Today is the National Day of Prayer. Officially established in1952 it's roots go back the the Second Continental Congress who, in 1775, issued a call for a day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting. The National Day of Prayer is celebrated on the first Thursday in May each year. There will be at least two kinds of prayerful gatherings in the Imperial Valley. One was organized through the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an American evangelical association non-profit organization. The other was organized by the Imperial Valley Interfaith Community.
I have been asked why I, a Christian minister, would support an interfaith prayer service. After all, the reasoning goes, didn't Jesus say he was the way, truth and life? And that no one comes to the Father but through Jesus? Shouldn't Christians be praying for the conversion of all others so they can go to heaven?
For me, and for all Christians, Jesus is definitely the "way, truth and life." And Jesus' way is the way of love. But, what does Jesus mean by love? The word he often used, the Greek word agape, means a kind of love that advocates for the well being of others. It is a word associated with compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy and restorative justice.
Jesus' use of the Aramaic word Abba when talking about a Father God is interesting. The word means something like "Daddy," something a child would say, a term that indicates a relationship that is very intimate, personal and vulnerable for both parent and child.
But does that mean Jesus is the ONLY way, or more the way for those who have come to God through the revelation of Jesus? And does that mean ALL people must have this intimate, vulnerable kind of relationship with God in order for God to love them and want them to know God's presence, which is, after all, heaven?
There are two reasons I would answer "no" to both of those questions. The first has to do with the "way" Jesus demands and the second has to do with the diversity of God.
Jesus’ way of agape love could be summed up in the command to love God and neighbor as oneself. This sounds a lot like the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. So, if a person is living by the Golden Rule aren't they living by the standard God has established for human wholeness regardless of their religion (or even non-religion for that matter)? In that sense I believe it is the "way" that matters more than the religion. I believe the tendency toward exclusion, and sense of superiority over others because they do not act the way "we" think they ought is the very thing Jesus attacked as a contradiction of God's command to love God and neighbor.
The other reason I answer "no" is the nature of God’s diversity. By that I mean the rich diversity revealed in all creation, which is the very reflection of God. Imago Dei, the "image of God" described in the creation of humanity (Genesis 1) is a reflection of the rich diversity of God the creator. Otherwise, why didn't God simply make only one kind of human being? Or one kind of fruit? Or one kind of fish or tree or animal?
Or reveal Godself through only one religion?
I believe that the strength of my faith in God through Jesus Christ who is dead and risen from the dead is even more significant (and true to the command to love others) when done within the context of diverse faith communities seeking to live in a world that embraces diversity, exercises forgiveness and reconciliation and acts justly for the well being of all creation.