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“Interpreting Christ in a Pluralistic World” (National Cathedral Sermon)
Washington National Cathedral ^ | April 24, 2005 | The Rev. Dr. George F. Regas

Posted on 05/07/2005 4:41:54 PM PDT by kaehurowing

“Interpreting Christ in a Pluralistic World” The Rev. Dr. George F. Regas Rector Emeritus, All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA, guest preacher Washington National Cathedral Easter V April 24, 2005

There is a story about a minister trying to get serious and speak about the imminence of death and its power over us. His opening sentence was that in 100 years, every member of this church would be dead. And with that, a man in the fourth row began to laugh.

Now there is nothing in the world more upsetting and disconcerting to a preacher than to have someone miss the mood and intent. So he thought the brother had misheard him and he said again, I’m here to say that within the next 100 years, every member of this church will be dead.

At that, the man laughed again. The minister began to get a little angry and was losing his fervor. So he turns to the laughing man and says, you think that’s funny? Yes, I do. Why do you think it’s funny? Because I’m not a member of this church!

The church I long to be a part of is one with a radically inclusive spirit. During most of my priesthood of nearly a half century I have tried to have an inclusive spirit at the heart of my work—and I’m still learning.

I’m so grateful that your new dean has asked me to preach today. Sam Lloyd is a dear friend, whose ministry I respect immensely. Sam will bring strong, creative leadership at such a critical time; our nation faces serious challenges to the core principles of our constitution, and the Episcopal Church also faces serious global challenges to its proclamation of full justice in the church of our gay brothers and sisters. Washington, D.C. is very fortunate to have Sam Lloyd. This pulpit has been the place from which some of America’s most searching and challenging proclamations have been made. I’m honored to be your preacher today.

Carl Sandburg was asked just before he died what he thought was the worst word, the most despicable word, in the English language. Without hesitation, he replied: exclusivism.

Exclusivism. It means to exclude, to shut out, to keep out, to dispose, to resist admission to the outsider.

Exclusivism is a terrible word because it is a terrible reality. Everyone has experienced it at some point and at some level in our life—some at minor places; others have been traumatized by vicious exclusions.

My hope this morning as your preacher is to bring us all into a closer identity with the inclusive spirit of Jesus.

Christianity is often presented in the most exclusionary ways. In today’s Gospel, John puts words on Jesus’ lips that have led Christians through the centuries to claim an exclusive way to salvation. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That is one of the most difficult verses in the Bible to interpret adequately. Those who claim that Christianity is the exclusive way to a saving faith cling tenaciously to this verse.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father (to God) except through me.” If my reflections on this verse are to have integrity, I must speak as though my close rabbi friends and my Muslim colleagues are sitting right there in a pew in front of me. Those good people in whom I’ve seen the glory of God.

I can no longer think about Jesus as the only way to God and to a saving faith. How one comes into a relationship with God has taken on a meaning that it did not have in my younger years.


“I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me.” The first thing I want you to explore with me is this: I simply refuse to hold the doctrine that there is no access to God except through Jesus.

I personally reject the claim that Christianity has the truth and all other religions are in error. Unfortunately, this is the position of the new Pope, Benedict XVI, who says salvation is only possible through Jesus Christ. I think it is a mistaken view to say Christianity is superior to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism and that Christ is the only way to God and salvation.

Although the majority of American Christians probably believe that salvation is possible only through faith in Jesus Christ, I find this to be a profound distortion of what Jesus was about in his ministry.

My reading of the Bible points me to a God whose love is inclusive and universal. This thought is very significant because it was this proclamation of universal love that got Jesus into trouble. The flags of exclusivism were flying all around Jesus, and he steadfastly resisted each one of these seductive invitations to belong to us only and exclude the rest. Jesus loved them all. He put his arms around everybody—and they killed him.

The Religious Right has drowned out everyone else with their absolutist claims. They have the truth and the rest of us are living under false claims. Now faith in Jesus has come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American. Bill Moyers says these Religious Right advocates have hijacked Jesus. The very Jesus who offered kindness and mercy to the prostitute and hospitality and love to the outcast. This Jesus has been hijacked and turned into the guardian of privilege instead of the champion of the dispossessed.

I’ve given my life to a different Jesus. The love I see at work in Jesus is inclusive, a love that reaches out to everyone. Nobody is outside the pale. And yet in the name of this loving Christ, some of the most vicious acts of exclusion are perpetrated. Christianity is not the only guilty party. So much tragedy throughout history and into this present hour has come out of those religions that find their core message in exclusivism.

