-At The Desert Retreat House-
There is a sign outside our local supermarket that reads, "no solicitation allowed," but that never stops some local "Christian" groups from setting up a table and asking for donations to support their various ministries like homeless shelters or food banks. I usually stop and make a small contribution for these "good causes."
Yesterday, as I left the store I stopped and casually asked the energetic young woman sitting at the donation table how she was doing? With a big bright smile she enthusiastically announced that she was "highly favored." I responded with an equally enthusiastic, "Great, and aren't we all highly favored?" Her bright smile immediately faded to a frown and she became very serious. "Well, people who don't obey God's law as it is spelled out in the Bible are surely not highly favored."
I decided not to get into a heated theological debate on the sidewalk in front of a local supermarket, so I simply responded, "When I read Bible teachings, especially the teachings of Jesus, what is 'spelled out' for me is that I should 'respect the dignity of every human being' -no exceptions." She responded with a patronizing smile and dismissed me as the next person approached to make a contribution.
I have been thinking about my one-minute interaction at the supermarket yesterday. That phrase "highly favored" has stuck with me, leaving me with a bitter taste. In fact the more I have thought about it-- the belief that one group is more "highly favored" than another lies at the very core of religious conflict and probably at the very core of all conflict in general.
Growing up as a boy in the Roman Catholic Church we were taught that we were far superior to Protestants - Jews and Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus never even got an "honorable mention." And, of course, like that young lady outside the supermarket yesterday, to this very day there are still plenty of evangelical, born-again "Protestants" who believe they are more highly-favored than catholics and certainly better than those "godless" liberal Episcopalians.
Then I think about the many orthodox Jews in Israel today who believe that they are the "Chosen People." God has favored them with the gift of their homeland and they have a moral obligation to cleanse it of Arab interlopers. In turn, many Muslim Arabs believe they are the ones who have it right - far more highly favored than their neighbors, and so the land belongs to them. And on top of all that, even among fellow Muslims, the Sunnis claim they are far more highly-favored than their Shia counterparts; and you better believe that because if you don't, you might just get yourself executed.
I told that energetic young woman yesterday that I also read the Bible and follow the "way" of Jesus, and when I do, I find no room for "highly favored" thinking." If anything, Jesus showed favor to those who were pushed out to the margins - the poor, the weak, the outcast, sinners and breakers of the law, pagans and non-believers from distant lands. He set a place of equal dignity for everyone to sit at the table of human existence.
In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, a person about to be baptized is asked this question:
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people,
and respect the dignity of every human being?
As I see it, this is not just a question for potential "Christians," it is a question that could be asked of everyone - religious people and non-religious people, believers and non believes, atheists and agnostics, the entire human family.
And when the answer to this question is a resounding "Yes," the world becomes a better place.