Church Amidst Diversity: An Invitation to Be Adam.
Metropolitan Yuhanon Mor Meletius, Key note at UTC Carey Society ITSC2017 Jan. 23, 2017.
In many parts of the world cultures and communities consider women in some way less important if not inferior to men. Of course male dominated societies created this notion in the very early stage of human civilization. Several Christian communities are included in this category. I do not forget the fact that there are communities and cultures that account both women and men equality. One of the reasons for Christians to hold this notion is the way they interpret the creation story in the Hebrew Scripture, Genesis 2: 7 to 24. It gives an impression that God created man first (2:7), and later when he saw, that man was alone created woman out of the rib of man (2:22). A lay person may think this is exactly what happened when God created human. But there are pastors and preachers even today who talk about creation of human after manner without any consideration to what is said in the first chapter of the book and also without applying any text critical skills on the creation stories in both chapters. It seems they did not have a chance to read what Jesus told those Pharisees who asked him of Moses’ command regarding divorce, saying: “… he who made them from the beginning made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4). Jesus was quoting verbatim from Genesis 1:27. It is quite noteworthy that he preferred first creation story to the second one in this regard. He did not want to go in to details of what is in the 2nd story which doesn’t contradict first but only look at the matter from a different angle. Creation of human itself gives an example for diversity.
II. Creation of Human
The creation story told in Gen. 1:1-2:4a displays multiple influences from various cultures including Egypt and Mesopotamia (C. Westermann. Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, p. 81). But Israel made it its own story through its theological fundamentals. For example, the story lacks the Mesopotamian struggle between Marduk and Timat element which resulted in Marduk creating haven and earth. This evidently means Israel had a definite understanding of what to present before its readers about the origin of things in the universe. To ‘P’ tradition which created the account in1:1-2:4a, God created everything with his word (cf. John 1). J. Morgenstern suggests that there is a gulf of difference between ‘creation by word and creation by action’ whereas Gen. 1 gives the account of creation by word (The Sources of the Creation Story. AJSL 36 (1919-20) 169-212. Von Rad calls this, ‘a command account’ over against an action account. Die Priesterschrift im Hexateuch). This is ‘P’ tradition’s way of presenting the matter. The word is quite important for ‘P’ (CW p. 85). Of course there are others who do not want to distinguish between creation by word and creation by action (B. P. Humbert Die Literarische Sweiheit des Priester-Codex in der Genesis ZAW 58 1940-41. 30-57). But for ‘P’ the command is directed to a person (CW 85). What ever was addressed by word of God always had certain persons as object. Here then the question is, was God addressing man or human when God said “Let us make Adam” “ויברא אלהי את האדמ”. Even though ‘bara’ is used here the sentence begin with ‘vayyomar’ or ‘he said’ and hence can be considered as a word creation. God created Adam and word ‘Adam’ certainly is a collective noun meaning ‘humankind’ (BDB p. 9). Traditionally the word ‘Adam’ has either used without being translated or translated as man (masculine). Of course the word ‘Adam’ is masculine in gender, but its feminine form is ‘Adamah’ which means earth, ground or land and not neqbe, ashe or havah. So we may say that this word was used also to denote the source of all creatures which is earth (Cf. ‘… until you return to earth from where you come’ Gen. 3:19. Also see Jb. 10:9). Adamah is the womb out of which Adam was born. So the creature that was formed after the image and likeness of God is out of the earth and it is not singular or masculine to say one male person but is neutral in the sense that both male and female included. Though animals were also created out of the earth, there is a difference in terms of ‘image and likeness’ with possibility of participation, communication with the creator. We may remember that when human was tried on what they did in transgression, the snake was not asked by God any question (Gen. 3: 8-15). Considering the theological intention of ‘P’, we may say that creation of human was the fulfilment of a command or a word of God (CW85). Even with two creation stories, that of ‘P’ and of ‘J’ the most important subject is “… the creation of Adam, that is mankind as male and female-with the result that the rest of the world is ordered round them…” (See Gen. 2:7 where the word Adam is used. vR. Old Testament Theology, Vol. I 141).
