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Questioning Our Religious Leaders

Angela Kim

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Rev. Marian Hale
(Donna Hurt)
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Our pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and shamans can sometimes say some outrageous things their congregations don't agree with. Just ask Sen. Barack Obama about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or Sen. John McCain about John Hagee. Our listeners sent in their own stories of outrageous moments in religion, and how it influenced their own spiritual journey.

I was raised in Canada, and every year we studied the history of the British Empire the way students here cover the history of the Civil War. And when I turned 13, our focus was on India. I did some extra reading about Hinduism, reincarnation, and especially about Mahatma Gandhi, and I became very concerned about being a Christian.

So I asked our minister (Anglican) if I could speak with him. The afternoon that we met, I began: "Sir, you know where the Bible says 'God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that all who believe in Him should have eternal life?'"

"Yes." He agreed that he was familiar with this quote.

"Well, what about Gandhi? He was a very gentle, very wise man, but he was a Hindu. As a Christian, do I have to believe that he's roasting in Hell?"

The minister swallowed hard. "Yes, Heaven is only for Christians, Marian." I thanked him and went home for dinner.

For the next several years, I stayed in the church. I loved both singing in the choir and the ritual of the Sunday service. But looking back now, I realize that, in every meaningful way -- emotionally, philosophically, spiritually -- I left the church right then.

I respect this man, especially because he didn't try to find a fluffy answer that I could accept. He stayed in his integrity, and by doing that, completely unintentionally, he freed me to think more independently because the God he spoke of was one I wanted nothing to do with.

I began to imagine a God-layer surrounding the planet, with different representatives extending down to the surface for the various cultural groups. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Gitchimanitou, etc. -- all were part of this picture.

I am now an interfaith wedding minister, uniting couples from different faith backgrounds at the beginning of their lives together. I am convinced that this conversation with my Anglican minister many years ago started me along this path. And I completely love doing what I do!

Rev. Marian Hale
Evanston, Ill.

I attend a conservative Catholic church in Winter Park, a very hoity-toity neighborhood outside Orlando. One Christmas morning, the cute little Irish priest told an anti-Semitic joke from the pulpit. The gist of the joke was that a Catholic man's son went to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage and ended up converting to Judaism. He was praying about it when the voice of God answered back and said, "Yeah, how do you think I feel?" The congregation laughed for a few seconds, thought better of it, and then all roughly 1,000 of us faded out and left the joke hanging there in the air like a fart. I often feel separate from my well-dressed, upper class neighbors in church, but that Christmas morning was a great equalizer. The next Sunday the priest apologized, for which I really respect him .

Bronwen West
Winter Park, Fla.

I've found that most black ministers and Christians support pro-choice candidates, even though the Scriptures clearly states we should protect innocent life. When questioned, the typical response is there are other issues. I all ways ask if given a choice, lose all your worldly possessions or your life which do you chose? The unborn children would make the same choice. No other issue matters if you don't have life.

My pastor agrees to disagree. I continue to worship at my church. I've decided to educate how the Scripture mandates we do something to protect the unborn child.

Ray Young
St. Louis, Mo.

When I was living in London, the priest of my local Catholic church announced there were going to have a series of Catholic theological speakers on various issues that addressed the differences between Catholics and Protestants. It was aimed at the 20-somethings. I was excited because there are several Catholic policies I strongly disagreed with. One by one, I saw academic priests present issues and try to defend them. The issues included calling homosexuality a sin, not allowing women to be priests and telling women what they could and couldn't do with their own bodies (such as take birth control or have an abortion). When their justifications came under fire, they would shrug it off -- we didn't "get it" because he weren't good enough Catholics.

I was livid. I prayed to God to give me guidance. If believing those things made me a Catholic, then I was clearly not a Catholic! But I was something, and I set out to figure out what. I interviewed various religious groups by doing research, visiting their services and asking lots and lots of questions. All along this journey went with me my friend Esther, who was also Catholic and feeling a bit lost growing up in a family where her parents decide they would divide the children and each get two to raise in their own religion. As a result, she was Catholic by birth order. It take long before I found the religion I was -- Quaker -- and I celebrated it! Esther found herself too. She was Catholic, and not just because she was born that way.

April Jervis
Chicago, Ill.

Well, must admit that I was a bit surprised when Jesus didn't arrive on the day that our doomsday cult predicted that he would. Thankfully, I can give the excuse that I was only 12 at the time --a time when I also had the fear that Medusa might some time pop out of my dresser drawer.

Well, you can imagine the credibility of our pastor was severely tarnished. Shortly after, I became an atheist and remain one to this day.

D. Kang
Lakewood, Wash.

Is it possible to have a mature faith and agree with everything any spiritual leader says? I remember being about 7 years old when I first sat through the obligatory sermon against divorce that went along with the reading from Paul that comes around every year in the Roman Catholic church calendar. It always made me sad to hear, since both my mother and grandmother were divorced. I attended Mass every week with mom (grandma went to the earlier service). The idea that these two wonderful women who loved and cared for me were bad people never crossed my mind. The idea that everyone needs to think for themselves, and interpret Scripture and teachings by their own light, certainly did, though.

Mary MacDonald
Hudson, Ohio

  • Music Bridge:
    Lion and Lamb
    Artist: Hater
    CD: Hater (A&M)


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  • By Jerry Stirkey

    From Carlisle, PA, 05/12/2008

    I spent my youth years in a Pentecostal, Assemblies of God Church in my hometown. As did many churches of this and like-minded denominations, a "revival spirit" was all the rage in the late '90s and early 2000s. It was out of control, driven by flesh more than God (in my humble opinion)and died off when people started questioning all of the spirit slayings, messages in tongues and running, jumping and shaking. The true victims in those chaotic times were the youth who were led into that darkness, disguised as light. In retrospect, our spiritual "leaders" in those days were drunk with ambition; competing for the prize of God's most radical outpourings.

    By D. Stoops

    From Fort Wayne, IN, 05/11/2008

    I was raised in a Christian church. In my life I have learned that there is a difference between religion and a personal relationship with God. That relationship is available to all humans regardless of religious affiliation if we earnestly seek it. If you don't believe in God you won't find HIM. When you find Him you find peace and help in sorting out the "rights and wrongs" that we face in life.
    Concerning Barrack Obama most of us have legitimate concerns regarding his judgement as we learn more about the people he has surrounded himself with over the last 20 years. The record speaks more than his current efforts to distance himself from the racist pastor.

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