for the ever-important kingdom of God in a world shaken by evil deeds.”
Her words could have been spoken yesterday they are so appropriate for today.