This commentary by the heads of all of the Episcopal, Lutheran (ELCA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist churches in the Hawaiian islands was first published in Civil Beat 3/7/2016.
We are aware that our world is an increasingly interconnected world. Commerce is global in its reach and the disparity in income and resources has become stark. Communication through technology is instantaneous, connecting the most rural with the most urban. Viruses easily move between countries. Seawater rise is universal. Combined stockpiles of weaponry can destroy the world several times over. We are witnessing a refugee exodus into Europe that is unprecedented with implications that are far broader in their reach, and our cultures are changing. We rub shoulders with those who think differently, act differently, and pray differently than us. The changes and resulting feelings of dislocation and confusion can leave us feeling anxious and fearful.
As Christian leaders, it deeply concerns us to hear rhetoric from brothers and sisters in Christ who are stoking and fanning the feelings of anxiety and fear.
Recently, Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, was in Hawai‘i on his fifty state tour to pray at state capitols. His message was to vote for candidates who claim “Biblical values.” Unfortunately, much of what we hear from candidates and in the news that claims to be speaking for Biblical values is an intolerant and xenophobic reactionary response to societal and global change. The diversity of religious expression, the complexity of human sexuality, changing gender roles are not threats to Christianity and to our relationship with God. Jesus was constantly challenging the status quo of society, constantly reaching out to those who were the poor and marginalized. As Pope Francis has said, Jesus was about tearing down walls, not building them. Jesus summarized the commandments quite succinctly: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).
From our Christian perspective, we accept that culture is always evolving. The cultural norms and mores of the Israelite people during the time of the Old Testament and that of the time of Jesus in the New Testament were not the same; nor are they the same today.
A constant, however, is that God is still speaking and the degradation, abuse, and vilification of any part of God’s creation is sinful.
God is still at work in our world, desires to be in relationship with us, and calls us to live into a vision of the kingdom of God where all of God’s creation is loved and cherished. There is much in our lives personally and collectively for which we need to repent—our prejudice, greed, our gratification of our selfish desires at the expense of others. We have ignored many who are suffering, demonized those of other faith traditions, and threatened our planet with environmental disregard and misuse. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it (I Corinthians 12:26). Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). Jesus’ teachings extend far beyond the borders of any nation. As Christians, our allegiance is to all of humanity and the world that God has created. During this Christian season of Lent, a time of repentance and renewal, we call upon Christians everywhere to ask God to awaken us to the poison of our fears and to renew our hearts in deeper love and commitment toward God and all our neighbors.