Exclusion–Shaping of Interreligious Discussion

This paper was first given at the Mennonite Graduate Student Conference, June 10-12, 2006 at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN when papers on varied topics all dealt with Exclusion.

“Outside the church, no salvation” – Cyprian, 3rd century bishop
“Whoever knows [only] one religion knows no religion.” – Max Muller1
“Christ is the Way that is open to other Ways.” – John B. Cobb2
“There is no ‘Christian’ identity, only Christian identities.” – Jeannine Hill Fletcher3
“. . . one must be religious interreligiously. – Paul Knitter 4

Religious conflict abounds, in part because of exclusion. Ignorance and arrogance shape exclusion. Insulated people may fail to learn about or trust people whose religious views differ widely from their own. Arrogance occurs when only one religion is valued, when a person presumes to know others’ views without their describing them. It follows fear of difference, demeaning others, or judging personal faith as ‘better, first, or the only right one.’ To claim one faith often means to exclude others. Must loyalty entail negation of others, or is commitment with openness to difference quite possible?

Professor Veli-Matti Karkkainen of Fuller Seminary, among numerous others, explains theology of religion.5 Like Systematic, Liberation, or Feminist Theology, Theology of Religions is a separate field of study. It looks at value and meaning within religions. It explores how Christianity relates to other religions and what transpires when diverse religions live close together. In some settings, religions have thrived as neighbors for centuries; for many western Christians, having neighbors of diverse living faiths reflects more recent experience. Theology of religion (or the plural of both nouns) studies relationships: around themes like revelation, faith, and salvation or between groups like Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. It explores meaning for personal sacred experience through shared rituals, scriptures, history or convictions.

Karkainen’s introduction to theology of religions focuses on church documents and confessions, followed by 21 men’s views.6 Karkainen divides church beyond the common Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Evangelical traditions. He sets apart Anglican/Episcopal from Roman Catholic and highlights several Mainline Protestant groups before Free Church—Anabaptist/Mennonite, Baptist, and Pentecostal/Charismatic. Then he divides Evangelical from Ecumenical.

Protestant difference matters for Karkainen. Less bound to a typology, individual development also stands out. The reader meets ecumenical variety, a major lesson. Ecumenical refers to “transdenominational efforts of Christian churches to define in concert their understanding of Christian unity and related issues.” And Evangelical refers to “transdenominational theological movement that . . . purports to uphold classical orthodoxy like authority of scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.”7 Gerald McDermott in Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions? names many types of evangelicals: very conservative, ‘old,’ ‘neo,’ justice and peace, charismatic, and ecumenical. Understandings vary but Richard Baster requests: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials freedom; and in all things, charity.”8

Problems of theology that Karkainen notes persist—a one-sided focus on who will be saved and placing those who study God into categories. I also notice the bias that comes attached to words like pluralism. Whereas Karkainen says that it promises that “all will be saved,” which tends to write it off, John B. Cobb declares about pluralism: “all religions have validity.” Robert Cummings Neville says that all religions are true somehow, with each free to define true in its own terms, and John Hick offers pluralism as “more than one way to be saved.”

Exclusion causes intra-Christian conflict and offends people of diverse living faiths. Not agreed on who God saves, the ‘faithful’ try to limit God or to be God in God’s stead. Intra-Christian conflict caused and followed the 1054 break between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Each excluded the other. The Orthodox spawned distinct types, often marked by country. In 2001 John Paul II met Greek Orthodox leaders on Greek soil, the first pope in 950 years to do so. During the 1500s, Reformation Protestant groups broke from Catholicism. Splits multiplied ever since, into 500 denominations Harvey Cox says. In turn, twenty plus groups of Mennonites exist (noted to exclude each other).

Before 1960 when most Christians presumed that God did not make use of other religions, Catholics questioned Protestant and Orthodox truth—were their members ‘really Christian” or sure of salvation? Many Evangelicals now resist interreligious dialogue and openness endorsed by Vatican II. College professor Rita Gross wonders why people cannot just receive and enhance religious diversity. Why not live together in peace rather than require the same teachings or debate which is more relevant? “Why worry about whether or not [others] believe in Jesus Christ as the only savior, regard the Qur’an as the deity’s final revelation to humanity, or meditate correctly on emptiness?” She values Buddhist growth free from intent to become the only religion.9

