Thursday, March 15, 2012

Love and Conversion, Love and Conversion


When I was a college student, Krister Stendahl came to campus as part of a Jewish/Christian dialogue. Stendahl (1921-2008) was a brilliant New Testament scholar and a pioneer of what came to be called the “New Perspective on Paul.” His visit to my school came shortly after his book Paul Among Jews and Gentiles was published. I don’t remember who the Jewish participant in the conversation was. I do know that Stendahl was a regular and enthusiastic participant in inter-faith discussions.

It was later, when he served as (Lutheran) Bishop of Stockholm, that Krister Stendahl expressed his Three Rules for Religious Understanding:

1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

2. Don’t compare your best to their worst.

3. Leave room for “holy envy.” (i.e. recognize the parts of the other’s faith that you might wish were your own.) 

It was a few days before the Dialogue that I heard one of my fellow students say, “We shouldn’t be talking to the Jews. We should be converting them.”

Oh. My.

There are so many things wrong with that statement that I hardly know where to begin. Maybe it’s enough to say that the statement betrays an underlying attitude that is fundamentally unloving. I believe that love is the trump card in all Christian ethics.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10 NRSV) 

I know the counter-argument: converting others to our religion saves them from eternal condemnation. What could be more loving than to save someone from the agony of hell?

The problem is that this is not love. Love values a person as they are. To say “you must convert” means “I do not value you as you are. I will not value you until you become what I want.” Love does not set out to change a person. Loving and being loved may very well cause a person to change, but that is not its goal. Let’s not get that cart before the horse.

These thoughts were inspired, at least in part, by this post from Victoria on her Gaudete Theology blog. She included the video I’ve attached below. You can watch it here, or, better yet, go read Victoria’s post and watch the video on her blog.

I found the illustration of the horse and cart through a Google search that hit on this website geared toward real estate agents. 

1 comment:

  1. Me again!

    I was just thinking that the one group Jesus didn't have much good to say to was the Pharisees. The ones who took the Law to say, "We are right - and you are wrong!" "We are GOOD - and you are not!" We are acceptable - and YOU ARE NOT!"

    And then Jesus would go have lunch with thieves and prostitutes.

    He brought them the Truth - but he LOVED THEM first and always.

    That's the model I want to try to follow.