Before President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, and included references to times in history when Christianity has been used to justify violence, NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip spoke. As a part of his remarks he said, “If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you are going to hell.” While President Obama received intense criticism for his remarks Darrell Waltrip received little reaction for his.
Many Christians believe just what Darrell Waltrip said.
If you don’t believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you are going to hell.
It is an argument I had with fellow Christians when I was in college who insisted that Gandhi was in hell because, even though he was a great person, he did not believe in Jesus. It means that the Dalai Lama, who was in attendance at the Prayer breakfast, is also going to hell. And, it means that the Jewish high school students and adults with whom I will build homes next week in Nicaragua are also going to wind up in hell.
I was taught that and believed that at one point in my life.
Yes, there were other religions, but Christianity was the only true religion.
My God is better than your God.
But I don’t believe that any more.
I don’t believe in that kind of God anymore.
Some of this was brought to the surface again last night in a conversation about the President’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. What happens when you believe your way of thinking/believing/being is the best? Does it open the door to actions which demean or diminish or, even, destroy others as we have seen in Christianity in the past and now see in a narrow strand of Islam?
One of the passages from Christian scripture that is behind Darrell Waltrip’s statement of his faith is from Matthew 28 where Jesus commands his disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” I thought of this passage again today when this quote by Henri Nouwen showed up in my inbox. “That is our vocation: to convert the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.” Maybe Christians have been misreading this portion of scripture for too long. We have understood it or interpreted this verse to mean make disciples equals get others to believe what I believe. But, what if it is more of what Nouwen points towards? Converting an enemy into a guest. Converting a stranger into a friend. Converting the forgotten in a member of the community. Including the hungry at the banquet table as a member of the family. Maybe that is what Jesus meant.