For more than twelve centuries after Constantine, Christians believed in only one true religion—its own—and only one savior—Jesus. The classical position formed during the 15th century Council of Florence states: “No one remaining outside the Catholic Church, not just pagans, but also Jews or heretics or schismatics, can become partakers of eternal life.”10 Arrogant and likely based on limited exposure to others, that view has shaped Christian thought and action for centuries. Will repentance follow, for example, for refusing to eat with Jews or presuming to replace them as “God’s chosen,” I wonder.11

Sharing the burden of exclusion calls for honest self-critique, for vision that believes change is needed and possible. Jeannine Hill Fletcher says that taking another seriously means taking “responsibility for the negative impact of past theology . . . moving beyond exclusivist tendencies and their material outcomes.” Haunted by past habits of oppressing other faiths, Christians need to practice the Golden Rule, learned from other religions. To learn from them without destroying their distinctness means to embrace and relate to what inspires their faith.12

An alternative to exclusivism, called inclusivism, emerged out of the Council of Trent during the 16th century. It credits non-Christians with moral actions and belief. More open toward people who do not claim Jesus as Savior, inclusivists still require others to convert to faith in him before death. After Vatican II, 1962-65, the Roman Church called this model its ‘official’ one. Convinced that Jesus set the norm for Divine intent for everyone, what value or truth others knew prepared them to see Jesus as God’s final disclosure.13 Did Christians have no need for further preparation?

Asian Christian leaders often need to teach western counterparts; some tried at the 1938 International Missionary Council held in New Delhi, others during Vatican II discussion. Shaped by daily encounters with other living faiths, Catholic Asian bishops explained that “unique alone” or “better than” language counters empathy toward their cultures. Since talk about “Jesus as the one and only Savior” creates hostility, many Asians prefer to speak about Jesus as the “Teacher of Wisdom, the Healer, the Liberator, or Compassionate Friend of the Poor.” Such titles commend qualities of Jesus’ without denying that other religious figures are also special. Many Asians also endorse a “Kingdom-centered” purpose for church—follow Jesus’ call to enable God’s Reign. Convinced that God truly calls us in Christ, Christians need not presume that our call is the only one that God offers to all people.14 That religious difference will always exist enhances all.

Pluralism, a third, more recent part of the exclusive-inclusive typology, sanctions multiple ways to achieve salvation. Early proponents John Hick and Paul Knitter know that not all religions express the same thing. Knitter credits more than one view: Jesus’ revelation of the “universal, active presence of God,”15 and Buddhist’ effort to rid the self of desire—to attain nirvana.

Pluralism suggests that while Jesus’ message of salvation extends to all, God also enables other messages. Commitment to Jesus’ Good News need not cause Christians to deny or downplay release known through other faiths. They need not boast of the ‘best’ or ‘final,’ even if distinct. Other religions reflect the Divine as adherents love the neighbor, work for justice, or pursue meaning for life in their unique ways.16 Not suggesting relativism—that all religions are equally true—pluralism credits religions that value Mystery, provide meaning, uphold solid ethics, and liberate diverse people. As Jesus is the way, truth, and life for Christians, so other names save, other truth about God or ways to live with purpose enhance diverse traditions.17 Such pluralism does not judge other religions as false or servants of false gods while it alone is true—a ‘trademark’ of exclusion. Nor does it call the other an ‘anonymous Christian,’ as Karl Rahner describes with inclusion. Christian pluralists will trust adherents faithful to other religions to be created in God’s image, expressive of God’s love, and seekers of God’s fullness.

Other options occur. Hill Fletcher explains how each of the types might approach sameness. While exclusion rejects religious difference, inclusion seeks Christ within another religion based on what is the same. And the pluralist can, without naming Christ as the source, seek sameness by minimizing what in fact differs. A new theology of religious pluralism that invites deep, overlapping engagement with people of living faiths would help, she believes.18 Hans Kung names four claims other than the trio discussed here: no religion is true; only one religion is true; every religion is true; and one religion is the true one in whose truth all religions participate.19

Paul Knitter, retired Xavier University professor wrote Introducing the Theologies of Religions in 2002. Intent to find a model to enable study across cultures and all religions, he brings alternate terms to the categories. Knitter identifies models through the thought of key spokesmen, models that he re-names: Replacement / “Only one true religion,” Fulfillment / “The One Fulfills the Many,” and Mutuality / “Many True Religions Called to Dialogue.” To these he adds a fourth titled Acceptance / ”Many True Religions: So Be It.” Without disclosing preference, Knitter’s gentle spirit honors people’s views and reveals “intellectual empathy.”

