Where do people go to heal from the abuses that sick churches inflict upon them to save their souls? More than a few go to seminary.
Many of own my students, at least, have told me very disturbing things about growing up in their churches, beginning with stories about being judged mercilessly. They asked too many questions, expressed too many doubts, and failed to live up to their (imperfect) elders’ ideas about what a true believer should be like.
Worst of all, it seemed to their fellow believers, they entertained the possibility that people of other faiths might be loved by God just as much as they were.
By the time these beaten-up students got to my seminary, they were wondering whether they would ever fully recover from their churches’ mistreatment. But they were also hoping that learning more about what religion is at its best would help.
It did help. But it also made their pain worse. It made the incongruities all the more apparent between what their churches stood for and how their churches acted.
One thing, they learned well: if there is in fact only one way toward a transforming relationship with God, as John 14:6 says there is, that way is nevertheless very different from what it has often been understood to be.
The first step on this better way is to leave the judging of others to an Authority more perfect than human beings can ever be. The next steps are toward grace-filled, uncompromising loving and serving without conditions, especially of people who do not love us and who do not serve anybody but themselves.
More and more people today are rejecting the idea that there is one and only one way to salvation. And they are discovering that acknowledging other ways of being religious does not have to diminish confidence in their own way. It only indicates a greater humility about the capacity of any one religion or religious group to discern the mind and will of God for everyone else.
It is not what a religious tradition affirms that can make believers’ lives miserable. It is what that tradition requires them to deny. Honoring Jesus more than Moses and Muhammad, or more than the Brahmins, the Buddha, Confucius, and Lao-Tsu, does not have to mean loving less those who know enough to honor them all.