CHRISTIANITY: Thoughts on Christianity and the Bay View Membership controversy. Jesus Christ supported religious tolerance in the parables of the woman at the well and the Good Samaritan. Many of us see the statue of the welcoming Christ, such as in Rio de Janeiro, as the embodiment of a welcoming and inclusive and loving God. On the question of “who is my neighbor” we embrace the teachings of John Wesley and the United Methodist Church. We endorse the United Methodist slogan of “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors”. It wounds the Inclusiveness Group to be accused of trying to eliminate Christianity from Bay View. President Chism accused: “… it is obvious that the plaintiff has been using concerns about Fair Housing and cottage inheritance as a cover for its true goal: the removal of Christianity from Bay View.” That hurt many of us very deeply. The plaintiffs and HUD complainants are all Christians. The basic controversy revolves around two different interpretations of Christianity and how a Christian should act in the modern world. We sincerely believe that Jesus’ teachings means that we should be open to the world and welcoming to persons of a variety of religious views. We also believe that the best way to be a Christian presence in the modern world is to engage broadly, not hunker down into small, doctrinally pure sects. Proliferating sects has been an unfortunate history of Christianity since Christ left this earth. Freedom OF religion is not the same as freedom FROM religion. Far from it. Submitted by an Inclusiveness Group member, February 2019
UNFORGETTABLE: WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR? THOUGHTS ON INCLUSIVENESS
…a book of letters from
Friends of the Bay View Chautauqua,
edited by Marjorie Andress Bayes
…But he . . . said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In the face of the present tragedy, we must ask ourselves what kind of community we want to be. What are the ideals we want to pass on to the next generation? It cannot be violence, hatred and fear. The Jewish people speak of “tikkun olam,” repairing the world. God has entrusted us with precisely that task, to repair our broken world. We cannot do it as a collection of individuals. We can only do it together as a community…”
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Thoughts on Membership, 9-11-2012
by Dr. John J. Agria
Shakespeare penned this often quoted line for his play Romeo and Juliet. It speaks volumes to a central issue surrounding the Bay View Association membership process. The current application process is based on labels not names—on stereotypes, not who applicants are and what they can contribute to maintaining the Chautauqua and Christian traditions of Bay View. The labels by now are all too familiar: Churched or un-churched Christian, Christian or Jew, and so on. Even the so-called “legacy solution” or compromise that some have advocated is label-based: son, daughter, grandchild, spouse of a Bay View member.
Why have labels been used to determine who “belongs”, who is welcomed and who is not welcomed in Bay View? Labeling is relatively easy. An applicant either has the “right” label or does not. By comparison, considering who an applicant is, as a person, and what they can contribute to Bay View is difficult. And yet, that is exactly what we as a community must learn to do. Labels may be easy, but they tell us nothing about who a person is and what he or she can offer a community like Bay View. It is the essence of a person that counts.
- As the membership process now stands, it is fundamentally flawed and will not help protect Bay View’s rich Chautauqua and Christian heritage. Labeling people and using that label to determine an applicant’s status is neither just, legal or Christian.Under our country’s system of justice and law, discriminating (that includes matters of housing and fundamental civil rights) on the basis of labels––race, gender, ethnicity, religion—is prohibited. In defining the Christian tradition, Jesus reached out to people and included them around him on the basis of their shared humanity, not whether they were Jew or Gentile or Samaritan. To quote the British hymn writer Brian Wren: “Where generation, class or race divide us to our shame, he sees not labels but a face, a person and a name”. In the United Methodist tradition which Bay View claims as part of its heritage, hearts are publicly called upon to be open, as are our minds and doors. In the Chautauqua tradition of which we are also proud standard bearers, it is the process of seeking after intellectual, spiritual, cultural and recreational enrichment that defines the well-lived life. Names, not labels.
What’s in a name? Everything that matters to Bay View’s future.
THE NUB OF THE PROBLEM
by Attorney Stephen Guittard
For better or worse, the nub of the problem tormenting Bay View is that it is a legal one. The issue for two summers now has been how to resolve it.
No one disputes or is trying to change one of Bay View’s basic purposes: promotion of the Christian religion. Nor is anyone claiming that a potential member need not agree with that purpose. The assumption that a non-Christian would not agree to the promotion of the Christian religion in Bay View is unwarranted and, pragmatically, without foundation.
- As an example, the University of Notre Dame mission statement clearly states that it is a Catholic university. However, students of all faiths attend and a recent study showed ratio of Catholic faculty as only 53%. (It’s difficult to determine how many non-Christians are on the faculty.)
If we are honest, we have to admit that 1) so long as the basic purposes are unchanged, then a qualification that perforce a member must also be a Christian is unnecessary. It’s a “belt and suspenders” argument; 2) further, the “Christian persuasion” qualification most likely originally meant “Jews are excluded”. Similar language abounded in covenants which were struck down.