The phrase “let us make” with ‘plural of deliberation’ has a definite note in it. What was created had a definite purpose, which is to rule over, that itself rule over like God does (V. Maag. P. 97). The qualification “in the image and likeness’, which gives human representative role of God, (W. Caspari, “Imago divine,” Festschrift fur Reinhold Seeberg, Leipzing 1929, p. 208) also should point to this collective state. God can not be male or female. To von Rad, ‘it will not be right to say that Israel understood Yahweh in anthropomorphic terms rather this ‘image and likeness’ gives human theomorphic status’ (vR Old Testament Theology, Vol. I p. 145). Image and likeness are to be transmitted to the children born to human according to Gen. 5:3, 4. Carl Bath would say that, ‘through this image and likeness we are told what the person should be’ (Church Dogmatics III/1, p. 184). To ‘P’, “It is humanity as a whole that is created, as the counterpart of God; the intention is to render possible a happening between creator and creation. The creation of human ‘in the image and likeness of God’ also would imply that there is no difference in this matter between people of various cultures, races and religious affiliations not to talk about denominational differences. And this, for ‘P’, is directed toward the holy event in which history reaches its goal, as indicted in Gen. 2:1-3” (CW 158). The use of plural in the sentence “… and God blessed them…” (v. 28. אֱהִים אֹתָם וַיְבָרֶ) also tells us that God created not just one person but human with male and female.
God’s rule is expressed in two phrases ‘be fruitful and multiply’. The blessing in terms of multiply is not received by male or female individually. This is effected only when they are together. A question here is whether the blessing ‘multiply’ may also include multiplying the diversity without affecting the togetherness and is this togetherness actualized through the work of human though their dominion? Dominion also is to be understood as the result of blessing on both which is indicated in the use of plural ‘let them’. The point I was trying to make is diversity is in the very core of creation of human. Man and woman are two different people but make one single creation. God saw what he created was good’. Human was to see that everything on which human was given dominion ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and also ‘be good’.
Everything God created and was given and those under the dominion of human were “… each according to its kind…” (vs. 11, 12, 21, 24, 25). For C. Westermann, the emphasis here expressed through the phrase ‘each according to its kind’ is not on its relation to human, but on its own identity (CW p. 125. Aslo see von Rad Old Testament Theology, Vol. I p. 55). Diversity in the plant and animal world is part of the plan of God in creation. Human’s responsibility in terms of dominion is to respect and keep this diversity (cf. H. Cross p. 98). “The image of God is not a static quality conferred once and for all, it is a call to imitate in action the one whose image is carried.” (A. M. Dubarle. Sacra Pagina I, p. 528) To B. Jacob (Das erste buch der Tora, Berlin 1934, p. 952), human for ‘P’ “is the apex of a cosmological pyramid”. Here human brings together everything created ‘each according to its kind’ not by removing the diversity rather respecting and participating with God to make it fruitful and multiplied. So Adam who was created ‘after the image and likeness of God’ was a diverse creation with male and female, to accept every other diversity in nature to help them grow in their own identity and in diversity but make a community together. I am not forgetting the question of transgender persons. I am sure that is part of the diversity, but has to be dealt in detail at a later time. Also I am, with my limited knowledge on the subject, incapable of dealing with that question in a reasonable and intelligent manner.
III. Saving of Human
To von Rad, the primary purpose of creation story is “… didactic” (vR OTT 1. P. 139-140). He adds, “… creation is expressly intended to be understood as prologue, and as a start of the divine saving work in Israel (p. 140). This takes us to consider our question on ‘diversity’ in relation to the saving act of God in Jesus Christ.
God was trying to bring human back from not being in dominion and thus not being Adam ever since human violated the identity of the tree in the centre of the Garden, denying diverse purpose of fruits and trees raising a question against ecological balance, walking away from God and trying to protect self through a shield made of fig tree leaves (there are people who say that God send human out of the Garden. I don’t believe that. Because before God sent them out, human had walked away from the face of God). We may note that Chapter 3 of Genesis talks about how the nature went away from the control of human (3:17-19). This also affected the togetherness and mutual understanding of the diverse elements in human that is man and woman (Gen. 3:15, 16). Providing new cloth of protection was the first attempt on the part of God to save human and the second act was asking them to stay out of the Garden lest they do more harm to themselves.
In the Primeval history, we see Noah’s children growing in to diverse communities and races (Gen. 9:18-19). Even in the story of Tower of Babel even though the disturbing of language is given in the form of a curse, what actually happened is creating diverse communities (Gen. 11: 6-9). Unity of diversity can not be for establishing independence and distancing themselves from God. This was what happened in the Garden of Eden where the Serpent, the woman and the man joined together to violate the identity of the tree. Joel 3: 1ff. talks about the benefit of returning to the Lord (J. Bourke, J. Le jour de Yahve dans Joel, RB 66, 1959. Pp. 5-31). That is just opposite of what happened in Babel.
