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by Michael Hayes

In our day, when divisiveness is coming to be considered a virtue, we face a difficult challenge. Some people relate to others by emphasizing the differences between them while other people relate by emphasizing the commonalities.

I suppose there is a time for each but of this I am sure: Those who live exclusively by the rule that our differences matter more than our commonalities will never receive the blessing Jesus pronounced on the peacemakers. He certainly had his times of clashing with the religious leaders who had so much to lose if they agreed with Jesus, but with the vast majority of people Jesus was amazingly inclusive.

I am convinced — from watching Jesus and history and current events — that our first instincts must always be toward inclusiveness, toward cherishing our commonalities. We must at times be exclusive, of course, but let’s let the other person decide to be our enemy before we consider him to be an enemy.

One of the current areas of great tension is the relation between Jews, Christians and Muslims. There are some very real differences between the three but we dare not neglect the deep commonalities. We who are Christian will never relinquish our center in Jesus Christ. Ours is a lifetime, unconditional commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior. But we must be very careful to avoid defending our borders, our edges as fervently as we do our center.

We have a history, especially in America, of breaking fellowship with anyone who doesn’t share in the whole of our thinking. Conservatives, for instance, often seem convinced that those nasty Liberals aren’t even Christian at all. And those who baptize only adults sometimes look with scorn on those who practice infant baptism. Those who baptize by dunking tend to have little respect for those who drip a bit of water on the head. On and on we go, criticizing and separating from one another to form countless denominations and independent congregations. We seem to think the form of baptism, which distinguishes one group from another, is more important than our common commitment to Christ, which unites us.

No wonder we have trouble getting along with Jews and especially Muslims! If we cannot value our common center with one another, how can we find any commonalities with Jews and Muslims? The fault is ours, not theirs (except for those who want to focus on the differences.)

A Christian who traveled often to Egypt was asked once, “Is Allah the same as God or is Allah a false god?” The answer was emphatic: “Allah is not God.” What a profound misunderstanding! In the first place, the word “Allah” is simply the normal Arabic word for God. And the word “God” is simply the Saxon word for supernatural beings. In the second place, by “Allah” Islam means the Creator and the Lord of Abraham as portrayed in Genesis. Whether we agree with the Islamic interpretation of the story of God and his people, we cannot honestly deny that Christian and Muslim each intend to worship and serve the one Creator.

To see a perfect example of what it looks like when we emphasize commonalities rather than differences, take the time to become acquainted with a group called the Abrahamic Alliance International.    <  >

Or, to think about the matter from a different perspective, read the story told about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7. Jesus has a fascinating exchange with an unclean, Gentile woman, someone about as low as one could get in the eyes of some people. They have a lively exchange in which she shows she is in perfect tune with Jesus. He grants her prayer and sends her on her way. He never once suggested that she should convert to become a Jew or even become his follower. He simply blesses and commends her. If Jesus did not insist that she become like him, who are we to insist that everyone else become like us???

It was very difficult for the Confessing Church in Germany to come to grips with the anti-Semitism fomented by the Nazis. The prejudice was so deeply rooted in the German mentality that even for the Confessing Church, opposed as it was to Hitler, to realize what a clear stand was needed against anti-Semitism. Bonhoeffer, who certainly was one of the first to grasp the full reality of the situation, spoke out but cautiously at first…

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By Dick Andersen
For the Herald/Review

With the last Christian being driven out of Mosul, Afghanistan, by the vengeful ISISsect this week, and innumerable other incidents of discrimination against Christians in Africa, Asia and even the Americas plaguing the planet, one wonders if being a Christian is worthwhile?

Wouldn’t it be better to be nothing than to be tracked down and slaughtered as has happened to Christians recently in Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, India and Pakistan?

The answer is a decided, NO!

While respect for Christianity has diminished in large measure due to pedofile clergy, immoral televangelists and other scoundrels occupying some prominent pulpits, the Gospel is still needed for this century and all the others following it. It has declined because families find other pleasures more attractive than teaching their children Christian values. TVand movie comedians may mock us, atheists may seek to dull our witness by banning crosses and creches, and novelists may fling every indescribable insult in our direction they wish, but Christianity is God’s empowered force for good — therefore cannot be so casually dismissed as inconsequential.

The Jews have suffered for their faith for centuries, yet their strength remains in those who remained faithful to it despite pogroms and the Holocaust … often at the hands of Christians regrettably.

Where would institutions of mercy … hospitals, children’s homes, homes for the aging and many similar caring facilities have originated … if it had not been for the Church centuries ago? Schools, from kindergartens to universities, were made available to the poor as well as the rich under the sponsorship of the Church. Many agencies that provide assistance to the disadvantaged got their start led by Christian men and women who originated such ministries.  And the Jews, too, have provided similar care for their people and others, while often cooperating with Christians and financially supporting their institutions to alleviate human suffering.

Many of America’s refugees came to these shores due to the ministry of Christians and Jews.  After World War II, the United States gained an exceptional benefit from those fleeing what was left in battle-worn Europe.  After Vietnam’s war, the same thing happened. So, yes, it is still a worthy goal to be a follower of Jesus no matter what naysayers tell us.

But then being a modern day disciple of the Lord Christ is not simply for assisting others in their dilemmas. That’s a prime target in the attempt to love others. There is, however, a very important personal element that comes first. There needs to be a living relationship with God, a common walk with Him in order to love one another and to sense the love that is returned. Besides, our earthly life is not the end of the journey. It is merely the prelude. Eternity is worthy of our devotion and faith now. It’s not “pie in the sky bye and bye,” but a promise made by Him to those who believe. Here and now we take the first steps to accepting the life without end.

On Aug. 4, some people will observe the 102nd birthday of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede renowned for his rescue of up to 120,000 Hungarian Jews from the Final Solution being promulgated by Adolf Eichmann. Raoul was a Christian. He went to Budapest in the last months of World War II to rescue as many Jews remaining in the last corner of European Judaism. He served the Swedish king as a special ambassador, and was financed generously by President Franklin D. Roosevelt … two Christian leaders who cared enough to send the very best to facilitate the rescue.

Wallenberg died at the hands of the Russians in one of Moscow’s notorious prisons, but before that he fooled the Nazis by inventing, printing and distributing false passports identifying the Jewish recipients as being under the protection of King Gustav V of neutral Sweden.

His girlfriend: while Raoul studied architecture at the University of Michigan, Berniece Ringman, was a friend of mine, who toured Scandinavia and Russia with me during one of my Christian heritage tours.  While in Stockholm, she met with Raoul’s sister. In Moscow, she visited with the American ambassador about getting Raoul released from the Gulag where he was thought to be imprisoned.  It was not known until later that he had died in Moscow near the war’s end.

At any rate, Wallenberg put his life on the line for people he didn’t know. He knew, however, they were children created by God. His obligation was to God, as well as to his king, to save as many as he could. He provided safe houses for them who lived under his patronage, even a hospital, and collected very scarce provisions to feed them in a very difficult time. Why?  Because he believed it was not just his duty, but his privilege.

He was an ambassador for Christ. He did not preach. It was not his intention to convert, but it was his prerogative to serve his Lord by saving lives.

There were many Christians who lived out their faith in the face of Nazism’s threats.  Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, a businessman, were among them. They stood up against the Nazis for their inhumanity toward Jews and others, and lost their lives by order of Hitler just a week or two before the war’s end. A new book, “No Ordinary Men,” was recently published by the New York Review of Books to underscore their mission.

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June 2018
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