Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 23, 2005
Model God's alternative society
Lutheran bishop calls for justice for all
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Being holy has nothing to do with one's personal qualities, contends Bishop Raymond Schultz, the national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
Speaking at the Social Justice Institute May 12, the bishop said personal qualities such as capability, moral perfection and success are irrelevant in the pursuit of holiness because holiness comes from God.
He said Abraham and his descendants became holy people because God recruited them to be a people who belong to God alone, not because of their personal qualities.
Our lives are in trust
"The holiness comes from God; we inherit it by association," he said. "Our lives are held in trust for God's purposes."
But that's not how much of the economic world works. "The economic world looks for individual achievement and outstanding personal attributes," Shultz said.
"To become a saint by the world standards, one has to excel in his own person. Competition is the central rule of the game. Being the last one standing is the most important thing. Being the only one standing is even better."
In fundamentalist religious terms, this comes out as making sure one gets to heaven even if others have to go to hell, the bishop said at the institute.
"Finding some assurance of salvation is a big issue. In black-and-white religion, you get saved by doing the right things or believing the right things.
"God, however, is the creator of the universe (and) can do whatever God wants by way of materialism and power. God does not need us to do these things. What God seeks to accomplish with us is mutual belonging and inclusion."
Schultz, who became national bishop in 2001, gave the keynote address before 200 people at the May 12-14 Social Justice Institute at Newman Theological College. His lecture was New Century, New Hope: Biblical Values for Renewing the World.
"Our God is a relational world," the bishop told institute participants. "Christianity is not a religion of solitary believers; it is a community called together."
Christians confess a faith in a God who is actually a community of three persons who are so completely bonded to each other, they are, in fact, one. "We call that community the Trinity (and) God's Christian name is Father, Son, Holy Spirit," he said. "So God reaches out to humankind in order to include us in that mystical union."
God's sole purpose with Israel was to recruit a people who would have no identity apart from that of belonging to God and each other.
But thanks to the ministry of the Apostles Paul, Barnabas and Peter, that invitation to belong was extended to all nationalities (Galatians 3:6-9).
"Therefore, any religion, any culture, any economic system, any legal system that does not include among the privileged those who are the lowest, the least and the lost, is not a just or righteous society," Schultz said. "Grace and mercy toward all is the core of God's household: Having cannot take precedence over belonging."
This, however, is a foreign concept in our society, where advertising and motivational literature promote the idea that you are what you make of yourself. "If you have enough of the right stuff - opportunity, looks, attitude, capital, connections - you can become someone."
Unlike British soap operas where the rich are usually suspect, in American soaps the wealthy are idolized, Schultz pointed out.
"Yes, you are corrupt, but the corruption is portrayed as the struggle that gives life its meaning. Prevailing over a corrupt society is portrayed as a higher good than building a better society.
"In contrast, the role of the people of God is to model an alternative society in the face of the rest of the world's societies."
In his presentation, Schultz related the story of the Hebrews living under oppression in Egypt. Moses had gone into self-exile and was living happily as a shepherd.
But God called him and refused to take "no" for an answer.
"People cannot be abandoned when systemic injustice is underway," the bishop said. "Simply to escape oneself is not enough.
"Justice must be made available to all or it is not justice."
Reading from Scripture, Schultz said the story of the plagues is a symbol of how creation itself rebels when God's desire for exclusivity is violated.
"Giant powers have a way of fouling their own nest so that it is no longer suitable for supporting even their own life," he said.
"In our part of history, we experience these plagues as antibiotic-resistant bacteria, industrial pollution, radioactive waste, urban decay, recurring engagement in wars and ecological devastation."
The wheel turns
Schultz said a country or a corporation that cares nothing for justice towards outsiders will eventually be unjust to its own people too.
"So the Israelites are reminded that when they build a society, it is to be a society that is different from all that. There will be major changes to the systems by which people are overworked, impoverished and deprived of dignity."
The Lord initiated these changes by declaring the seventh day a Sabbath, a day of rest from all work (Exodus 20:10-11).
"Acquisition and achievement are not to be ends in themselves," Shultz said. "They are intended to be resources for community.
" The goal is to have time for family and community. (After all), life is intended to include contemplation, art and conversation."
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