God chose out of all those families listed in Genesis 10-11 one family, of Terah out of which one person, Abraham to be the blessing of every one else. Abraham was not chosen for his own sake, rather for all those diverse peoples on the face of the earth that he shall become a blessing to them. Amos’ testimony on God’s work in the history of nations (9:7 ff.) and Isaiah’s presentation of Cyrus (44: 28 and 45:1) are examples of God’s acceptance of diverse communities and peoples to be part of the saving work of God. The story of Jonah too tells us of God’s concern for diverse communities.
Coming to the classical saving work of God in Jesus, the very fact that he was truly human will tell us that readiness to accept diversity is in the very core of human. He came to the world as a member of the community that claimed exclusive privileges and pride as a chosen people. They excluded all other communities, even those ten tribes in the North from their own family, not to speak about those weak and poor among them. Jesus embraced all, Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, sick and sinful. To him diversity was where he found his mission worked out well and effective. At his birth the angels proclaimed, “… good news and great joy to all peoples” (Luke 2:10). Further he said, “… come to me (without any restriction and consideration for stratification and segregation existed in the society) you who are weary and burdened, I will comfort you” (my words in bracket. Matt. 11:28). He could see the temple of the Lord only as a comforting place (Matt. 21:13). The last part “for all peoples” which is found in the quotation in Isaiah was omitted by Matthew for obvious reason. (cf. Isiah 56:7). This was what Solomon prayed when he dedicated the temple (1 Kings 8:41 ff.). What the king asking was, diverse people may come to the temple and pray, but God shall not abandon them. Further Solomon attended to the needs of the blind and lame who were forbidden by David from entering his house (2 Sam. 5:8). Jesus’ Great Commission’ talks about people of all nations as potential disciples. This clearly portrays the universal nature of the Gospel of Jesus transcending all differences and accepting all diversities (Matt. 28:19. D Hare and D. Harrington, "Make Disciples of All the Nations," CBQ 37, 1975. Pp 359-369. My paper on the Subject p. 7 presented at UTC Alumni Assn. Refresher Course, 2016).
The Early Church also took this message from the Lord seriously and presented it in various shapes and forms. When the Spirit of God was experienced by all in the room on the day of Pentecost it’s radiance was to all in the city (Acts 2: 5-13). All who were in the area heard the same message. Though they were Jews but from homeland and from diaspora who were culturally quite different and diverse. This again was a reverse event to the Babel experience specially noted by the word συνεχυθη (confused v. 6). Paul was able to convince quite a number of Jews and Greeks in Thessalonica which included women too about Jesus being Christ (Acts 17: 1-12). He told the people in Athens that God made human and they spread to all nations and places in the world. The structure of the sentence in Acts 17:26 with Aorist Active 3rd person singular word εποιησεν and Aorist active participle ορισας suggest that the place of living itself was in the creative plan of the creator (Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers p. 310). This again points to the fact that diversity was in the core of creation and salvation. In Antioch the Church had people from several and diverse ethnic groups (Acts 13:1). The killing of Stephen in fact helped the Church to spread to other parts of the region (Acts 11: 19-26).
Paul talks in 1 Cor.12:12 about the diversity with the analogy of a body, the body of Christ. He says just as each organ in the body has own function, each member in the body of Christ has diverse function. But the body is one and the organs work in mutual agreement for the total benefit of the body. Paul in Ephesians 2 talks about Jesus pulling down the dividing wall that was created by human in the form of circumcision between Jews and Gentiles, and bringing them together to be one (2: 11-16). The so called ethne εθνη nations, or people of nations, who were separated by race, origin and culture are all in fact humans made after the image and likeness of God. To Paul the circumcision was only an external sign of a race and had nothing to do with being created (Joseph A. Grassi. The Letter to the Ephesians. JBC. II. 345). Ezra 10:2 and Nehemiah 10:31 used this term ethne in a derogative fashion. This was probably the attitude of Jews in general who lived in the land of Gentiles. Paul who was a devout Jew and a Pharisee by birth (Acts 23:6) shifted himself from the traditional attitude of his fellow Jews because he followed the invitation received from Christ, the son of Adam, to be Adam. K. L. Schmidt (II, 369-72) comments that ‘both Jews and Gentiles are justified only by the one Lord who summons both to himself’. This approach is further elaborated and stated in Gal. 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, and “… all are the children of one God …” (Gal. 3:26). This is where the Adam, human, is reborn transcending all diverse elements in the whole human race.