But all people bring bias to thinking. Past experience shapes us. Perhaps because a feminist, I question terms like mutuality. Through generations of patriarchy, of not being mutual, can those long dominant in practice or thought become authentically mutual? Perhaps because a Protestant, I notice Knitter’s Roman Catholic leaning. Perhaps as a Mennonite with ‘red flags’ toward certain demands for conserving, I resent being classed with all Evangelicals.

Perhaps because I dislike ‘boxes,’ I also resist categories. Feminism has helped me to value ambiguity and difference. Although typologies organize views, they also impose. They express an interpreter’s meanings. Such ‘boxes’ might express control, placing limits on another person. Cummings Neville notes the ‘pernicious’ reality of types. They deny that religions [or people] change as they engage in life.20 I prefer to value both change and a hybrid nature within people. For, we blend different positions. Even missioner Lesslie Newbigin claims both to reflect and reject all three types of the exclusive-inclusive-pluralist typology.21

Jeannine Hill-Fletcher observes inherently hybrid religions’ intersection with differences from other hybrid religions. Therein, religious identity shifts. Connecting does not dissolve differences, but categories form borders of inside and outside. Diversity within reflects hybrid strength. To judge religions as the same loses part of “God’s abundant mystery.” To perceive of them as too diverse to intersect overlooks their common ground. Both situations limit engagement. Yet, religious people describe the world in varied ways. While Christians depict it through the story of God, Christ, and salvation, Buddhists explain it through Nothingness and Nirvana. While Hindus talk about God’s many forms that shape the world, Muslims and Jews defend God as God alone.22

Feminists value both diversity and connection. Hill Fletcher calls readers to rethink status as multiple and hybrid, whereas each “tripartite typology” restricts the other from being distinct. “Positions of sameness and difference both function to distance otherness.”23 To highlight another’s sameness actually rejects her otherness; to stress difference often limits connection. Further, defined by Christians, the types reflect Christian ‘norms.’

Religions—meaning “complex wholes of belief, symbol, and practice that shape an adherent’s way of life and experience of reality”—are communal. Their internal mix develops. What binds adherents reveals what they exclude. Each religion becomes an interplay. “There is no ‘Christian’ identity, only Christian identities.”24 To confirm hybrid identity connects across multiple difference without erasing the distinct.

We proceed to the typology outlined by Paul Knitter. Although God desires that all be saved, for the Replacement model, only one way exists through which people find and experience God, truth, and salvation—Jesus. Other ways, presumed to be deficient, must be replaced, in whole or part. Advocates seek reasons for this model in select scriptures. Dialogue, while done with respect, reflects “holy competition.” Knitter named groups that support this stance: Fundamentalists/Evangelicals among Christians, with spokesman Karl Barth, plus Fundamentalist Muslims, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Nichiren Buddhists.

Other writers discuss the Replacement model often called exclusive. Cummings Neville explains that advocates, believing that only their religion is true, often negate other religions. Others are simply ignored or wrongly presented; accurate knowledge might lessen the intent to convert them or call for genuine respect. He longs for an approach free of types that reduce people to a static position, that reduce the other to my religious kind, or that reduce what another may say, mean, or do.25

Hill Fletcher recalls how church history fortified the exclusivist stance. The stance “limits knowledge of God to Christian sources and leaves little room for real conversation with those of other faiths.” Convinced to safeguard God’s work in Jesus—as unique, definitive, complete revelation—and hardly aware of mystery, advocates judge others to be wrong. So, why listen to or expect to learn from neighbors of other religions? Why admit that viewing God as ‘the Christian God’ makes one resistant to broad insight into divine Mystery? Many who claim “Jesus as the only Savior” lack deep knowledge of other living faiths, other ways to be transformed.26

Knitter’s model called Fulfillment presumes more Roman Catholic influence with Karl Rahner and Jacques Dupuis as key voices. Change came with Vatican II, in part through the ‘historic milestone’ Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) document. It advises the Roman church to: more closely examine its relation to other religions; recognize varied religious programs; deal jointly with Muslims for peace, social justice, and moral values; improve relations with Jews; and look again at Peter and Paul’s conduct among Gentiles (Rom 12:18; 1 Pet 2:12)27

The document called the Catholic Church to reject nothing true and holy in religions. With respect, it observes their conduct, precepts, and teachings as source of Truth for all people. Writers, however, credit others’ ‘good’ as preparation for the fullness of the gospel (preparatio evangelica).28 Wesley Ariarajah cautions that Nostra Aetate credits people of other religions with salvation, not the religions themselves. It points to “good things” in other religions while holding the Christian faith as superior.

