God Loves All Unconditionally (From Bishop Sean’s Article in this Saturday’s Erie Times News)

Reposted from GoErie.com: Reflections is a column in the Erie Times News by religious leaders in the region. The Right Rev. Sean Rowe is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, 145 W. Sixth St.

Bishop Rowe Nov 2014-93wtHow many times have we found ourselves engaged in arguments only to realize that whatever hot button issue we were arguing about wasn’t really the issue at all?

Time and again we turn against one another for superficial reasons that are symptoms of deeper issues that remain unaddressed. This is true in secular politics, and it is true in our faith communities as well.

We’re gearing up for what promises to be a long and painful political season. Already, candidates are using the poor for target practice in our ongoing cultural and ideological wars. Some aspirants to political power are even talking about massive deportations of people who live in grinding poverty and do work that many American citizens simply refuse to engage. The goal is to get “them” out.

We’ve walked a long way in the wrong direction since Jesus began his public ministry by announcing that he had come to preach “good news to the poor.” Today, the tenets of Christian and other faith traditions are used to bludgeon and exclude people created, as we are, in the image and likeness of God. Consider the ways in which issues regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are used to divide congregations and denominations. We create a righteous “in” and an unrighteous “out,” often under the cover of the old maxim “hate the sin and love the sinner.”

All of these issues seem, at some level, to involve determining who properly belongs within our communities and who should be kept out. We argue over and over again, down through the centuries, about which race, which religion, which sexual orientations are worthy of inclusion. We create wedge issues, and in doing so, we miss the deeper point.

Theologian James Alison points out that, for Christians, the real issue is that we simply cannot come to terms with the work that Christ has done for us through the cross and resurrection. This reality is quite simple: We are redeemed; anyone who wants to be “in” is “in.” We don’t have to get any better, go any deeper, or work any harder. God loves us for who we are and just as we are. But since we cannot really believe that this is true, since we cannot accept that our own merit played no role in our redemption, we develop standards that exalt ourselves and marginalize others. That’s the way we work out the truth that is so difficult for us to accept, that God loves all people unconditionally.

The good news is too good for us to accept: Through God’s grace — which, by definition is unearned and undeserved — we’re all “in.” Maybe we could work at living as though that was really true without any new terms or conditions.

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