Ted and George - Dialogue
Ted Johnston and I were high school classmates at West Lafayette High School in West Lafayette, Indiana. We have become friends on Facebook, nearly 50 years after our high school graduation. We are very different from each other! I admire a lot of what Ted posts. Here is Ted's "autobiography".
You’ve raised two significant topics: 1) how Christianity differs qualitatively from other world religions, and 2) gender equality.
In addressing how Christianity differs from other religions, I hasten to note that Christians come in all sorts of varieties. I would not presume to speak for them all. I personally have experienced Christianity in multiple forms and what I have come to embrace is what some call Christianity without the religion, or perhaps more accurately Christianity without the religiosity. Perhaps this is where I see what I consider authentic Christianity differing most substantively from other world religions, as well as some forms of Christian practice.
For me, at its core, authentic Christianity is about a relationship with the divine-human person Jesus, and real sharing in the relationship that Jesus has with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (a tri-personal relationship that is known as the Trinity). Thus Christianity, as I view it, is a relationship with the relational God. In that way, Christianity is not fundamentally about a book, or a set of religious rituals, or an institution. In that way I see it as dissimilar from other world religions. However, Christianity certainly has some similarities with all other religions, including in the way it is about seeking after transcendent truth. But in Christianity, truth is found fundamentally in a person not a set of precepts, and it is truth that is experienced in relationship.
That observation about the nature of Christianity then leads me to the second issue you raise--gender equality. For me, men and women stand as fundamentally equal in relationship with Jesus. In that relationship there is no hierarchy of gender, race or socioeconomic class. Moreover, all people of all religions (or of no religion) have equal access to experience that relationship. This is seen clearly in the story of Jesus’ life told in the Bible—he loved all, embraced all, reached out to all and accepted all in relationship. Any form of Christian practice that sets up barriers in the way Jesus operates, or establishes hierarchies that repudiates his way are, in my view, not faithful to Jesus, and thus are not authentically Christian (defining here a Christian as a follower of Jesus).
You have asked what I, as a Christian, do to address practices within and without the Christian church that lead to an “us vs. them” prejudicial environment. First and foremost, I try to live in a way that reflects the inclusive, unconditional love of Jesus for all people. I then try to teach that way to others through various teaching media, including social media. I also seek to befriend people from other genders, races, religions, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, etc. Within the Christian denomination I worked for as a minister for 32 years, I had a leading role in helping us abandon a form of legalistic fundamentalism that, in many ways, was not faithful to Jesus. As part of that reformation, we opened the ordained ministry to women and now we have many female pastors and governing board members. I see similar progress in other Christian circles, and for that I’m grateful, though, in my view, much more is needed.
I apologize for any seeming harshness in what I say. It is a rather emotional issue for me.