Faith Commons

by Rev. Dr. George Mason

Nancy’s essay this month is a heartrending and painful example of what we try to model through Faith Commons. In that same spirit, it seems right for me to respond in like manner.

Hans Kung said there will never be peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions. That’s a heavy lift that we can’t accomplish in our small corner of interfaith relations. But we can point the way by demonstrating an important approach that we see in Nancy’s piece.

Religious self-criticism is the path of humility that invites others to do the same. When we only defend our religion or our co-religionist’s actions against others—or our nation, ethnic group, political party, or whatever label we claim for ourselves over against others—we lay blame at the feet of others, absolving ourselves of responsibility, because after all, it wasn’t us that did it. When, on the other hand, we have the courage to see that the line between Haman and Mordecai runs right through the center of every human heart, then we have a chance to heal the world and make peace with others.

The tragic trend of religious nationalism that Nancy describes taking place in Israel now with the Netanyahu government against Palestinians (and, in fact, against non-Orthodox Jews) is a Jewish example that has unholy kinship with Hindu nationalism in India, Muslim nationalism in Iran, and yes, Christian nationalism in the United States. Religious nationalism of any stripe is totalistic in outlook. It marginalizes those outside our tribe, dehumanizes and discredits them, and at best only tolerates their presence among us.

Christian nationalism is rapidly rising in our country, violating the principles of religious liberty our nation was founded upon. We see this in the intolerance toward the teaching of a fuller account of America history that includes the experience of enslaved persons and their descendants, in anti-LGBTQ laws, and in claims of religious exemption from non-discrimination laws.

As a Christian—which makes me part of the religious majority in this country, I have to own that I am part of a religious group with a long and shameful history of scapegoating Blacks, denigrating immigrants, denying full rights to women, gays and nonbinary persons, not to mention perpetually simmering antisemitism and Islamophobia. We have justified these things on the basis of Scripture, granting divine sanction to our “othering” of people who, like us, are created in the image and likeness of God. We have to repent.

This should be a guiding rule: If a religious belief is used to justify harm to another human being, that belief itself requires reconsideration and the behavior repentance and repair. Particular religious values that do not comport with universal human rights are spiritually deficient and socially dangerous.

To quote Jesus’ vivid teaching: “First go and remove the plank from your own eye, then you will see clearly enough to remove the splinter from your neighbor’s eye.”