Over the last few days there has been both negative and positive reactions to a story in The Ottawa Citizen resulting from a one and three quarter hour interview with me by their Editorial Board. With one or two minor exceptions I think Bob Harvey did a good job of summarizing what was a long, open, and free ranging discussion.
I did not expect the grilling I received on Christian orthodoxy, but I did not shrink from any of their questions. It was clear that the opinions expressed by me were mine alone and, unless stated specifically, not United Church policy. However, I believe that nothing I said is outside the broad mainstream of United Church belief. I believe my faith is well rooted in scripture and Christian tradition, although it is not frozen in the language of early creeds for example.
My beliefs were born and nurtured in a strong United Church family, conservative in thought, theology, politics, and behaviour. While still influenced by that loving environment, through study and experience my faith has grown, deepened and changed. As a pastor I never wish to hurt anyone, and I always respect the faith, experience, and convictions of other people. As a church leader, I hope I am able to challenge all of us in the understanding of our faith and its relevance to our changing and stress-filled society. I believe passionately that the God we know in Christ Jesus is as compelling for us as he was 2000 years ago in inviting people into deep spiritual experience and active critique of the principalities and powers which engulf and enslave the world.
I believe that in Jesus we know as much of God as is possible in a human being, but he did not reveal nor represent all of God. The God of the Bible is never completely known nor understood, yet is as intimate and compassionate as the most loving parent. I have experienced the presence of God at my mother's death bed and in the streets of New York City. In response to "what does God require of us?" (Micah 6:8) Jesus continues to call his followers to "do justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God".
There is no question that the followers of Jesus experienced God's transforming power in the resurrection. Jesus was so alive for them that they were driven to risking their lives in proclaiming the Gospel. The "resurrection event" is difficult to harmonize in the Gospel accounts , but there is no doubt that Jesus becomes a living, transforming power in the lives of his followers, and continues to do so to this day.
I believe the current interest in the person of Jesus (as expressed in the Jesus Seminar, as one of many examples) is indicative of deep spiritual yearning in our society. I believe there is nothing to fear in open, honest, and informed debate among us about these and other faith issues. Indeed, the strength of our United Church is its acceptance of wide ranging viewpoints and encouragement of the lively exchange of ideas.
Thank God that the general public is also interested in a credible expression of Christian faith in our cynical age. And thank God that we are rooted in a tradition which welcomes discussion, discovery, and transformation. May we debate vigorously with one another while always respecting each other as human beings, creatures of a God whose love is unconditional.
I hope that the interest in the Ottawa Citizen article will be translated into study of "Reconciling and Making New: Who is Jesus for the world today?" This is an excellent study document authorized by the General Council, prepared by the national Theology and Faith Committee and mailed to every pastoral charge in May 1997.