Rahner’s Fulfillment view did, however, stun others—non-Christian religions can be “a positive means of gaining right relationship with God . . . being positively included in God’s plan of salvation.”29 Yet, this model insists that Christ fulfills longing in all religions. It presumes that adherents of other faiths seek sameness with Christians, not that Christians value others’ distinctness.30 Whether known or not, people know salvation through Christ’s mediation; Rahner called them “anonymous Christians.” Whether Christians would welcome being called ‘anonymous Hindus’ by Hindus who value their distinct way to ‘cross over the shore’ perhaps depends on Rahner’s meaning: honorary or unclaimed.

Those who by mid-1900 saw dangers in exclusivism also turned to scripture and doctrine to shape the Fulfillment view. Thinking that God desires all people to be saved, inclusivists named Jesus Christ as the Spirit’s unique mediator. They marked other religions with partial truth, which led to salvation if followers conformed to the one true religion.31 Kind toward truth in others, they regarded their own faith as whole, as having the ‘best’ truth. Knitter names groups that hold this model ‘mainline’: Lutheran, Reformed and Methodist; Anglican, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic.32

Knitter’s third model called Mutuality stresses God’s universal love and presence in religions. It affirms difference and seeks common threads within faiths. It avoids absolute or final claims as well as relativism. (“That many religions are true does not mean that all are true.”) Uniqueness is affirmed: “the unique truth of each religion is really and universally true, but not solely and definitively true.”33

Each tradition deserves honor. The mutual or pluralist posture values distinct qualities in religions, Reformed speaker Shirley Guthrie says.34 For him, Christians with a pluralistic view believe that Jesus is “the way, truth, and life” for them. With multiple paths to God, Jesus is one way, not the only way for people to know God. In other words, Christians are saved through Jesus’ name; other people of faith know other saving ‘names,’ other ways that give life meaning. Faith exists in God; believers credit God “at work saving in all” faithful groups.35

The Mutuality model expands ideas about God’s Reign and terms like truly. I value Knitter’s explication. Christians proclaim Jesus as a universal savior, not the world’s only savior. While we confess that “Jesus truly embodies and expresses God’s love,” we avoid saying that he does so solely or fully. Not the whole of God, Jesus is wholly God. Other religious figures may also be wholly God.36 Others disclose God’s intent.

Fearful of openness inherent to Mutuality, some promote what Knitters calls Acceptance. This model reflects a post-liberal, comparative theology of religions. Not desiring more religions, just let others be: their diverse language, experience, and absolute claims. Differences will always remain. A key thinker, S. Mark Heim sees plurality in both religions and God. To be either human or divine makes friendship important. Adherents of each religion see the world from their own perspective; they each perceive theirs to be better in some way. Free to both integrate and be distinct, “Any final prize goes to the religion that can best call the other religions together.”37 Via personal truth, each learns and listens—to seek deeper truth or common solutions to problems.

A review of Knitter’s Theologies of Religions by K. P. Aleaz from India caught my attention. Aleaz strongly critiques the Anglo-American schools of thought for failing to duly learn from people and situations elsewhere. For him, “a Christian theology of religions will be one in a series along with Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist theologies of religions, if genuinely comparativist or global.”38 He boldly judges the historic typology. To partially quote Aleaz:

Exclusivism is its own rejection. . . The character and content of revelation in Jesus itself denies exclusivism. Further, there is no real inclusivism in Inclusivism; it is disguised exclusivism. The Christ of inclusivism is preformulated exclusively by Christians. It will become really inclusivism only when people of other faiths contribute to the understanding of Christ in and through whom God gives salvation.

Aleaz calls his alternative to western schemes Pluralistic Inclusivism. His model “makes Pluralism inclusive and Inclusivism pluralistic.”39 Christians expect people of other faiths to make major contributions to their Christian faith. People of faith consider other faiths to be their own—common property, a resource for common use. The others’ ‘otherness’ no longer exists. This approach seems akin to Jesus’ value of tax collectors (‘code’ for included insiders) and ‘gentiles’ like Rahab, who are declared part of God’s people in Matthew 18:17.

