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Enforcing Faith Can Lead to Intolerance

By LeRoy Hershiser
For The Register-Guard
Published: Saturday, January 26th, 2008 (reprinted here with permission)


Aware of the counsel of Paul to the congregation at Corinth, I make no claim to being anything other than a disciple of Christ, a Christian sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ. Even at age 74, as a retired pastor, I am still trying to learn and to listen to what the promised Spirit is saying.

I thank God for Eugene First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and our pastor, Dan Bryant. Every week he continues to challenge me to a ministry that affirms all people, particularly the disenfranchised.

Unity is the polar star of my faith: unity not for myself and those who believe like me because we are right, but for our mission because we are called. Every day there is something that is said or done that reminds me that the unity of the church should be a matter of the discernment of the Spirit that brings us together in mission, not ideological consensus that often divides, separates and distracts us.

It is my observation that there are some who spend their lives trying to live by and enforcing the laws of the faith much like the religious leaders did in the time of Jesus. To strive to “live by” is commendable and leads to tolerance. To “enforce” (change the behavior rather than the heart) often leads to intolerance. If Jesus ever indicated any intolerance, it was against the religious enforcers.

Jesus went against many of the religious (often also political) rules and regulations and practices being enforced. Doing so resulted in name-calling, character assassination and, finally, his condemnation and the cross.

What was Jesus doing? He was healing on the Sabbath; touching the unclean to heal them of body; eating with the unclean and healing their souls; speaking with a woman at the well (a sinner, a woman in public); and many other things. According to the “enforcers,” Jesus was breaking the very laws of God as passed down in the Old Testament, and, incidentally threatened their power and authority.

I believe we haven’t learned! For some, “enforcing” the laws of God in the name of the New or Old Testament takes pre-eminence over what the Lord requires of us. According to Micah that is “…to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with (our) God” (Micah 6:8).

Jesus said his purpose, his passion, his mission was “to bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18).

Later he makes clear what that means: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

No “enforcers” here — just blessed “doers.”  So may we be!


LeRoy Hershiser was ordained at Eugene First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and once again is a member and elder. This column is coordinated by Lane Interfaith Alliance, a network of more than 30 religious and spiritual traditions in the Eugene-Springfield area. For more information, visit www.laneinterfaithalliance.org or call 344-5693.



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