In spring 2002, I was invited by my good friend Rabbi Sam Stahl to speak at a pro-Israel rally at the Alamo.
I shared the rostrum with those whose support for <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Israel seemed to be predicated on the condemnation–even eradication–of other peoples and nations. Much of the speech that day was incendiary and inflammatory, and it incited the crowd to a frenzy of animosity for Palestinians. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
It was evident that some congregated at that hallowed shrine of freedom believed freedom and liberty to be exclusive rewards accorded a few, rather than inalienable rights accorded all persons by virtue of their humanity.
It was my difficult charge that day to articulate a different vision.
I spoke in equally passionate terms of the great contributions Israel has given the family of nations regarding the dignity and worth of the individual, made in the image of a God who is sovereign over all humanity, not just a select portion.
I spoke of the unprecedented vision of Israel that “the Lord our God is one,” giving humanity the sublime concept of monotheism. I spoke of the democratic imagination that was first fired in the minds of Israel’s prophets, that the blessing of this sovereign God would be extended to all nations and all peoples.
When I finished, there was no cacophonous applause, no noisy din of cheers–only silence and reflection.
Perhaps it is easier to get worked up into a rampage of division than it is to be reasoned into a path of peace. But we all know in our hearts which choice the God of Israel would have us make.
I love Israel because of her wonderful vision of the fatherhood of God for all peoples. Prior to the understanding of monotheism, the gods were nationalistic and naturalistic, reflective of diverse ethnic tribes and natural phenomena.
Instead of inspiring love and confidence in peoples, these gods fomented division, disunity and fear. These numerous deities were created in the image of human passions and apprehensions and, therefore, were territorial and petty.
We all spring from the same source. Israel was the first people to understand this. But this is precisely the moral truth being dangerously revised today.
There is an insidious teaching coming–God forbid–even from some Christian pulpits that folks of other faiths do not seek the same God that Christians seek.
The idea that the Lord our God is one Lord is being compromised by certain spokespersons who want to revert to territorial and national gods who advance only the narrow interests of the spokespersons’ own religio-political perspective.
We see preachers in America and preachers in Afghanistan saying basically the same thing: God belongs to my nation, my people, my point of view only, and to hell with everybody else.
This is the moral blindness that reasonable people of faith must repudiate in the most stringent terms.
Martin Luther King Jr. said it right: “Unless we learn to live together as brothers and sisters, we will perish as fools.”
As God’s people–Jews and Christians and Muslims–let us see the community of faith as a centered set rather than a closed set. Let us see the true and living God as the center, a center of love and unity, and all the peoples of the world who seek to love and serve God as moving toward that holy, burning center.
Charles Foster Johnson is senior pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church of San Antonio, Texas.