Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Church Would Jesus Join?

Just who is a Christian anyway? This is the question Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu posed during an interfaith sermon in Pittsburgh last October where he received honorary doctorates from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. His audience included Bishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, a leader among theologically conservative Anglicans, as well as many other religious leaders, from evangelical Presbyterians to Muslims , rabbis, and the Catholic Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

"Can you imagine that there are those who think God is a Christian?" he said to laughter from a mostly appreciative audience. "Can you tell us what God was before he was a Christian?"

Archbishop Tutu spoke of his friendship with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader who has been exiled from his homeland for nearly half a century Although others might be angry, the Dalai Lama is filled with "bubbly joyousness," he said. "You have to be totally, totally insensitive not to know you are in the presence of someone who is holy and good."

He then asked, "Can anyone say to the Dalai Lama, 'You are a good guy. What a shame you are not a Christian'?"

Against this religion of exclusivity, the Archbishop spoke of a human family in which members must love one another even when some relatives are obnoxious. When Jesus said he would "draw all" people to himself, he meant both President Bush and the "gay, lesbian and so-called straight," he said. He spoke of God having a dream, acknowledging that Martin Luther King "might have said something like that, too."

"Please help me, says God. Help me to realize my dream," he concluded, to great applause.

My favorite philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote: "the last Christian died on the cross." But I don't think even Jesus would have joined the Church of Christ. His Gospel vision was bigger than that. I share Archbishop Tutu's dream of a world in which religion will unify people rather than separate them from each other.

Thanks to Marcus for pointing out to me the original article from Pittsburgh about Archbishop Tutu's "big tent" vision of religion.

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