IV. Religious Diversity
Today we live in a troubled, if not highly troubled world. So considered to be the most powerful country in the world, United States of America has a new president sworn in just three days back. This has already created fear and anxiety not only among the people of that country but in many of other countries. Countless people get killed in Iraq and Syria on a daily basis. Many of the European countries are under terror that any time a bomb may go off in a market place or in a festival area. Many of these issues are religion related unfortunately.
In India, we got a New Year gift from the Supreme Court saying religion can not be used in election as this is a secular country. India has always been, since its acceptance of the constitution after independence, a secular country. But every one knows that religion, caste and other sensitive subjects always were used in elections by all parties and with this rule it is not going to make any difference. What is alarming is that now the division between religions and sub-groups in religions have widened considerably and the fight between parties have got the flavor of which religion or caste a person belongs. People are asked to leave the country and go to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia for being a Muslim and for addressing a social issue as a citizen of this country. Within religion too sub-groups persecute each other and backward communities and castes are becoming targets of violence and oppression. Religious symbols like cow and Trisul have become instruments to reach to the top in politics but at the same time to create fear and tension in the society. This is where we stand and talk about diversity as a means to reach to genuine human.
First of all we Christians have to do a little bit of introspection to know whether we have in any way caused this to happen in our country. I think we also had our role in this. Our exclusivist claim, just like that of the Jewish community of Jesus’ time, and hysterically carried out ‘winning over souls’ missions did create fear in the minds of some in the past. Even today there are fundamentalist Christian communities who follow the same path by luring the less fortunate and backward communities in to their fold. We imported foreign Christianity Italian, Syrian or European and told people that they had to change to be saved that numbers were added to our communities. The traditional definition of mission worked out in India certainly created tension if not triggered a sense of fear and it resulted in fundamentalism, says WCC. (J. C. Hoekendijk, “Notes on the Meaning of Mission (- ary),” in Planning for Mission, edited by Thomas Wieser. New York: The U. S. Conference for the World Council of Churches, 1966, pp. 39-40. See Also Richard Howell, “Lessons from Orissa: Peacemaking in the Face of Anti-Christian Violence,” in Violence and Peace: Creating a Culture of Peace in the Contemporary Context of Violence, edited by Frampton F. Fox (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2010, pp 54-58 who says this attitude triggered Hindu fundamentalist attitude). Of course there have been social and economic injustice in the country and Christianity through educational and healthcare services did provide meaning and pride in the lives of millions, we can’t contradict or challenge that. They sure got attracted to the new message of equality before God and in the society and embraced Christianity in good numbers. But the adverse effect was that it created communal tension and fear. I myself saw what happed in Kandhamal in Odisha in December 2007. Russell Chandran makes a confession saying, (Russell Chandran, "Evolving a New Paradigm in Theology for Asia", a paper presented at a consultation at the Ecumenical Centre, Bangalore. Quoted in WCC Report. Hannibal Cabral Mission in the context of plurality: Christian educational perspective p. 39) “Unfortunately in the past we have adopted an exclusivist attitude to other faiths”. He continues, “Jesus therefore challenged the exclusivist attitude of the Pharisees and the Sadducees”. He even said that his own people, the Jews, could learn from the Samaritans. Therefore, the present day Christians must consider others as authentic and learn from them rather than adopt an attitude of superiority. We must learn what is good in other people's faith”.
