Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 6:1-7, Mark 10:13-16
The memorial service for my father was attended by Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and persons not professing or practicing any religious tradition. This is not because my father had a diverse group of friends, but because by the time he died his family was diverse. Not all his children and grandchildren were practicing Christians, and through his second marriage after my mother’s death my dad became the grandfather of several Catholic and Jewish children. My father’s second wife, Betty, has two daughters, one with a Roman Catholic husband and one with a Jewish husband. And both families have taken seriously the Genesis command to "be fruitful and multiply"!
I refer to my own family to remind us that religious pluralism today is not merely a social reality, but is often a family matter. For many of us, how we think and talk about different religious traditions concerns how we understand and enjoy our children, our grandchildren, our spouse, and other relatives – as well, perhaps, as how we understand and enjoy some of our friends.
Many social analysts consider religious pluralism a problem, and certainly there can be problems when a family includes more than one religious tradition. Ceremonies marking significant transitions in life (such as marriage and death) are often more complicated, if consideration is given to the diverse religious convictions represented within such a family.
Yet, most of us would affirm that love, rather than religion, is the foundation of marriage and family. And most of us trust that the love we know within our families and in our communities of faith transcends the teachings of every religious tradition.
Certainly, this was the experience of my father’s second wife, Betty, who was a staunch Presbyterian. After her oldest daughter became Catholic and had children, Betty began to attend mass with her Catholic grandkids. And after her younger daughter became Jewish and had children, Betty began to attend the synagogue with her Jewish grandkids. At first, Betty was unsure about worshipping with Catholics and Jews, but she quickly realized that the love she shared with her Catholic and Jewish daughters, grandchildren, and inlaws transcends the divisions between Presbyterians, Catholics and Jews. For Betty, worshipping God in three different traditions of faith became an unexpected blessing.
Of course, we know that the history of these religious traditions is marked more by bloodshed than by blessings, and we must not ignore the disastrous consequences of Christian self-righteousness. Protestants and Catholics should now be ashamed of the religious wars that raged after the Reformation and of the mistrust that continues to this day. Furthermore, all Christians should renounce the condemnation of Jews and Judaism that for so long has devastated the Jewish people and continues to cast a dark shadow over Western civilization. Our faith now urgently calls us, as Christians, to humble acts of repentance.
This means for Christians that we need to respect the tradition of faith that almost two millennia ago nurtured Jesus and his followers and all the early apostles, and that to this day continues to sustain and guide loving Jewish families and worshipping Jewish communities. Also, this means for Christians that we must reform our religious teachings and our interpretation of scripture, so that being faithful as Christians cannot be construed to mean condemning Jews or Jewish faith.
Of course, we can hope and work for much more – for growing friendship among Jews and Christians, and for greater appreciation of diverse interpretations of scripture. Yet, these same scriptures remind us that even within families there may be conflict over life’s blessings. Jews and Christians both read the story in Genesis of the sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and of their enmity because Jacob deceived their blind father and received the blessing intended for his older brother. We should not assume that simply affirming respect for religious diversity will ensure respect among Christians for Jews – and also respect for members of other religious traditions, and for those who seek to live faithfully without practicing any religion.
Yet, we may seek to realize together the first blessing, the blessing of God in the creation story of Genesis, which was given to Adam and Eve and, by implication, to us all. This original blessing is a promise to humanity that men and women will be fruitful and multiply, if they live faithfully. God promises peace and prosperity for those who live justly and care for the earth. Jews, Christians and Muslims are called now by their scriptures to respond to this promise.