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'Emerging church' emphasizes God's compassion and love


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POSTED: Saturday, May 29, 2010

Religion is the focal point of one of life's biggest contradictions. Many people offer the understandable accusation that religion is the cause of war and violence, hate and prejudice. On the other hand, every religion has specific teaching about peace and nonviolence, love and acceptance. So, why the disconnect? Why is it, seemingly, so difficult to practice what is taught?

The simple answer, of course, is the human equation. Imperfect people are the embodiment of religious teaching. As a Christian minister, I've spent most of my life in an uneasy relationship with organized religion; while it's been a “;troubled marriage,”; somehow we've survived.

Now in retirement, after five years as a youth minister in a Honolulu church and 32 years as a chaplain in a private school, I'm still trying to make some of these essential connections.

One of the notions that has come into focus over the past several years is the place of a belief system in my life. I was nurtured and educated by traditional churches and ministers, seminaries and teachers, genuinely good people and worthy institutions who passed along the very best they could offer, and I'm grateful. What I believe is foundational to everything I say and do.

At this point in my spiritual journey, the time has come to expand this foundation toward a new movement called the emerging church. This reformation in Christian theology coincides nicely with our new century and has strong support from many scholars and ministers. There is a focus around beliefs that will nurture the practice of our faith and will provide us with direction and purpose.

Central to this emerging theology is an understanding of a kinder, gentler God, a God of compassion and love, of justice and peace. In a similar manner, we are encouraged to develop a transformative relationship with Jesus that is based on his life, ministry and teachings.

This new way of knowing God and Jesus is supported by reading the Bible, as described by theologian and author Marcus Borg, as a historical, metaphorical and sacred document.

For me, in addition to these three tenets of faith—God, Jesus and the Bible—there is a fourth cornerstone to my renovated theological foundation: seeing every aspect of life as being sacred. Every person is worthy of respect and justice. So is all of creation. Capital punishment and the abuse of the environment deny the sacred qualities of life. Abortions should be avoided whenever possible, while a person's right to choose should be respected. Peacemaking and a nonviolent society should be a common goal of all religions, while war, domestic violence and school bullying should be a common foe. All loving relationships should be honored with equality and fairness, man and woman, domestic partners and same-gender, in the same way that life is embraced as beautiful. We need to embrace death as a welcome transition into a sacred existence.

Each faith community will uniquely structure its worship and study so that individual members will be nurtured, inspired and sent out to serve others—in homeless shelters, food pantries, prisons, hospitals and their chosen vocation. In this way belief will be balanced with practice.

I strongly believe religion can play a positive role in our community and in the world.

The Rev. Dr. John Heidel is a United Church of Christ minister, a member of Christ Church Uniting in Kailua and president of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii.