Unification News for December 2003 and January 2004

Reconsidering the Cross and Middle East Peace

Chang Shik Yang
November 17, 2003

This is the keynote speech delivered by Dr. Chang Shik Yang, Chairman of ACLC, at Union Theological Seminary on November 17, 2003.

Dr. Cain Hope Felder, distinguished professors and presenters, members of the American Clergy Leadership Conference: it is a high honor to join you in this historical symposium reconsidering the cross, its significance to the Christian message and relationship with the wider community of faith, held at one of this nation’s most historic centers of religious education, Union Theological Seminary.

Three years ago, at the arrival of a new millennium, humanity the world over was optimistically looking forward to peace on earth. Instead, new conflicts have broken out and old conflicts have intensified. Even in places without war, people do not feel secure from threats of terror.

Samuel Huntington described the collision of Judeo-Christianity and Islam as a "clash of civilizations." Indeed, 9-11 was an explosion of enmity and animosity that was deeply rooted in religious belief. Today, religious beliefs are stronger than any political ideology. Some people armed with religious conviction are pursuing a "holy war," filling the world with indiscriminate bloodshed and destruction. The reaction to suppress these elements is pursued with equal conviction and only compounds the bloodshed. Nevertheless, viewing the world in this way cannot assure the victory of any side, but only produces innocent victims.

Recently, a lieutenant general in the U.S. Defense Department described the Iraq War as a contest between Judeo-Christian values and the Devil. Such a black-and-white fundamentalist attitude actually judges good and evil from one’s own nationalistic viewpoint. An error in judgment can be easily made, in the belief that 1.5 billion Muslims and 56 nations with a Muslim majority are enemies of Christianity.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ is surely not such a narrow-minded person. As Saint Paul stated, whether Jews or Greeks we are all one in Christ, and this same unity should extend to our thoughts and beliefs towards other religions. As stated in John 3:16, Jesus brought salvation for all humanity. In this regard, Calvinism, which insisted on the salvation of a limited number of people based on its theories of predestination and original sin, should be corrected. We need to recall John Wesley’s concept of prevenient grace, "the divine love that surrounds all humanity." Christ is working even through those who have never heard the Gospel. Like sunlight, air and rain that are freely given to everyone, the grace of God is free for the sake of all people and is present within all people.

Religious Initiatives for Peace in the Middle East

The ACLC, which has rapidly grown into one of the largest interreligious clergy organizations in America, this year held three pilgrimages to Rome and Israel. In Jerusalem, the holy city of the three major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we visited the sites over which the descendants of Abraham are still fighting. We also visited the city of Gaza, which has been stained with blood over the past 50 years. Near the hotel where we stayed, a suicide bomber blew up a bus, and many people were killed or injured. The following day, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl committed a suicide bombing as her mother looked on with pride.

We cannot casually use the expression "terrorist" to brand those who are expressing their views through their own deaths. As individuals who possess nothing but their own life, they want to be heard by those whom they see as their oppressors, even by sacrificing that life. Their belief that such an act is an act of martyrdom and self-defense is quite justifiable.

Israel is investing 2-billion dollars to build a defense wall in the Gaza area and the West Bank, but they seem not to be worried about the nearly 70% unemployment rate in Gaza. Our pilgrimage group personally witnessed and felt that under the pretext of national security, Israel was not simply building a boundary to stop further terrorist attacks, but at the same time it was creating a huge concentration camp that would only make the overall situation worse.

We should counsel our Israeli brothers and sisters that the way of Jesus, who turned the other cheek while extending magnanimity and compassion to his enemies, is the better way to deal with their angry and resentful Palestinian brethren. The Talmud has this wise counsel to a man who was at the point of life and death, "Be killed and do not kill; do you think that your blood is redder than his?" Although it is painful to endure bombings, the way of love will eventually prevail over enmity.

At the same time, we should let our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are taking extreme measures understand that the non-violence used by Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. would be more effective than what they are doing now. We should let them know that the power of love shown by Mother Theresa, wearing a white scarf with a smile on her wrinkled face, is more fearful than acts of violence. Violence only begets further violence, leading to a vicious cycle of violence.

Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians and Palestinian hatred towards Israelis should be the objects of repentance. Likewise, I personally believe that the foreign policy of America since the 9-11 incident is only isolating America from the rest of the world. A policy rooted in national self-interest while disregarding other nations with long histories of traditional and religious values can be of little help for world peace.

Today we should understand that political power and/or military power cannot resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Physical confrontations are continuing between both sides, despite the announcement of the so-called "Roadmap." This is because the conflict is deeply rooted in spiritual and religious resentments going back many centuries. Military, political and economic programs will not solve the hatreds that grow out of these resentments. This calls for religious leaders, who understand the origins of these resentments, to step in and take a leading role in resolving them. As stated an often-quoted passage in the Bible, we should now "beat our swords into ploughshares."