That which is considered “supremely important and unique” to each faith mutually interacts and is transformed. Each affirms the other’s superiority. Claims regarding Jesus and claims regarding the Qur’an are equally valid and enriching, Aleaz observes. They converge. He further credits India’s Thomas Christians with a pluralist posture of acceptance with Hindus ever since the first century C.E.40 “The richness of one’s own religious experience grows by mutual giving and receiving in terms of Pluralistic Inclusivism.”

Not parallel to the traditional types, Karkkainen’s scheme also deserves mention. Not implying that the approaches compete or that each developed from the one prior, his terms41 are ecclesiocentrism, Christocentrism, and theocentrism, plus Realitycentrism. Terms suggest the focus for salvation as church, Christ, or God. Ecclesiocentrism names the church as locus for expressing God’s dealing with people through the mediator Christ; salvation occurs through the church. Salvation in and through Christ—a unique, normative and superior figure—is available within and beyond the church in Christocentrism. God’s grace and salvation extend to other religions in Theocentrism. God-centered, it names Christ as one possible mediator and the church as one among other publics. Not limited to talk about a personal, theistic God, Realitycentrism speaks of the ultimate as Reality. More elastic, this term includes groups without a clear god-concept, like Buddhism.

Wesley Ariarajah, Sri Lankan who teaches at Drew Seminary, calls for a new review of theology of religions. Building on Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s insight, Christians will see the limits of doctrines, creeds and theologies, all of which are ‘human constructs.’ Plurality of religions will be essential along with mutual respect for all religions. Further, religious language will be valued for what it is—confessional thought—rather than claiming literal interpretations of select texts as ‘official.’42

For Ariarajah, exclusion with its claim of being superior stems from a context of power. Such power reflects the fourth century legacy of Constantine who could not cope with division, with many. Such power also prompted colonial mission to insist that God relates in only one way. Such power promotes arrogance—“we are right and everyone else must be wrong.” Much Protestant mission in Asia devalued other religious traditions. Ariarajah names three problems: first, ‘salvation history’ posed as the church’s being chosen instead of Judaism (supersessionism) “to be God’s redeemed people.” Second, Karl Barth’s sharp setting apart of the gospel from religions and cultures. Third, distorting context with select texts—like, saying that God is known only through Jesus.43

To understand God’s world and how exclusion shapes Christian thought, I note several biblical texts starting with an ancient, Hebrew prophet. In 9:7 Amos’s vision heralds God’s reprimand: “Are not you Israelites like Cushites to me? Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, the Aramaeans from Kir?” God’s rule over all the nations is evenhanded. As obscure Cushite, Ethiopian tribes were enslaved and exploited before delivered, so Israel was brought up from the land of Egypt. As God uprooted and gave land to little known Aramaean nations, so God controlled and maintained interest in Philistine’ destiny, alongside Israel.

Israel’s problem, in Amos’ mind, was its ignorance and arrogance. It presumed that it alone was Yahweh’s people. The prophet brought the fact of pluralism to their narrow view, their narrow faith. Even those who they hated were part of God’s care; freed from oppression through Yahweh’s great deeds, they shaped themselves in new ways. Indeed, “Salvation history” cannot be limited to one track. Israel was jolted from expecting others to conform to their religion (reductionism). Israel needed to wake up as Christianity today needs to descend from its pedestal that expects God to receive others only through one means of salvation—Jesus. For, we too have no way to measure the breadth of God’s action or acceptance.44

With the One God reigning over the world, the same rules apply: each nation answers for its behavior and attitude. Not a national deity, like implied in “God bless America” lingo, the Divine intervenes with all groups. While each nation is distinct, none is privileged. Each remains duty-bound to care for others rather than oppress. Impartial, God’s relation with Israel does not exclude special relations with others. Amos critiqued prejudice and bigotry. He knew the wisdom of a children’s song: “Red, brown, yellow, black and white, all are precious in God’s sight.”

Long before this prophet addressed the people, God had shared the first, universal covenant with Noah’s family. With flood waters receding, God made a covenant, the sign for which is the rainbow. This ancient Noahdite promise extends into our future. Later chosen to the special task of telling others of God’s welcome, Jews knew that the ‘cosmic’ promise to Noah held firm for all nations. Religious faith—whether of Job, Rahab or Cornelius’—revealed right relationship with God. To fear God by living justly was basic to covenant. Our task still honors, rather than excludes, any search for holiness. For, as “Israel’s faith came to be what it was through encounter with non-Israelite religions and cultures,”45 so Christians meet our world of Muslims, Star Trek and Microsoft.

