Competing Religious Visions
The Disciples tradition, of which I'm a part, values diversity and freedom in the pursuit of Christian unity. We have taken hold of texts such as Ephesians 4 and John 17 that affirm this unity. But every day we see examples of competing visions of the Christian faith. Of course, the founders of the Disciples movement, understood that there were competing visions, they just wanted to see if they could get everyone together under one banner. In the end, we added another set of banners to the ever growing sea of religious banners.
David Gushee, a Baptist theologian and ethicist, reminds us that in reality there isn't one Christianity, but competing versions, and their not all the same. The Terry Jones affair, which involved the pastor of a small Florida congregation, launching an "International Burn the Koran Day," showed Christianity at its worst. And yet much of the response showed Christianity at its best -- as Christians from across the spectrum replied strongly that this guy doesn't represent us, any more than Fred Phelps does.
Gushee writes of this contest:
To say that there are competing versions of Christianity is not to say that any version is as good as any other one. Quite the contrary -- the contest over which version of Christianity is truest to the intent of the God we have met in Jesus Christ is a matter of desperate importance. But because of the diversity of the biblical materials, because of the way Christian faith has been transmitted through various traditions, because we are all still sinners, and because we see through a glass darkly, Christians have always contested various versions of the faith. Traditionalist conservatives like to identify a pristine “faith once delivered to the saints,” and to plant their flag there. But despite heroic efforts to pin down the nature and content of that faith, its content was -- and is, and ever shall be -- contested.
And contest we must. I can value the diversity within the church, but I also need to be discerning. I don't believe, for instance, that Jonathan Edwards is correct in suggesting that we are "sinners in the hands of an angry God." I don't believe that God authorized the Crusades either. In fact, I appreciate Gushee including the story of Francis of Assisi's visit to the Sultan during the 5th Crusade -- While the official church was urging the troops into battle, Francis made his way unarmed to the Sultan and had a conversation about faith. Francis didn't convert the Sultan, but he gained his respect.
So, what is the kicker? Well, even as there isn't just one Christianity, then perhaps there isn't just one Islam! Gushee again writes:
Could it also be that there is no such thing as “Islam,” but only competing versions of Islam? Could it be that those who are casually declaring that al Qaeda’s Islam just is Islam are about as accurate as those who would say that Terry Jones’ Christianity just is Christianity? Could it be that we need a moratorium on people who know nothing about the competing Muslim traditions making blanket declarations about the eternal nature of that religion?
Indeed, my Muslim friends make this very point -- Osama Bin Laden doesn't represent me! Indeed, Bin Laden doesn't represent them any more than Terry Jones and Fred Phelps represent me and the Christianity I profess!