In an initiative toward world peace, the ACLC made three pilgrimages the Israel with the motto, "Peace under One God." On May 18 of this year Jewish rabbis, Christian ministers and Muslim imams gathered together and proclaimed the historic Jerusalem Declaration, by which the three religions opened the door to reconciliation and agreement on core issues. In September and again in October, the descendants of Abraham marched for peace through the streets of Jerusalem. Shouting "Peace, Shalom, Salaam Aleikum," they walked arm in arm from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to the Western Wall and up to the Dome of the Rock. At conferences held after each march, Abraham’s descendants shared their views and hugged one another in warmth and love.

With the leadership of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP), next month on December 22, 2003, leaders from more than 120 nations and hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians will come together with 12 million people throughout the world participating via satellite for a special prayer for peace in the Middle East. In preparation for this event, planes are being chartered to bring pilgrims to Jerusalem from all over the world. Even from Korea and Japan, thousands of people will participate. I am personally very pleased that the ACLC is co-sponsoring this "Interreligious and International Day of Prayer for Peace in the Middle East." Through this, the American Clergy Leadership Conference will no doubt grow to become an "International" Clergy Leadership Conference, going beyond religions, denominations and nations.

From a Christocentric to a Theocentric Vision of the World

It is only natural that religious leaders, who are dealing with the realm of the spirit, should guide the leaders of politics and economics, the domain of the body. The biblical paradigm is that of the Old Testament kings heeding the voice of the prophets. However, what remains in question here is the consciousness and standard of religious leaders. In other words, the question is whether or not the major religions can embrace each other.

If there is any religion or denomination that is not willing to dialogue with others due to its belief that it is the only true religion, it should change its concepts. If the paradigm of missionary work is one of conquest, working to abolish existing cultures and traditions, it also must change. The paradigm shift that is pending in the new millennium is demanded of the religious world as well.

The development of global communication technology, such as the internet, is bringing about a world of one large family. The controlled societies of the past, no longer imprisoned by ideologies, are being rapidly transformed into open societies. The old structure of a world divided into North and South and East and West is rapidly changing into a world of dialogue and reconciliation. National sovereignty is giving way to globalization. In this regard, back in 1976 Rev. Moon called on Americans to supplant the old America-centered motto, "One Nation under God," with a global consciousness that we are "One World under God."

What is demanded at this point is the change of our consciousness. We are called to be not only Christians but also citizens of the world. The world’s diversity of religious faiths requires this change. We need to expand our concept of salvation from the vision of a world united under the banner of Christ, narrowly construed as adherence to Christian doctrine, to a world characterized by interdependence, common prosperity, and universally shared values.

At this crisis point in history, Christians should be careful about their attitude towards other religions. The relationships between religions should no longer be based upon the "survival of the fittest," but should be developed into the "survival of the most cooperative."

It is time to overcome the old paradigm of the First World theology centered on Western Christianity and embrace the concept of God-centered diversity. Paul F. Knitter believes that Christianity must necessarily go through a process of evolution from ecclesiocentrism to christocentrism and ultimately to theocentrism. He goes on to assert that the ‘uniqueness’ of Christianity should no longer be a literal truth, but a ‘mythology.’ Only when it is ‘reinterpreted,’ can it be a truth again. In this light, I believe that Christianity’s uniqueness can be evident in Jesus’ universal message that supports a world of interdependence, common prosperity, and universally shared values.

Christian theologians have taken three positions in relation to other religions: The first is exclusivism, which holds that Christians alone can be saved (John 1:4-6, Acts 4:2). This view is totally Jesus-centered, and impedes dialogue with other religions. It also promotes a conquest model of missions. The second is inclusivism, which accepts some truth from other religions as part of Christian truth. This is the view of Karl Rahner, who calls believers in other faiths "anonymous Christians." Yet this position has been criticized as church-centered. Finally, pluralism holds that the truth of God partially exists within all religions. In the search for God, religions complement each other, each emphasizing different and valid aspects of truth.

At this point, some misunderstandings about the pluralism must be clarified. Pluralism does not refer to relativism that regards all religions as the same. It is not a tolerance that is willing to accept any religion unconditionally. Neither does it call for a ‘melting pot’ that will homogenize religions. It is rather an idea that humbly recognizes the limitation of one’s own religion, and strives for greater maturity through understanding other religions through dialogue. For this, we need to take a bold step of "going over" to other religions and "coming back" to our own. The fact that without reservations, Jewish rabbis can hug Christian ministers and Muslim imams means that they see more commonality than differences among themselves.

Religions should recognize diversity and pluralism in the world of belief and faith, ultimately in order to save this planet earth. Hans Kung stated that without dialogue among religions there cannot be peace, as there is no peace without peace among religions. I believe that more than dialogue, religions need to join in solidarity and work for peace through concerted action.

