I'm currently reading Jim Wallis's "God's Politics: Why the American right gets it wrong and the left doesn't get it", after reading an article about how Gordon Brown has endorsed the UK edition of the book. Wallis is an evangelic christian and, flicking through the 384 pages, I was wondering what he would make of differing faith communities working together. I came across this passage: "Our world and the United States, in particular, are becoming increasingly pluralistic religiously. How do we navigate the new waters of religious diversity in America and beyond?
I remember a prayer vigil that Call to Renewal held in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, when fifty Christian leaders came to protest legislation we found very detrimental to poor familiesand children. The night before the action, I got a call from Rabbi Michael Lerner, who asked, "Can you use a Jewish Rabbi?" Sure, I replied, you can read the Isiah text! The scene the next morning was dramatic indeed. dressed in clerical garb, pastors and priests, lay readers and seminary professors, religious sisters and organisational heads - and one rabbi - stood in a circle to pray and read from the Scriptures.
"Woe to you legislators!" reads the words of Isaiah, "who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right." The sergeant at arms of the National Capitol Police offered our "call to worship" when he proclaimed over his bullhorn, "You are not allowed to pray in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol!" That was all we needed, and we settled in to pray. One by one, we were handcuffed and led away by the police. Rushed off to jail, we began many tedious hours of processing and waiting until they finally let us go (pending trial dates) in the middle of the night. But we had almost 12 hours in jail together with no phones, conference calls, meetings, deadlines, or to-do lists. For most of us, the break in routine was glorious, as was the fellowship with our brothers and sisters. When do people like us get to spend so much time with one another? I smiled as I looked around the massive jail cell and focussed on what seemed to be a very vigorous conversation going on between Baptist preacher Tony Campolo and Jewish rabbi Michael Lerner. I moved closer to hear. They were discussing Christology, the theological topic concerning the nature and identity of Jesus Christ. "Who was Jesus?" is still perhaps the most provocative religious question in our interfaith world. Tony and Michael were deeply engaged together. Was Jesus the very Word of God made flesh or a great Jewish prophet? They clearly did not agree and were not likely to convince each other anytime soon. But the amazing dialogue taught me something very important. Perhaps the best place to discuss theology is in jail, after you have all been arrested for acting on your faith. Act faithfully, then talk about why you have faith and what your faith means. Michael always tells me he wants Christians to be the best Christians they can be and then find ways to cooperate together with Jews around the biblical vision of justice.
I don't believe in "interfaith" services and activities where everybody is afraid to say anything that someone in the congregation might not agree with. Don't change or water down who or what you are for interfaith brother and sisters. Don't be afraid to express your faith clearly and compellingly. Act on your faith, and then reflect together. And the best place for our theological seminars might well be in jail!" - Ray