Moderator Heath Rada: Message to church on religious differences

by Heath Rada, moderator of 2014 General Assembly 

For a number of years it was my privilege to serve on the board of the Council for America’s First Freedom. As an American citizen I was grateful to sit with women and men who represented a variety of different faiths and sought ways to assure our citizens that this basic foundational Freedom would be executed in appropriate ways which are essential for our society to continue and survive.

Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

We were Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, who shared love of this country and the privilege we have to worship as we believe while assuring peaceful and safe environments for people of every faith, race or creed.

As a Christian, I am grateful to be part of a religion that emphasizes how critical it is for us to be peacemakers. We focus on ways to build community, to reduce prejudice, to provide opportunities for conversation between people who have different beliefs. We do this because we worship the Prince of Peace.

The Jesus I know as my Savior is one who tells us that things may not always be comfortable, and in fact times may be filled with fear, hostility and anger. Even though our faith says we are to turn the other cheek, I don’t believe it means we don’t protect those we love and care for one another in ways that ensure safety and security when possible. But it also says that nothing will separate us from the love of God – not even bullying threats and heinous acts (Romans 8).

As Christians who believe that the Bible is God’s holy and sacred word, the authoritative Word of God, we wrestle with some of the stories and examples which we can no longer embrace or tolerate. The treatment of women, the owning of slaves, the stoning of adulterers are all Biblical directives which are now seen with different interpretations and understandings than they were when they were originally recorded. We also are aware of times when by using the shield of our Christian tradition we have acted in ways which were in direct contrast with the peace that we believe Jesus taught. And so often we have needed to ask for forgiveness.

So what do we do today when we are being bombarded with messages of fear, of anxiety and hostility? Perhaps this might be a good time to ask the question which has been asked by some Christian family members “What would Jesus do?”

What would He do? I really don’t know. I DO have some ideas about what He would NOT do.

I believe He would tell us not to make assumptions, settle for ignorance or accept fear based propaganda. Spend time getting to know the truth about what is happening. Don’t engage in profiling any group of people. To say that everyone who is a male thinks the same way, or a black person thinks like every other black person, or a Christian believes the same way about all matters as other Christians, is ignorant. We also have a Christian responsibility not to bear false witness, nor to lead others astray. To do this we must be very careful what we say, and how we say it.

Having spent significant time with Muslims as well as Christians in other counties during the past year and half, I have seen the horrors of a radical stream of evil that professes to be representative of the Islamic faith. Daesh, which some refer to as ISIL or ISIS, is evil. Those who say that their supporters are merely following the teachings of the Koran are just as off base as if we Christians were to say we believe that the Ku Klux Klan, a self proclaimed group who professed that that their acts of terror, and even the use of the cross as their symbol, represented the truth in the Bible.

As for today, I believe Jesus wants us to stand up and make our voices heard in the midst of terrorist attacks. Let us get to the bottom of what causes people to be filled with hate and malice toward others. Are we in any way responsible for some of the tremendous anger which is directed to us as American Christians? By following Jesus’ teachings might we help to defuse some of the wrath in the world? We must be informed and active in our state and national political decisions as well as upcoming elections. Are we making decisions based on our faith or on our fears? As Christians we cannot let our society operate out of ignorance and without an awareness of the consequences of words and actions.   There are many historical examples of how nations and societies have chosen to operate from a position of hate and fear. And over and over those approaches have failed, often being taken over by dictators and evil leaders. We must be proactive, not reactive. We must responsibly act on our beliefs, my friends, and not be quiet pew sitters. And we must realize that we who are members of the PC(USA) have a history as a denomination of being people who have stood up to our society and worked for a better world. Peace, Justice, Compassion and Grace have been the foundations of our predecessors’ faithful actions. We need to follow their lead.