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Pastor's Message - July 2024

We do not know how Jesus understood himself and his role in what we now call salvation. He left nothing in writing, and accounts of his life were written decades after his execution as his first followers, who had expected the “Day of the Lord” in their lifetimes, began to die. At the very least, he understood himself in continuity with the prophetic tradition of proto-Judaism. Though there was some variation within that religious system, the Jews of Judea and the Diaspora understood themselves to be a people apart, chosen by God and marked by covenants particular to tribes and families. Where the gospels report encounters between Jesus and non-Jews, there is a high degree of uncertainty. His words do not always match his actions, which were always compassionate.


Whether Jesus understood his good news as taking in non-Jews or not, there is no question that it appealed to them, and many joined on “the Way.” This expansion is the primary concern of the Christian Testament, including the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles, authentic and otherwise, of Paul.


Christianity remained a choice for almost three centuries. Things began to change with the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the authorization of Christianity in 313. Even the great Protestant Reformers, Luther and Zwingli, understood religion as a state matter. Zwingli died defending his Swiss Protestant canton from Swiss Catholic cantons.


Colonists in North America saw the carnage left by “state religion.” William Penn led the way, and the nation would eventually adopt religious freedom as a core principle. One branch of our own United Church of Christ heritage, one simply called “Christian,” embraced the idea of the right of “Christian conscience,” the radical notion that individual Christians would ultimately decide what they believed. This laid the groundwork for today's UCC faith, a non-credal tradition that embraces freedom and diversity. We celebrate our ecumenical, interfaith, and non-religious sisters and brothers, even those who do not always celebrate us.


When we oppose Christian Nationalism, we are being faithful to Jesus, to the founders of our country, and to our own theological heritage. We can take inspiration from others who have resisted, like Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who opposed Christian Nationalists in Nazi Germany. As Louisiana seeks to impose Judeo-Christianity on non-Christian children by placing the Ten Commandments in classrooms, as we celebrate America's independence from king and church, our voices and our resistance are more important than ever.


Blessings,

Gary

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