Is the Spirit of God calling this great Cathedral in all its work and ministry, to set its face against the tide of this disease of exclusivism? I hope and pray you will engage this critical issue.

Not only is this exclusive claim that Christ is the only way to God and a saving faith a distortion of the total biblical message, it is the source of the most deadly conflicts over the centuries down to this present hour. The terrible effects of the Christian exclusionary claims to salvation have not been confined to the horrendous persecution of Jews. We have mounted deadly crusades against Muslims, and Christians have killed other Christians in the brutal wars of religion—all in the name of bringing others to the correct understanding of how God is uniquely known in Jesus Christ. The arrogance of conviction. God be merciful.

Today, I proclaim to you that until this murderous and arrogant history is faced with a genuine spirit of repentance; until we Christians confess that our exclusionary theology has led Christian groups, Christian leaders and churches as a whole to unspeakable sins against other Christians, other religions and against God—until we face squarely and honestly this truth about Christianity, there can be no possibility for the Christian Church to be an unequivocal force for peace and justice in this radically pluralistic age.

I love that seventeenth century anonymous saying: “I would rather see coming at me a whole battalion with drawn swords than one lone Calvinist convinced that he is doing the will of God!”


“I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In the second part of this sermon, we move to a different level.

If Jesus is to be real to me, I must move beyond the constrictions of an exclusive interpretation to the liberation of pluralism.

You start toward the pluralist position the moment you imagine that the one you call God is greater than your understanding of God. The pluralist position begins the moment you suspect that the God you have come to know in Jesus listens to the earnest prayers of people whose God we do not even understand.

“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” we sing in that great old hymn. It’s the wideness of mercy in the divine that provides the theological imperative for pluralism.

We Christians do not bring God to these non-Christian faiths. God is already there actively at work. In the presence of some Muslims and Jews I’ve come to know and respect, I sometimes think I hear those words God spoke to Moses by the burning bush addressed to me: “George, George, take off your shoes—for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Yes, I know—this is a radical change for Christians. No tradition can claim the truth as a private property. Pluralism is not just diversity. It is open engagement and participation in dialogue with those who are different and remain different. And in the engagement we catch a glimpse of the glory others see in the sacred.

I am drawn to this pluralist position because I think that it is only in this deep respect for the traditions of others that we can survive the conflicts of the twenty-first century.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “We have inherited a large house, a great world house, in which we must live together.” The differences are vast and we must learn somehow to live together in peace.

You and I know there are great conflicts and arguments in the great world house with many religious traditions, but its foundation is an everlasting love and its language is the two-way language of dialogue and respect.


I have more to say, so stay with me. There is a third part to this sermon, and it is so important and essential: Once all this is said, I am still passionately committed to Christ. The God I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is still decisive and central to my faith.

Seeing the authenticity and wonder of other religions has not compromised my firm faith in Christ. The very opposite is true. God, for me, is still best defined by Christ even if God is not confined to Christ.

I must live in this great world house we have all inherited, but this does not mean giving up my own deep, sure foundations.

I don’t believe Jesus is the only truth about God so that we consign other forms of faith to the dungeons of error and heresy, but I do believe Jesus is a window through which I can look out upon God, upon the nature of the creation and upon the reality of human existence.

Yes, it is true that Jesus was a visionary and dreamer. But above all, Jesus was a great realist who saw into the heart of truth. Jesus came and lived among us to show us how life is to be lived. In this war shattered world, we ignore this to our peril. “I am the way and the truth and the life!” There is a throbbing urgency in those words for me.

When Jesus finished his famous sermon on the mount about a gentle spirit, the pure in heart, those who thirst for justice, the peacemakers—that sermon about loving your enemies and praying for those who abuse you—he drives home the seriousness of these teachings.

Jesus says, if you listen to these words of mine and live by them, you are like the one who built a house which no storm could shake however fiercely the winds beat against it—for it was built on a rock.

That regal claim still grasps my heart. I believe it with my whole being and how I wish I could preach it in such a way that its truth could grasp your hearts and minds. An actor once describing the difference between actors and preachers said: “We actors talk about imaginary things as though they were real. You preachers talk about real things as though they were imaginary.”

God forgive us if we do, for those qualities of spirit, that truth about life, the fullness of God and the oneness of the human family which Jesus enfleshed and pleaded for are the real things on which much of the hopes of the world depend.

