“Ecumenical” refers to the relationship between Christian churches – specifically that they should have a loving relationship and not blow each other up. Sometimes, ecumenicism extends to Jews and lately there’s been some attempt to include Muslims because they’re People of the Book and descended from Abraham. Rastafarians are also People of the Book and also claim to be descended from Abraham, but they smoke a lotta weed and everybody forgets them.
I take ecumenicism to the furtherest possible extreme. I believe that God has spoken to different peoples in different cultures at different times and given all of them ways of relating to Her that are appropriate to their understanding. So I believe that Lutherans and Roman Catholics and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and South American shamans with feathers through their septums taking ayahuasca and Rastafarians smoking weed and doing dub versions of “Rivers of Babylon” and even Methodists are all acting according to Divine Revelation and are worshiping the One, True Divinity in ways that are acceptable in Her sight. Obviously, I also believe that God is beyond gender – neither male nor female, both male and female – so It’s okay to refer to Her using any pronouns.
To believe that there is only one way of worshiping or relating to God is to divide God’s children into categories of “right” and “wrong”, “saved” and “damned”, “goats” and “sheep”. And that is way outside of the authority that is given to us, cf. Romans 12:19, Matthew 7:1-3. We don’t get to decide who is righteous or what forms of worship are pleasing to God. There are certainly forms of “religious” expression which I personally think are flat-out fuckin’ stupid – Scientology, Satanism and the Church of the Sub-Genius spring to mind – but that is my human opinion and I am very aware that I might be in gross error. I was pretty adamantly opposed to Christianity for a decade or so and now I’m trying to become a pastor, so what do I know? Among my very good friends is an atheist who I regularly go to when I need someone to bounce ideas off of – I have asked her to help me with some self-improvements and given her permission to tell me when I’m acting out of old habits that I’m trying to get rid of. Should she be gathered up and thrown into the fire with the weeds just because she was somewhat traumatized by her childhood among the Jehovah’s Witnesses and turned away from God as a way of freeing herself from a form of bondage? I cannot believe that would be just – and my bible seems less interested in justice than in mercy – Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13.
I have studied many forms of faith and have been enlightened by most. I believe they are all valid perspectives on the Mystery, equally valid attempts by beings who are bound by time and space to relate to something which is infinite and eternal. When I read the Bible, I am informed by other texts. The Book of Job makes sense to me – and seems less vicious – because I have read the Bhagavad Gita. My experience of the immediate presence of God makes sense to me because I understand Zen Buddhism. I learned to really dig into Scripture and fight for comprehension by following the example of Jewish Rabbis. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point.
And that said – I’m a Lutheran. I knew that as soon as I walked into the church. I may’ve mentioned that I’ve been called to become a Lutheran pastor. When I received that call, I had not yet been to a Lutheran service. I was planning on going, but hadn’t quite gotten around to it. So I went to my first Lutheran service knowing that I was going to become a pastor, but otherwise not knowing a fuggin’ thing. Well, I was in a few Episcopal churches – my dad was raised “Whiskey-palian” and he took me to church a couple times after my parents split up – and I knew that Lutherans were the first Protestants, so I kinda expected lots of pageantry and I was not disappointed. I’m a big fan of ritual and ceremony – and I am certain that it is appropriate and right to worship God, the Creator and Sustainer of All that is, was and ever will be and more, with great pomp and fancy outfits on the clergy. I have absolutely no doubt that the Bible is the revealed word of God and that the forms of the Church are pleasing to Her – but I don’t need to claim that other texts and other forms are not.
So then, what about the Judgement? Various people have claimed scriptural authority to back up their claims that God hates the people they hate. And the Bible certainly does contain some condemnations. People who refuse to make cakes for queers are not making things up when they cite the Bible as justification for their bigotry. There’s plenty of opportunity to cherry-pick the Good Book and find excuses to look down on people unlike oneself. There are also plenty of cherries to be picked that contradict those cherries. I am pretty solidly among the Gentiles and Jesus came to lost sheep of Israel – according to Him “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”, Matthew 15:26 – so does that mean I’m under the porch with the other hounds? No – because there are other Scriptures – John 3:16 pops to mind – and the Book has to be taken in it’s entirety. From Genesis to Revelation is something like 2500 years and a lot of things changed in that time. it’s ridiculous to expect total consistency from a document that was written over such a long period, by numerous writers, in several languages, which was then translated and edited. We must approach the Bible with our hearts and minds open to the presence of the Living God who speaks to us through the written word. Martin Luther was pretty adamant about this – and I am too – the Holy Spirit is with us here and now, and is revealed through the Bible. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is present in all things and can be met through many other ways and means, but the Bible is the conduit that has been given to anyone who wishes to open it. And we have reason to believe that it is the totality of the Bible, the essence of it, which transcends the words in ink on paper, which may even appear to contradict the actual text, that is important – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6.
Rabbi Hillel was challenged to preach the Torah while standing on one foot. He did so, saying “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the whole of the Law, the rest is commentary.”
The entirety of the New Testament can be just as easily preached with a foot up, and it is this – “love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself”, Mark 12:30-31.
And so, my answer about judgement is – I dunno. That’s not my job. I’m gonna have a hard enough time loving the assholes and idiots I interact with on a regular basis and reeling under the weight of my own on-going sinfulness. I can’t possibly undertake the task of separating the wheat from the chaff. Thank God, I don’t have to. Some people are pretty opposed to hierarchies in religion and elsewhere, but I’m quite comfortable with the chain of command in the Lutheran system and it don’t bother me at all to say “That is above my pay grade.”
It is given to me to preach the Gospel. The Lutheran church, like many Protestant churches, holds the priesthood of all believers – anyone is ordained to proclaim the Good News. I am on my way to becoming a trained and rostered pastor, to earning a Masters of Divinity and being authorized by the ELCA to wear a fancy dress and administer the Sacraments, which will impress some folks, but which will not give me any more actual authority than anybody else. I cannot and will not say that anyone who pursues any spiritual path other than the one God has pointed out to me is in error.
Here I stand. I can do no other.
(For my favorite version of “Rivers of Babylon” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NcbyzqILd8
For more on separating the wheat from the chaff – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMi2oVIIaIs)