Ariarajah observes,46 that the church has yet to credit Jesus’ gift of salvation without denying that “God may have many ways to bring people to their intended destiny.” We do well to pattern our Hebrew heritage, convinced that God is ‘God of the nations.’ Our global task is to live compassion, to establish God’s shalom or peace throughout the world. Like Abraham outside his tent at Mamre in Hebron on a hot day, we encounter strangers who provide insight into the Holy when we support their faith.

The lens through which people meet the Divine varies. Christians evoke God’s mystery through Trinity. Jews use an alternate term for the sacred name Yahweh/”I Am”—Adonai. While Muslims do not image God in any form, Hindus speak of many gods but mean the same Ultimate One. And Buddhists speak of a “far shore—a reality that we cannot grasp but may awaken to.” As Harvard professor Diana Eck says, objects, names and images become the lens for meeting the Ultimate, known to our neighbor as God, Nirvana, Brahman or Allah.47 Of such unity yet diversity is this, God’s world. William Blake’s poem “The Divine Image” ends: “And all must love the human form, In heathen, Turk, or Jew // Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell, There God is dwelling too.”48

A New Testament text often cited, often misused or disputed, is Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Not an interreligious setting, the context was a Jewish healing event. As Peter and John enter the temple, they meet a man lame from birth. Peter offers all that he could—“in the name of Jesus, walk.” Peter offers a symbol of Jesus’ presence—healing. To which act, the Jewish temple leaders ask, “By what power or name did you do this?”

Convinced that God’s Spirit had really acted through Jesus’ name, in his life and resurrection, followers like Peter confess how he transformed them. Not that some magic or power was theirs, the disciples celebrate their faith. They express love language. As at Pentecost, Peter witnesses to the man’s healing. Not excluding other names or stating that no one else can teach, Peter shows his thanks for the freedom that Jesus models. That others may lack such healing power is Peter’s faith-confession.49

Kwok Pui-lan, fine Chinese bible scholar at Episcopal Divinity, stresses that the Bible should not be used to oppress anyone or group. She finds a link between exclusion of others and the concept of election. I ask, might Christians mistake the point of Israel’s election—privilege—when they presume to replace Judaism as ‘chosen’? Might diverse religions be excluded, to set Jesus apart as the only Way to be saved? Exclusion distorts texts. Not for privilege, Jewish scholars feel chosen to tell the nations of God’s inclusive Way. As Israel’s service to the nations was marred by Christian oppression, so Christians will be judged for excluding other traditions.

Another text often cast as dogma or skewed to ‘bless’ exclusion is John 14:6. Responding to Thomas’ question, “How can we know the way?” (that Jesus would take to reach God), Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That ‘No one comes / except’ language may not have been part of Jesus’ statement. It could reflect anti-Judaism common at that time. It has blessed exclusion through Christian history. Christians who presume that they are “in” point to others saying, “You’re out,” near-relishing the judgmental contrast. During the Last Supper, a close meal with the Twelve, John’s text records Jesus actions: he washes their feet, predicts his betrayal, warns that the world will hate them, and tries to comfort their emotions. Thomas, often a figure to represent common views, later declares “My Lord & my God.”

Here Thomas admits lack of know-how for reaching God. Not boasting, Jesus claims to be the way to God, for those who follow him. For humble Christians, he shows and lives the way of suffering love. For those committed to self-sacrifice, he sets an example. Having lived intimately with God, he shares the truth learned in that bond. God’s being impartial means that no one is favored over others. For, the Way which is open to Ways lets God decide who to include. Even Thomas would see the idolatry of trying to decide in God’s stead.

I conclude with a paragraph from an earlier article.

Krister Stendahl notes that the Christian tendency toward exclusiveness is rooted in the fact that although Jesus preached [God’s] kingdom, the church preached Jesus. [Harold Coward, Pluralism Challenge to World Religions, 34] What results from those two messages is quite different, I believe. People of living faiths feel included in God’s universal kingdom. To emphasize the messenger Jesus alone—unique as his role is in God’s redemptive work for Christians—can fail to faithfully convey Jesus’ central message of God’s Reign.50