The hymn “In Christ there is no East or West” expresses so beautifully that in Christ “there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” This text affirms what Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, 28) By our baptism into Christ we are united one to the other. It is our understanding that divisions of race, nationality, class, and gender drop away in this vision of the communion of the church. We can imagine ourselves holding hands with one another regardless of our religious practice recognizing that even in our diversity we were each made in the image and likeness of God and are meant to live together as sisters and brothers.
Many honor this vision that humanity is meant to live in harmony. It is a challenge nevertheless to put it into practice. As we strive to be one with each other we have to deal with our fears and prejudices.
Because the human race has such diversity we often think of our differences before recognizing our oneness in God. Our tendency is to join communities of like minded people for the sake of comfort and mutual interest. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem occurs when we value our community over others and determine that we are better than they are.
We separate ourselves not only in the ways Paul mentioned but according to our different religious traditions. One would hope that those of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would find unity since we all claim Abraham as our patriarch. Yet, for centuries these religions have often dismissed each other as evil. Because some Muslims are terrorists, Islam becomes an evil religion. Likewise, fanatical Christians give Christianity a bad name by their quick condemnation of others who don’t hold their belief system. Jews have always suffered persecution just for being themselves.
On the positive side we are seeing in the writings of contemplative Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists a common thread that links us together whether we choose to view our interconnectedness or deny it. Being created in the image of God is more than saying that God looks like a male or female or both. What it means is that God is within each one of us and that the God within us is to be honored regardless of the label attached. That is not to say that all religions are the same and that Christians are to cease being enthusiastic about the love of God that they have seen in Jesus. But that conviction does not entitle one to reject others whose experience with God has taken a different path. Dismissing others only polarizes people, enticing them to look for what is evil in the other rather than the good. Contemplatives in each religion have found a common ground – a ground of being that they can call Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, Yahweh, Allah, Mindfulness, a Power greater than themselves, etc. God’s power in people’s lives is so pervasive that we can never limit or contain it to fit our categories and labels.
Needless to say, I have stretched Paul’s message that all are one in Christ. Paul’s intent specifically was to express the obsolescence of the Jew/Greek boundary that
missionaries were trying to reestablish through their advocacy of circumcision. Paul’s message was that in Christ there is a new community beyond cultural distinctions, Jewish law, social hierarchy and gender. While this was Paul’s specific reference, it may be the foundation upon which we are meant to expand the principle of inclusion to all people. Christ was not lifted high on the cross just to give a message of love and forgiveness to his disciples. Those outstretched arms were for a world made up of different kinds of people struggling to understand the mystery of their existence. Who is to say that God’s compassion cannot be felt without the proper label? God may be more into generic love, forgiveness, and compassion than we might imagine.
“Join hands, disciples of the faith, whatever your race may be! Who serves my Father as his child is surely kin to me.”