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I wonder how Jesus would have responded to the all-faith's service last Sunday night for the Newtown mourners. Millions of us joined them, either in person or via media, in the prayer service, where seemingly sincere Protestant pastors, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, and a little Muslim boy, sang, spoke, or prayed words of comfort to a devastated New England community. While some religious leaders practically apologized for their beliefs, asking listeners to "worship in your own way", others did not. And although differences were obvious, each minister went out of his or her way, at least in body language, to honor their fellow ministers.
As I watched, mixed feelings gripped my heart. I was glad to see kindness on display toward all the faiths represented, as many came to the stage to pray in pairs and practically tripped over themselves to help the other up the steps or give them first place. Our culture would call it tolerance. I wince when listening to others worship a god I don't believe is real, but it beats hate, demonizing, and war. I'd never seen a service like this before. I was irritated at the obvious attitude of most who seemed to say, "we each represent a different road that leads to the same God," or should it be gods?" Ugh! So not true! I'm still processing the discomfort of that part of the experience.
Some of the ministers read Scripture and prayed in Jesus' name. One reading was new-age wacky, off beat poetry that communicated little. Several of the Protestant ministers were women, causing some, I'm pretty sure, to squirm. The Jewish rabbis' lament song was eerily beautiful, bringing tears to my eyes.
The Muslim boy looked barely older than some of the children massacred. An older man stood behind him as the boy recited his song, and then the man stepped forward to read passages from the Koran. Of all those who prayed, their prayer seemed rote, forced, and hollow. I fought anger, knowing that millions of little Muslim girls miss the "grooming" this little boy probably enjoys, and that the value of his life is judged as far greater than the value of his sister's life.
A pastor concluded the evening with powerful verses from Romans 8. I learned later that the Catholic priest led seven funerals this week. I wonder how someone watching the service without exposure to any faith would process this experience? Would it do more harm than good? Would it cause that person to investigate further? Would he or she want to know more about the Bible? As I heard different passages read from different sacred texts, I could not help compare them. In beauty, truth, and depth, the superiority of the Bible was evident, or was that just because it's a love letter to me, and I hear my Father's love clearly?
I'm left without answers. Is presenting the different faith options better than banning all faiths from the public square, as we practice today? There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. We, as Christians, must never compromise our faith or act as if there are many roads to God. Jesus did not give us that option. But I wonder if Jesus would prefer an open respectful dialogue to the muzzle that may be down the road?
Honestly, I don't know. I do know that if the Newtown massacre of twenty precious children wakes up our nation to the need for God in our public square, Christians will need to engage the culture with a combination of truth, insight, wisdom, grace, and love. (See Bock's blog for help.) Until our beloved Jesus returns to set up His Kingdom, we won't experience real righteousness on the earth, but I'd sure like to bring as many people as possible with me into that Kingdom. What would Jesus counsel us to do in the culture where we find ourselves? Food for thought.