Reconsidering the Cross

Christianity cannot fully participate in this change of consciousness without reexamining its understanding of Jesus Christ. In particular, Christians need to examine whether the teachings of Jesus require the missionary attitude towards non-Christians that seeks nothing less than the conquest of their traditional culture under the sign of the cross.

With the growth of the ACLC movement since the 9-11 incident, we experienced that the cross can be a serious obstacle to dialogue with Judaism and Islam.

It is evident that the cross has been widely misused throughout history. From the 5th to the 19th century it was a sign of anti-Semitism, a reminder of alleged Jewish perfidy for betraying and killing Jesus. In the Crusades the cross was the banner of conquest raised against the Muslim "infidel." It was even used by the Ku Klux Klan as a symbol of white supremacy. In justifying all kinds of crimes and sins, the cross signifies the exclusivist Christian paradigm that divides all humankind into two groups: believers who receive the grace of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and unbelievers who nailed Jesus to the cross.

When the first group of ACLC pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem on May 15, 2003, the leadership of Judaism and Islam warmly received them. One of the reasons was because as Christian ministers we had taken down the cross. Once the thick and high wall of the cross that had been blocking 2000 years of history had fallen, then Jews, Christians and Muslims could hug one another as siblings, without any hesitation.

It is time to ask some searching questions. Is this misuse of the cross an accident of history, or does it reflect something inherent in the cross itself, and in the content of Christian teachings about the crucifixion? Does the cross express the fullness of salvation for all humankind as required by the new pluralist paradigm of Christianity? As a means to human salvation, Christians have accepted the cross for nearly 2,000 years, without objection. Yet is there a better way to portray the saving work of Christ that does not carry with it the cross’s many liabilities?

To arrive at a better understanding of the saving work of Jesus and the role of the cross requires considerable insight and research. It is not an easy task to uncover the historical Jesus with the few records available to us. How could Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in an obscure carpenter’s family, become the Savior of all humankind? How can the historical truth in relation to his mission be identified? Christian doctrine as developed in the New Testament church began after the fact of the cross. Yet, was it God’s original intention that Jesus’ life be ended on the cross after a short ministry of only 3 years?

Reverend Moon has stated publicly on numerous occasions that God never meant for Jesus to be crucified. When he was called at age 15, he received in the Spirit from Jesus that his original mission was cut short by the cross. The crucifixion was the due to the disbelief of those close to Jesus who were supposed to welcome him, support him and protect him: his family, John the Baptist, his disciples and the Jewish leadership.

For his part, Jesus on the cross triumphed over that situation, and as Christians we rightly celebrate that triumph as a model for all people facing trials and persecution for their faith. Nevertheless, from the side of humankind, the cross represents the shameful failure to unite with Jesus while he was on earth. As such, it left an indelible mark upon history--division between Jesus’ spirit and body, between believers and unbelievers, between the faithful and the persecutors--which set the condition for 2,000 years of bloodshed.

This is the tragedy of the cross. God never expected the people of the world to kill his beloved Son. God expected the Jewish people in particular to unite with Jesus, walk with Jesus, and if need be, suffer with Jesus as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) on the path to glory and the Kingdom. Instead, even Jesus’ closest disciples abandoned him on the cross. This cut deep into God’s heart, expressed through the three hours of darkness.

In light of this teaching, Rev. Moon calls upon churches to take down the cross. He recommends that we look to God’s original purpose for sending Jesus, namely to reconcile all the people of the world to God and to each other, as proclaimed at his nativity, "Peace on earth, good will among men" (Luke 2:14), and again during his anguished ministry, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" (Matt. 23:37)

He sees the purpose of God who sent Jesus to the long-prepared Jewish people was to spread the Gospel quickly to all nations, even in Jesus’ own lifetime, and thus establish God’s Kingdom beginning from Jerusalem. (Isa. 2:2-4) The Judaism of his day was supposed to accept Jesus; they were to win over Rome, and then the world. During the 600 years that God was preparing the chosen people to receive the Messiah through the Old Testament prophets, God also sent Buddha to India, Socrates to Greece, and Confucius to China. Through these inspired founders God elevated the moral and spiritual standard of the world’s cultural spheres so that ultimately they also could receive the Messiah. Jesus brought a teaching that could embrace them and elevate them to participate in the universal messianic Kingdom.

At this point in history, we should not ignore the universal messianic teachings that Jesus came to bring. That is, he did not come as the Messiah only to save Jews or Christians. At the core of each of the world’s dominant cultures lies a religion prepared by God to participate in the messianic Kingdom. As modern-day Christians, let us open our eyes to a new horizon of faith and theology, understanding the depth and breadth of Messianic thought which is in pursuit of universal salvation through the universal Christ. Such a new Christian consciousness, transcending the old symbol of the cross, can serve as the guiding light for fulfilling God’s providence for the new millennium.

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