Resurrection: Pious Dream or Reality? Part XI, Conclusion

Essay by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 23 July 2015 1 Comments
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Question

I am a relatively new Progressive Christian. I was raised in a fundamentalist church, but realized at the age of eight (sixty years ago) that something was not right. As a curious child, I attended a catechism with a Catholic school friend. When the minister of my church learned this from my parents, he chastised me in front of the whole Sunday congregation. This was not right and even at that early age I knew that. I never wanted anything to do with religion for many years. However, in my thirties, I stumbled on to the Unity Movement, which is where I first heard of you. I know that you are aware of this movement.

In my family, I have a Jewish sister-in-law and her daughter. The sister-in-law is, I guess, what is called “orthodox,” but the daughter is what she described to me as a “Messianic Jew,” one who believes Jesus was the messiah. Trying to understand them enough to get along can be trying because many times they can’t even get along. One thing I don’t feel comfortable asking either of them is: “Why are the Jews known as God’s chosen people?” Many people in this country seem to defend Israel and their actions simply because of this statement. Is it simply because the Jewish priests in the biblical days declared it to be so? I have tried to do some research but come away confused.

Answer

Dear Shelia,

I was in Naples giving lectures at the United Church of Christ in February. It was an exciting church in a very pleasant city. So I am glad you chose to write.

I apologize to you for the experiences you have had in your life with Christianity. You were the victim of a very small mind. That kind of religion has hurt many with its exclusive claims and its unloving judgments. A minister who is so threatened by a child’s visit to another church with a friend is a pitiful representative of what Christianity is called to be.

I have great respect for the Unity Movement. I believe Unity is in the vanguard of calling Christianity into a new self-understanding. This movement is deeply life-affirming, not life-denying. It does not wallow in sin, but rather celebrates life. It also recognizes that there are many pathways to God and that none is evil. I have been greatly enriched by my close association with Unity over the years.

Your sister-in-law and her daughter - one being an “Orthodox” Jew and the other a “Messianic Jew,” one who follows Jesus as messiah, are bound to live in tension. These divergent traditions will never accept the claims of the other. I suggest that you stay out of their arguments and love them both.

As to the claim of the Jews to be God’s chosen people that is simply part of the Jewish self-identity, which sustained them throughout the long years of their sometimes tragic history. The Jewish story started in slavery in Egypt. It lived through a wilderness experience of homelessness, a time of conquest, a loose-knit tribal confederation, a kingdom, a civil war and then the defeat of both halves of what had once been a single Hebrew nation. They then lived through defeat and exile before finally achieving once again a sense of nationhood. Then they fell under the power of the Macedonians, the Syrians and the Romans.

The Jewish nation was once again destroyed in the Jewish-Roman War that started in Galilee in 66 CE and ended in a crushing defeat at Masada in 73. In that war, Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed and the Jewish nation was wiped from the maps of human history, not to appear again until 1948. During that long state of being without a homeland, the Jews became a minority in almost every nation of the world. They were regularly hated, victimized by prejudice, not allowed to own land or to become apprentices. They were either expelled or ghettoized in almost every nation of Europe and were finally subjected to genocide in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s, with the great democracies of the West and the Vatican simply looking the other way. I suspect that this deep sense of being God’s chosen people allowed them to survive their history. I see nothing wrong with that claim unless they begin to say that they alone are God’s chosen, which would make all non-Jews God’s “unchosen” people.

The fact is that every people in the world believe they are God’s chosen people and I believe they are all correct. Part of being human is to define yourself within a tribe or nation. There are no people who do not have a story of their origin and all of them imply that their tribe or nation was God’s chosen, or God’s elect. There are no outcasts from the God of Love. So Shelia, I hope you will claim your identity as a child of God - chosen by God and called to be all that you were created to be. None of us can finally build himself or herself up by tearing someone else down.

So I rejoice that the Jews believe themselves to be God’s chosen people. They are examples to us of what we all are, children of God, loved by God and called to be the people of God. That is the universal human vocation.

Thanks for writing,
John Shelby Spong

 

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