Without an action by the Board of Trustees (or its designated agents) in rejecting an applicant on religious grounds, there is no violation of the Fair Housing Act. Further, the language of By-Law 1.D.5 standing alone is not a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Whether some other provision of a civil rights law would nonetheless apply has not been researched.
The Fair Housing Act only applies to real estate interests. Thus, Bay View can lawfully discriminate against non-Christians who apply for Associate or Non-Leaseholding Membership.
It’s very simple: if someone wishes to put a Jewish granddaughter on the lease because she loves Bay View, it’s part of the family tradition and she has spent many happy summers there, the By-Law says she’s ineligible for any kind of membership.
Since no one who’s Jewish has every tried to become a member (so far as the records show), there is no practice to look at. The commonly held assumption that there’s no point in a non-Christian even applying for membership is not itself sufficient grounds for showing a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
However, if the granddaughter applies, nonetheless, and is rejected because of being Jewish, then she (and most likely her grandfather) have standing to claim discrimination.
Discussion of values, Christian and non-Christian, is irrelevant to the problem. There is, in fact, probably no such thing as Christian values; Christian values literally means a value which singular and which would not exist were it not for the Christian religion. Jesus spoke as a Jew to Jews; he preached and taught his fellow Jews using their frames of reference and their value systems. He was giving a new interpretation of traditional Jewish values; he was not creating a new, non-Jewish value system.
Christianity is a syncretistic religion, based both on elements of Judaism and on elements of Hellenism. As it developed, it has also had a pronounced ability to incorporate elements of mystery religions, such as Mithraism, parts of pagan rituals and philosophical theory. This inclusive aspect of Christianity is one of its strengths.
In 2011 an attempt was made to persuade people to change the By-Law in order to avoid problems later on. The attempt failed, leaving Bay View weakened, because now it is on record as saying it intends to violate the Fair Housing Act when the situation arises.
The wish of everyone to maintain a harmonious atmosphere, to continue the conventional wisdom of a tradition of comity, though heartfelt, is completely beside the point. All this summer’s discussions of values, ethics, traditions, scripture and theology are also beside the point. The problem is legal: there is an external legal problem which cannot be squared with the status quo.
Everyone wishes it would go away. It won’t and we have to deal with it; to paraphrase Martin Luther, here we stand, we can do no other.
QUOTES FROM A SUBSCRIBER…8-28-2012:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”- Alice Walker
FROM THE ATEN BARN: 8-18-2012…Paraphrased from a newly recorded song previewed in concert by South Carolina singer/songwriter Jack Williams on August 18, 2012 at Aten Barn in Boyne City, MI:
If I believe God loves me, but only people like me,
That hell is meant only for Others
then I’ll never know love in this world.
We pledge to uphold the dreams
of the faithful Bay View founders
who built this Chautauqua
beneath towering trees,
by the laughing lake waters,
so that our children’s children
will know the joys of
creating, learning, playing and worshiping
in beautiful Bay View!
I AM ONE WITH THEM
In Search of a Peacemaker
8-8-2012, Bay View, MI
“Do peacemakers really believe that peace is possible?” began an American delegate at an early 1980’s meeting of the Intl. Interreligious Peace Council (IIPC) in El Salvador. “Are human beings capable,” she continued, “of resolving conflicts through conversation and compromise?” Must we always turn to “boots on the ground” as the the last resort? Today, we certainly see plenty of the latter! From the physical (the uprising in Syria, the Afghan war, and the Chinese actions in Tibet) to the ideological (developing a plan to reduce our national debt), many conflicts appear to be all but intractable at the moment.
From his experiences with the IIPC over several years, an American theologian, the author of my source for this essay, describes what he learned from his Buddhist comrades while “working for peace with justice” in El Salvador, Mexico and Israel during the 1980s & 1990s. The Buddhists say that one must “be peace” in order to “make peace”. What do these words mean and how could we use these ideas to get seemingly intractable conflicts back on track?
The ideas for this essay came to me while reading a book with an unusual title: Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian.1 It was written by Paul Knitter, now the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary, NYC. He is also an advocate for globally responsible interreligious dialogue and uses these experiences to illustrate his points. This book contains the story of his struggle with “what I really do, or really can, believe.” A student of Buddhism he “passes over” to Buddhism in search of concepts that might help him when he “passes back” to Christianity. In the process he uses several examples from his decades of working with Buddhists on the IIPC. The contributions from the Buddhists on the Council are the primary source of my thoughts.
Being a Peacemaker
Again to the peace counselor’s question above, I think the peacemakers must believe. They risk personal injury venturing into conflict arenas. They appear earnest and sincere with their suggestions for achieving peace. Today, however, we have the Peace Accords, but neither peace nor justice, in El Salvador. Something is not working. Could it be that the peacemakers have taken sides with the rebels? Are they therefore mistrusted by the government forces? Can they really be peacemakers unless they are equally trusted by both sides?
