- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

The proliferation of interfaith services after terrorists struck America has unsettled some conservative Protestants, who think joint worship violates their belief that Christianity is the true religion.
In one case, the Rev. David Oberdieck filed charges with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod over a fellow pastor who joined non-Christian clergy in the Sept. 23 Yankee Stadium service, "A Prayer for America."
"I wouldn't have brought charges if Jesus Christ was confessed in such a way that he stood out from the smorgasbord of gods," said Mr. Oberdieck, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lebanon, Mo.
The National Association of Evangelicals organized its own memorial service in October after concluding the stadium event was not religious enough. Conservative Christian clergy led that gathering.
"We embrace tolerance in the right sense, which is religious freedom for all, without bigotry, while rejecting a misguided, misunderstood tolerance which sees all religious beliefs as equally valid," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, of the evangelical group, which represents 50 denominations.
Missouri Synod spokesman David Strand said the denomination's president, the Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, believes the stadium service was more secular than sacred and therefore did not violate the church's ban on inappropriate religious association.
"It was held in a baseball stadium. Oprah Winfrey and James Earl Jones opened it. Hot dogs and soft drinks were sold at reduced prices," Mr. Strand said.
"All those things taken together would seem to point pretty clearly to this being a civic event more than a worship service."
Among those joining celebrities at the stadium memorial were Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, Imam Izak-el M. Pasha, a Muslim police chaplain, Jewish rabbis and leaders of Hindu and Sikh temples.
John Jefferson, professor of systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass., said conservative Protestants base their view on John 14:6, in which Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
"They would understand that text to mean that salvation is only through Jesus, and all authentic prayer to God also has to be through Christ," Mr. Jefferson said.
"More liberal Christians believe that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus in some sense all religions would be praying to the same God but under different symbols and cultural forms."
Rabbi Jerome Epstein of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism accused the evangelicals of being counterproductive and hurtful when the country needs to unify.
"I have found that people are looking for a community to share with," Mr. Epstein said. "That means that there is a need for diversity in order to have that community."
The Rev. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and head of the Interfaith Alliance in Washington, said organizers of interfaith services sometimes ask clergy to focus on only those beliefs shared by all the denominations involved, or to refrain from using Christ's name.
Mr. Cizik said such conditions were unacceptable to evangelicals, who would participate only when they were allowed to fully express their religion.
An example of a proper interfaith event was the Sept. 14 memorial service at Washington's National Cathedral, where evangelist Billy Graham was able to share his beliefs, Mr. Cizik said.
"We do no one a favor by appearing to support a mistaken pluralism that pretends all religions are the same," he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide