January 25, 2015: God Is Too Big To Fit Inside One Religion

Posted on : Jan 22nd, 2015 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

How much do you really know about Islam? How much of what you know is really true?

This Sunday we begin a series of worship services that are extremely important both for us as Christians and as citizens of the world.

Almost every day we hear something in the news about “Islamic terrorists,” “ISIS” or al Qaeda. According to the Pew Research Center, which is one of the most respected social research organizations in the world – especially for issues related to religion and religious beliefs – as of December 2012, there are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, which is about 23% of the world’s population, making Islam the second-largest religion.

How much do we really know about the second-largest religion of the world?

Let’s start with where do they live? Most of us would surely say the majority of Muslims live in the Middle East, because that is where we hear about issues of Islam, at least according to the news outlets. But we’re wrong. Some might qualify that saying, most Muslims live in the Middle East and northern Africa. We’re still wrong. The vast majority of Muslims live in ASIA! “Nearly two-thirds (62%) of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the Pew Research analysis. In fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined) than in the entire Middle East-North Africa region (317 million).”

As you look at this map, you begin to realize the vast majority of Muslims do not live in the “hot-spots” of terrorist activity. The more we learn about Islam, the more clear it becomes that what we read, hear and see about the Muslim religion is really very distorted and about a radicalized fringe group of Muslims. I have often compared “Islamic terrorists” with what happened to Christianity in the United States during the 1980’s-2000 when the radical right “co-opted” our faith and made all Christians look like a bunch of anti-gay, misogynist, racist, anti-science, anti-choice “crazies.”

So it’s time for us to learn more about our brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith. We’ll begin that journey this Sunday.

This Sunday I am going to focus on “Religious Pluralism.” How do we as progressive Christians view other religions? Are they “legitimate?” Is Christianity “the only way to God?” What changes regarding “religion” have happened in our city, in our country and in our world in the last 50 years that make that question so important?

Let me share a little of my faith experience. I was born in a suburban new-home development in upstate New York between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Everyone, I mean, everyone in that area was white (Caucasian). And probably 99.5% of us were Christian. I can’t recall any Jewish synagogues in our town. There were some in the City of Buffalo, but not our area.

Where I grew up you were Christian and you went to Church every week. It was a Christian community. And most of the people in the United States identified as Christian. In fact, I think it’s fair to say at that time in history, America self-identified as a “Christian nation” – and by that, we really mean a white, Anglo-Saxon PROTESTANT Christian nation.

What I soon learned is that even when we are the same religion, Christians love to fight about “whose version of Christianity is correct.” In our community the huge divide was not between Christians and those of other religions; the HUGE divide was between Protestant Christians and Roman Catholic Christians. Each of us was taught that the other’s form of Christianity was either inferior or wrong. My Catholic friends were sure if they walked into a Protestant Church that they would be struck dead. And we Protestant kids were indoctrinated to believe the Catholics practiced voodoo religion. They didn’t even worship in a language you could understand! Yes, before Vatican II the mass was said in Latin, but nobody bothered to explain that. “Smells, bells and lights” [incense, altar bells that are rung at the consecration of the Eucharist, and candles] and bad Latin led us to believe the Catholics practiced “hocus pocus” religion. No one bothered to correct those misunderstandings and misbeliefs.

That became extremely problematic in our family, however, because my uncle fell in love with a Catholic woman and married her. In those days that was near scandalous and automatically meant their children would be raised in the Catholic tradition. The rest of our family were all Protestants.

Much has changed in the last 50 years as our world has grown smaller, more interconnected and more global.  We are more diverse than ever. Today the division in religion isn’t between Catholics and Protestants, it’s between Religious Pluralism and those who choose or practice no religion.

The first question we have to ask ourselves as progressive Christians is this: “Is God too big to fit inside any one religion?” Another way of stating that is “Is the Truth too big to fit into any one religion?” That’s where we will begin this Sunday. Then next Sunday we will look at one of the scripture texts that have led many to believe that “only Christians are saved.”   Did Jesus really say, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to God except through me?”

Then on February 8, I have invited Narma Ali to be our guest speaker. Narma is a Muslim and the Muslim Chaplain at UCLA Medical Center. She is a gifted teacher about what Islam is and isn’t. She teaches the chaplain interns at UCLA about Muslim/Islamic tradition and spiritual care with Muslim patients and families, just as I teach them spiritual care with LGBT persons and families.

As we celebrate the Season of Epiphany, I hope we will be able to shed some new light (enlightenment) and insight on religious diversity, religious pluralism, Christianity and Islam. And, I hope this will be an exciting and challenging series for all of us.




~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

 John 14: 8-17, 25-27

Philip said to Jesus, “Show us God, then we will be content.”

Jesus said to him, “You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t know me?”

Whoever has seen me has seen God.

So how can you say, “Show us God?”


Don’t you believe that I am in God and God is in me?

The words I speak are not spoken of myself;

it is God, living in me, who speaks.

Believe me that I am in God and God in me;

or else believe for the sake of the works themselves.

The truth of the matter is,

anyone who has faith in me will do the works I do – and greater works besides.

Why? Because I go to God and whatever you ask in my name, I will do,

so that God may be glorified.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

And I will pray to God and God will give you another Counselor,

to be with you always,

(This Counselor is) the Spirit of truth,

whom the world cannot accept

since the world neither sees it nor recognizes it;

but you can recognize the Spirit because it remains within you.


These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name,

will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance

all that I have said to you.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;

but the kind of peace I give to you is not like the world’s peace. It is of God.


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