Two things in the morning newspaper (The Charlotte Observer) caught my eye, one was a local column and the other a national news article. As reported by Cathy Lynn Grossman, of the Religious News Service, a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found 21% of Americans are “unaffiliated” with a church meaning they are atheists, agnostics, religious without a church or not religious at all. The survey noted that Catholics made up 20% and white evangelicals make up 19%. When all Protestant groups are tallied, the total is 48%. These numbers are fairly similar to The Pew Research findings.
The column written by Reverend Nicole Martin, who is the Executive Minister at The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was called “When a stranger becomes a neighbor.” In it she notes that in Leviticus 19:18b, God told Moses to instruct the people to love their neighbors as themselves. Jesus reinforced this in Mark 12:31, by restating this scripture calling it the greatest of all commandments. I link these two articles together because Reverend Martin’s column reiterates the most important rule that Jesus asked us to live by and as the survey shows our neighbors are likely to be different from us in beliefs.
From earlier posts, readers know I harp on a key theme – when religion is inclusive, it is at its finest. When it is exclusive, it is at its worst. It divides. My blogging friend Roseylinn at http://www.roseylinn.wordpress.com has a terrific post which notes in a comment response how people are arguing about who is more religious and what political party should own a set of beliefs. We both find this ludicrous, as God is above political and country boundaries. In fact, Reverend Billy Graham said about twenty years ago that religious leaders need to be wary of aligning with a political party as you will be used for their purpose.
As the elder Graham notes, God should be above and separate from political party affiliation. I like to surprise people with the following statements on occasion to glean their input. You do realize God is not an American. This one throws them a little, as some believe God ordained the US Constitution. The other one is if God did choose sides, which side was he pulling for in the Civil War – the one who believed that an African-American was a possession or the one who fought to end slavery. There were many Confederates who believed their cause was righteous, yet I would argue if God did pick sides, it would have not been that one.
Getting back to Jesus valuing the most important commandment of love your neighbor like yourself, it should be noted Jesus did not offer caveats. He did not say love your neighbor unless they are LGBT, religiously or politically unaffiliated, or believe in the exact opposite of what you do. Jesus also hung out with “the lesser of these” when he ventured from town to town. He was not too keen with the religious leaders who used their power inappropriately. He was not too keen with people who had money tables in houses of worship. He was not too keen with people with wealth who did not help those in need. He did not say be a good Samaritan unless the person in need is gay or lesbian or Jewish, Muslim or agnostic.
Our country has many aspects of which we can be proud and show as an example to the world. The separation of church and state is one of the paragons. The freedom to worship as you wish is another. When we chip away at these paragons, we lessen our greatness. We lessen the exemplars for others around the world. We are a melting pot of many cultures, ethnicities, religions, and diverse beliefs and sexual orientations. We are all different, which makes us a wonderfully diverse country. But, while different, we have similar wants and needs – to live freely and to have a secure environment to raise our families and ourselves. That is something Jesus would be proud of, even though He is not an American. He is more than that.