Christians carry burdens and hope for better world


POSTED: Saturday, May 23, 2009

One cannot simply peruse a collection of religious Cliffs Notes, choose one that looks good and declare oneself a believer. Faith requires complete commitment and dedicated discipline. Every person makes a decision to believe or not to believe or, perhaps, not to decide one way or the other.

Most believers adopt the faith of their parents or that of the dominant culture. However, it's after that initial decision that the spiritual journey becomes challenging.

The concept of being a lifelong learner is certainly appropriate when one embarks on a religious path. Just to read the sacred writings and become aware of the basic tenets of belief can be overwhelming, and that's just the beginning. This primary knowledge and understanding form the foundation from which one continues to grow spiritually; it takes a lifetime.

Then, the really difficult part comes with the public and private practice of a personal faith: enter commitment and discipline.

I can't speak for the believers of other faiths, but as a Christian my experience has taught me that being a follower of Jesus isn't easy. Following the teachings of Jesus and living a Christian life is difficult when faced with choices between power and sharing responsibility, between wealth and sharing resources, between prestige and mutual cooperation and between the many different understandings of God.

Making decisions based on the principles of compassion, kindness, respect, acceptance, honesty and fairness isn't easy. Yet that is exactly what is expected of a Christian, and speaking for myself, I make mistakes and fall short every day. Being involved in a community of faith (a local church) provides support and encouragement to keep trying, to keep growing and maturing in my personal faith.

In addition, it isn't easy being a Christian when another Christian poses a judgment on my understanding of God or on my interpretation of Scripture. It isn't easy when someone claims I'm not a true Christian because of my stand on a social justice issue, such as civil unions or physician-assisted dying.

Sometimes it is actually embarrassing to be known as a Christian. I wish the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the treatment of American Indians (and Hawaiians), the acceptance of slavery, the subjugation of women and the denial of equal rights to the GLBT community were not part of Christian history. But, there it is.

I wish claims that America is a Christian nation and efforts to make Hawaii a Christian state would cease; we are clearly a nation and a state of many faiths. It isn't easy remaining a Christian when some Christians proclaim messages of hate and intolerance or when one hears statements of exclusivity—“;Christianity is the only true religion.”;

Fortunately, we have survived the earlier challenges, and we are making progress on the later ones. Progressive-minded Christians are still hoping the world and our local communities can be built around the concepts of peace and justice, inclusion and equality, pluralism and acceptance, love and nonviolence.

It isn't easy, but it's critical that we keep this hope alive.


The Rev. John Heidel is a United Church of Christ minister, president of the Interfaith Alliance Hawai'i and a member of Christ Church Uniting in Kailua.