I live gladly in this great world house arm in arm with my sisters and brothers of other faiths and traditions. But I don’t give up my deepest commitment to Christ.

When I say Jesus is the way for me, even when I say Jesus is the only one for me—that is not a dogmatic statement, as much as it is a love statement.

I don’t speak of Christ in exclusive terms but I speak of my commitment to Christ as exclusive. I see God in my Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist friends and the power of their faith—but I’m committed to Jesus. Christ is the only one for me. That is love language not doctrine. When I say to Mary Regas, my love, that she is the only one in the world for me—it doesn’t mean I have systematically surveyed every woman on the planet and chosen Mary. It means simply and powerfully, I love you.

Other religions make similar claims because no religion has a monopoly on spiritual truth. It is precisely by going deep into our personal truth that we learn from others. This is the authentic ground of interreligious dialogue.

Faith in this great world house requires these cherished, deep commitments. At the deepest level, it is about love and it means, dear Christ, I give you my heart.

I invite you into this love affair with the one we call the Prince of Peace. Will you come?


TOPICS: Current Events; Ecumenism; Other non-Christian; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: angpost8; apostasy; ecusa; episcopagan; heresy; regas; universalist
I thank the Lord each day that I no longer am part of this "church."
1 posted on 05/07/2005 4:41:54 PM PDT by kaehurowing
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To: kaehurowing

"Let no one be permitted to bring forward, or write or compose a different faith besides that defined by the holy Fathers who assembled with the Holy Spirit in the city of Nicaea. And whoever dares to compose a different faith, or present, or offer [one] to those wishing to turn to the knowledge of the truth…let such, if they be bishops or belong to the clergy, be alien-­bishops from the episcopate, and clerics from the clergy--and if they be laymen, let them be given over to anathema." Canon VII of the Third Ecumenical Synod

2 posted on 05/07/2005 5:01:55 PM PDT by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: kaehurowing

"I am drawn to this pluralist position because I think that it is only in this deep respect for the traditions of others that we can survive the conflicts of the twenty-first century."

This position might permit him to survive this century but it's being able to survive "The day of The Lord" that counts and somehow, I think his position falls short of the scriptural requirements.

4 posted on 05/07/2005 5:18:28 PM PDT by blue-duncan
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To: kaehurowing
In 100 years no one will know who "Rev." George F. Regas was. Christians will still bow at the name of Jesus. Unfortunately for Regas, Jesus will have known him not.
5 posted on 05/07/2005 7:48:41 PM PDT by hiho hiho
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To: kaehurowing
Wishful thinking, but it isn't what the Bible teaches!

When Regas hears words along the lines of "Away from me, I never knew you", will he understand, albeit too late?

6 posted on 05/08/2005 5:50:06 AM PDT by Knute (W- Still the President!)
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To: sionnsar

(interesting reading when you return)

7 posted on 05/08/2005 11:27:37 AM PDT by hiho hiho
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To: kaehurowing


8 posted on 05/08/2005 5:45:39 PM PDT by LiteKeeper (The radical secularization of America is happening)
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To: ahadams2; wagglebee; St. Johann Tetzel; AnalogReigns; GatorGirl; KateatRFM; Alkhin; ...
Thanks to hiho hiho for spotting and pinging this. A bit late, but I'm only now catching up after being away -- and returning with a dead laptop...

Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-7 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar and newheart.

Resource for Traditional Anglicans:

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

9 posted on 05/16/2005 5:57:23 PM PDT by sionnsar (†† || Iran Azadi || Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?)
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To: kaehurowing

It is okay for this man to be wrong but its abominable that he leads others astray.

10 posted on 05/16/2005 7:03:59 PM PDT by Raycpa
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To: kaehurowing

This non Christian clergyman is a disgrace and an embarrassment to the Anglican Communion. The Church must split with the Apostates going their way and the Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics going their ways as well.

11 posted on 05/16/2005 8:17:34 PM PDT by BnBlFlag (Deo Vindice/Semper Fidelis)
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To: BnBlFlag

Blasphemy in every paragraph. "For what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his immortal soul?"

I find nothing at all difficult to understand in "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except through me." No loopholes there, that I can see. Maybe he thinks this is a Kobyashi Maru scenario and all he needs to do is reprogram the computer.

What a sad and sorry day for the Anglican church.

12 posted on 05/17/2005 4:36:17 AM PDT by KateatRFM
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