Preparing for another trip to El Salvador in 1987, Knitter relates his “exit interview” with the Zen master after a three-day stop for meditation at a Zen community in NYC. He described his internal conflict posed by the need he felt to get back to El Salvador to stop the death squads, especially because they were now targeting church workers, and his desire to continue his meditation. First, the master told him he must do both. Then came the “Zen zinger”: “you won’t be able to stop the death squads until you realize your oneness with them.”
Here begins the realization that the peacemakers and their modus operandi may be part of the communication problem. They are convinced, with some justification, that they are the “good guys”. But, what about the “bad guys” – the oligarchy, military and death squads – what drives them and why? Is it not possible that those folks have legitimate fears and concerns?
Some lessons from the Buddhists on conflicts:
1. Accept the circumstances
a. Let it be
b. Don’t resist
c. Don’t judge
d. Say, “OK, it just is”
2. Embrace the situation
a. This is not capitulation
b. Embracing means that we come to grips with the situation in front of us and “get on with it”
3. Don’t take sides – denounce no one
4. To make peace, you must be peace.
What do these statements mean?
Let’s take the ideological conflict over our national debt raging in the U.S. Congress as an example. Co-Chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, Representative Jeb Hensarling and Senator Patty Murray, announced last November that their bipartisan committee had, after months of work, been unable to reach a consensus recommendation on U.S. deficit reduction. I wonder if a “peacemaker” could have helped? The American public would be wise to quit writing all the letters to editors and posts on countless blogs simply complaining about this situation. Instead, we’d be better off simply accepting that the conflict exists, and that we must deal with it. Resisting the situation gains us little – the positions in the Congress seem strongly held. Making judgments isn’t helpful if we want to nurture relationships (connectedness) with key leaders from both sides. “OK, it just is.”
Now, to embrace the situation and get on with it – we’re not capitulating to the notion that finding a way forward on the budget and debt is hopeless. On the contrary we already have the Simpson-Bowles plan and Congressman Ryan’s proposals for starting points. Those interested could read these and other documents to get a clear picture of the proposals of both sides. Set aside your own views for the time being – try to understand where the other side is coming from. Upon what assumptions and “world view” is their position based? To reach this point I assert we need simply to be rational, disciplined and scholarly. From here on the going gets tougher. After achieving that understanding, can you find compassion for a point-of-view (POV) you do not hold?
“We don’t denounce anybody.” Paul Knitter first heard these words in 1996 in Chiapas, Mexico. The IIPC had gone there to help work out a non-violent resolution to the conflict between the Zapatistas and the Mexican government and wealthy landlords. The council had seen the suffering of the indigenous population and wanted to issue a statement “denouncing the oppressors”. The room was still resounding with righteous indignation when a Buddhist raised his hand and said, “I’m sorry, we Buddhists don’t denounce anyone.” Buddhists choose not to take sides because it’s impossible to nurture a sense of connectedness with someone whose point of view you have rejected. How difficult is that?
It seems nearly the whole world has taken the side of the rebels in Syria. Haven’t we seen this movie before? We hear that President Assad believes his army is fighting foreign terrorists sent by the West. Where are the human beings who could “nurture a sense of connectedness” with both President Assad and some of the Syrian rebel leaders? Thus, I honor the efforts of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and regret his recent resignation.
Many Americans have strong views regarding some of the provisions that should be part of the consensus plan for tackling the national debt. It may be difficult to find a U.S. citizen willing to enter into this dialogue who can put aside preconceived opinions on this question and who will listen and denounce no one. Could you? But, find these people we must!
To be a peacemaker one must first “be peace”, say the Buddhist scholars. What does it mean to “be peace?” In a typical scenario, a wouldbe peacemaker shuttles between the two sides learning the grievances of the first group, then relating these to the second group. Next, he/she listens to the grievances of group #2 and returns to group #1 to relate what he/she has learned. I understand this as shuttle diplomacy. How does a shuttle diplomat become more than a mediator – a peacemaker?
The Buddhists say it is not necessarily what they DO, but who they ARE. To be peace, one must be able to gain understanding of someone else’s POV and have compassion for it. It is not necessary for the peacemaker to agree with that point of view in order to have compassion for the other and his/her POV. It is necessary to possess and demonstrate “unconditional positive regard” for all the spokespersons of the two sides. This is a route to building trust – the essential element.
In so many of today’s conflicts, trust seems conspicuously absent. To understand more of the Buddhist teachings on this topic, especially a description of the capabilities, skills, discipline, and regard for others – the things that describe WHO PEACEMAKERS ARE – I recommend reading Chapter 7 of my reference. In the meantime I think it is just as important that all of us in our polarized society practice “being peace” in our interactions with folks of different ideological persuasion. In their elegant and meaningful words I think the Buddhists would say that this is the route to realizing and accepting that I Am One with Them.