If God is great and God is goodThat's from the song "Heaven So Small," by Susan Werner (pictured at above right), on her new album "The Gospel Truth."
Why is your heaven so small?
I heard her on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday this morning and immediately flashed on the Phelps family. Of course, they are just one example of religious haters.
Different religious traditions often hate others: Muslims and Jews both trace their heritage back to Abraham, but are at each others' throats. The Crusades were partly intended to bring Christianity to the Muslim world, either by conversion or by killing off Muslims. The conflict between India and Pakistan has a lot to do with conflicts between Hindus and Muslims -- aggravated by Christians during the British control of the subcontinent.
But even within religious traditions there is a lot of hate. We see it in the conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq right now, but the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland has always brought the conflict home to me -- perhaps because a chunk of my ancestors were Irish. If people who come from the same ethnic background and worship the same God as Christians are killing each other in the name of that God, somebody clearly wasn't listening to Jesus. (I've got my fingers crossed about the recent resolution of this fight.)
And yes, I know that all those conflicts also have a lot to do with politics and money, but religion always fans the flames. People who are not willing to fight to make their leaders wealthy will often enthusiastically go to war if they're told it's in the name of God.
This hate in the name of God exists in many smaller venues. I recall once visiting a Baptist Sunday School class with a friend. The teacher spent most of the time telling us how evil Roman Catholics were, and then, realizing that she had guests, said, "I hope none of you are Catholic." I regret to this day that I didn't say "I am."
In Washington, D.C., the local joke is that the most segregated hour of the week is 11 AM on Sunday morning -- an embarrassing legacy of slavery and its aftermath.
The Episcopal Church -- the church of my childhood and once a denomination associated more with wealth and privilege than anything else -- has become one of the few established churches trying to open its doors to all. There are historically black and historically white Episcopal congregations, but they're starting to merge. The church was one of the earliest to ordain women, and then to accept gays in the priesthood and now even as bishops. This has caused conflict within the church -- and even more within the larger Anglican communion -- but the Episcopalians are struggling to survive these fights while remaining open to all.
Alas, the Phelps family is only one of the more extreme examples of those who call themselves Christians but preach a gospel of hate.
The Episcopalians appear to have a very expansive view of heaven. With Susan Werner, I ask all the religious haters, "Why is your heaven so small?"