Jeff Johnson | Congressional Bureau Chief | Friday, August 22, 2003
The American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC), an organization that began as a project of Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), believes the key to "true and lasting peace in the Middle East" is reconciliation between members of the world's three largest religions.
"Jews, Christians and Muslims must come together to heal divisions of the past, to stand together in a moment of repentance and reconciliation, and thus, tear down the walls that separate us as people of faith," said Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, Jr., of the independent Imani Temple African American Catholic congregation in Washington, D.C.
The ACLC held a symposium in New York Thursday on Jewish-Christian-Muslim reconciliation and Middle East peace entitled "Harmony Amongst the Children of Abraham." Stallings, who serves as national chairman of the executive committee of the ACLC, told CNSNews.com by telephone that part of that reconciliation involves assessing how Christian traditions are perceived by people of other faiths.
"We have realized that, as expressions of faith, there are certain symbols that have stood in the way," Stallings said. "The cross has served as a barrier in bringing about a true spirit of reconciliation between Jews and also between Muslims and Christians, and thus, we have sought to remove the cross from our Christian churches across America as a sign of our willingness to remove any barrier that stands in the way of us coming together as people of faith."
Michael Schwartz of Concerned Women for America - a biblically based, public policy women's organization - was shocked at Stallings' assessment.
"If a Christian objected to a Star of David or a Crescent, we would know that person is a bigot. When a Jew or Muslim objects to the display of the cross by Christians, we know the same thing about that person," Schwartz said. "To tear down our religious symbols, to uproot our traditions is not the way to reconciliation, but rather, to recognize with respect, our own and the traditions of others is the way to true reconciliation.
"Just imagine if some misguided Christian were to suggest that the Jews have to take away their symbol and the Muslims would have to take away their symbol, not display it in public any longer," Schwartz continued. "That would be identified instantly as a statement of intolerance. Reconciliation and peace do not grow out of intolerance."
Cross is symbol of 'religious intolerance, forced conversions...racism'
Stallings acknowledges that the cross is central to teaching people about the saving grace offered through Christ's death and resurrection but, he argued, Christians have also used the cross to send other messages.
"We have held up this cross in the face of Jews to say, 'If it had not been for your rejection of Jesus, our Messiah would never have been crucified," Stallings added. "We also know that the cross has stood as a barrier in Christian-Muslim relationships because we have held up our cross as a superior faith, that we - as Christians - are superior over the Muslims."
Stallings added that "a history of religious intolerance, forced conversions, inquisitions and even racism as used by white supremacists" also follows the cross through Christian history.
"The cross does not, by any means, symbolize a 'history of religious intolerance, forced conversions, inquisitions or racism,'" Schwartz responded tersely. "That is an outrageously bigoted statement."
Rev. Phillip Schanker, vice president of the FFWPU, said getting Christian pastors to remove the cross from their churches involves more than just taking down a symbol.
"There are divergent theological understandings centered around the cross," Schanker said. "So, it's not just the symbol we're dealing with."
While Christians may view the cross as the symbol of Christ's sacrificial death to pay for their sins, Schanker agreed with Stallings that Jews and Muslims have different perceptions. Jewish tradition does not recognize Christ as the savior, and Islamic teachings deny that it was Jesus who was crucified.
Christians, Schanker said, need to consider those disparate beliefs and ask themselves if the symbolism of the cross is worth maintaining the divisions it allegedly creates.
"It's a matter of overcoming the religious arrogance, the religious chauvinism, the narrow-mindedness, the judgmentalism that often comes from insecurity," Schanker said.
Schwartz agreed that a judgmental attitude is a problem, but he said it appears those opposed to the display of the cross are the ones suffering from it.
"To paraphrase the man who died on the cross for our sins and the sins of Mr. Schanker and all those Muslims and Jews," Schwartz said, "they ought to take care of the beam in their own eye before they look at the speck in their brother's eye."
Schanker accused those who disagree with the anti-cross movement of overreacting.
"I'm sure, for some narrow-minded Christians, it seems like we're undermining or denying the very foundations of Christian belief. Not at all; nobody is questioning the salvific role or Jesus' sacrificial position," Schanker said. "But we're recognizing from within New Testament understanding that Jesus transcended the cross. Let's not continue crucifying him. That's not where he is."
Schwartz laughed in response to Schanker's statement.
"Getting these lectures on Christology from somebody who's announced himself as an enemy of the cross is really amusing," Schwartz said, recalling a comment made by a little girl in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago in reference to prayer in Stalin's Soviet Union.
"Everyone is allowed to pray, as long as no one hears but God," Schwartz quoted. "This is the degree of religious liberty that Mr. Schanker will allow to the one religion that he apparently thinks ought never to speak its name or show its face."
Schwartz found it telling that a group founded by the leader of the "Moonies" would call together Muslims and Jews to renounce "the universal symbol of Christianity as something hateful.
"In the interest of peace, the three who believe that Jesus Christ was not God want to stifle the one who believes that Jesus Christ was God," Schwartz observed. "Is that peace through conquest, peace through surrender, peace through requiring that Christians cease proclaiming their Christianity? That is not an offer of peace."
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