We can not turn the hand of the clock back and undo what mistakes were done in the past. On the contrary need to think of new methods of spreading the Good News among the religiously and socially diverse society in India. WCC Document on Religious Plurality and Christian Self Understanding (Feb. 14, 2006) observes, ‘we need a theological response to plurality’. We probably need to understand that no religion can make absolute claim on truth. Of course we Christians would say, Christ is the only way. But the question would be do we know Christ exhaustively and fully to say he is what we think he is? For R. Panikkar, “There is no genuine human relation from which Christ is absent. The whole created order is itself a “Christophany” moving toward a new heaven and new earth. Hence, the Christian’s duty is not to bring Christ to other religions but to discover him from them” (Raimundo Panikkar, quoted by Matthew Kern, “Christians and so-called non-Christians”, in D. Elwood (ed), What Asian Christians Are Thinking, Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1976, Pp 338-376). Of course we cannot point to any other way of salvation than Jesus Christ; (But) at the same time we cannot set limits to the saving power of God. Further in 1990 WCC consultation on theology of religions in Baar, Switzerland observed on the issue, "This conviction that God as Creator of all is present and active in the plurality of religions makes it inconceivable to us that God's saving activity could be confined to any one continent, cultural type, or group of people. A refusal to take seriously the many and diverse religious testimonies to be found among the nations and peoples of the whole world amounts to disowning the biblical testimony to God as Creator of all things and Father of humankind." Again “our theological understanding of religious plurality begins with our faith in the one God who created all things, the living God present and active in all creation from the beginning (WCC Document on Religious plurality and Christian self-understanding. 14 February 2006). “Religious pluralism is a gift from God graciously given to humankind...” (Quoted by R. Yesuratnam, “Religious Pluralism: Some Implications for the Mission of the Church”, in Mission and Religious Pluralism, edited by W. S. Milton Jeganathan, Chennai: The Department of Mission and Evangelism of Church of South India, 2003, 88)
Pope John Paul II, while speaking to leaders of other religions in Chennai in 1986 said, “As followers of different religions we should join together in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare and civic order (Thomas Malipurathu and L. Stanislaus, eds., A Vision of Mission in the New Millennium, Mumbai: St Paul’s Publications, 2001, p. 75). Pope Francis in his very first-ever video message on his monthly prayer intentions said, “people from various global faiths may be “seeking God or meeting God in different ways” that it is important to keep in mind that “we are all children of God” (Jan. 4, 2016). This of course doesn’t mean that we have to compromise our faith. K. C. Abraham sums up the challenge before us when he says: ‘Our commitment to Christ does not give us the right to condemn others. This land, with all its diverse faiths, is also God’s creation’ (Abraham, K.C., Mission and Evangelism in India - A Historical Appraisal, p. 2). “Our faith in the Trinitarian God, God who is diversity in unity, God who creates, brings wholeness, and nurtures and nourishes all life, which helps us in our hospitality of openness to all. We have been the recipients of God's generous hospitality of love. We cannot do otherwise (WCC Document. Religious plurality and Christian self-understanding. 14 February 2006 p. 29)
So what is the next step that the Church should take in matter of ‘diversity’? I personally would say ‘Live’ and ‘Talk’. In our enthusiasm to establish ourselves in a complex world of India forgot to live (not all of us, of course). On the contrary we set up structures and institutions for the community that we thought will bring in people all the time. Of course we did grew in number and in strength and wealth. But did we really grow in our ‘image and likeness’ of God the creator? Former president of India is said to have commented, ‘Christians are ordinary people who make extra ordinary claims’ (quoted by Jwahar’s blog. http://www.dannyandfriends.com/reflections/ordinary-people-extraordinary...). The father of the nation of India, Gandhiji wrote, "A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon." (Harijan, 29-3-35, p. 50. Quoted by, Rajendra Parikh. Mahatma Gandhi, Christian Fundamentalism and Politics Of Conversion). So the primary way to be Adam is to live like one. Remember the event at the well when the Lord went to quench his thirst for water and finally ended up in a Samaritan village as was testified by the villagers as “the saviour of the world” (John 4). The irony is Jesus never got water from the woman.
The second way for us is dialogue. The biblical witness not only gives a rationale for engaging socially and doing justice but also provides a foundation for understanding the nature of social relationships, and the form and content of the society to which Christians witness (Micah 6: 8; Luke 4: 18. Jesudas M. Athyal. http://jmathyal.tripod.com/id12.html). M. M. Thomas writes, ‘under the present state of affairs dialogue is the only way to meet others in a peaceful and respective atmosphere and to answer to the questions of religious fundamentalism and sectarianism’ (Religion, State & Communalism: A Post-Ayodhya Reflection, CCA, 1995, p. 14). “Discovery of other faiths and the recognition of their role in the universal salvific plan of God is perhaps the greatest challenge to Christian theology today, which calls for inter-ecclesial and inter-religious dialogue for articulating a new theology of religions and for the creation of a new human society” (M. Suresh Prabhu. Evangelism in Indian Pluralistic Context). Anantanand Rambachan says. “For if God is the one God which my tradition proclaims God to be, then surely, what my fellow human beings are saying about God is relevant and challenging to me and requires explanation and understanding on my part” (WCC Document http://wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/interreligious/cd34-09.html). Fr. Pathil’s words would probably summarise matter when he says, “In the actual Indian context of religions pluralism and the immense human misery and utter poverty, the primary path of the church mission in India seems to be to enter into dialogue with all the major religions of the country in creating a just and better society based on the vision of Jesus and on the authentic human/gospel/kingdom values. In such a context the proclamation of Jesus shall not be seen as something totally different. It is Jesus who calls and inspires us to enter into dialogue with all our fellow human beings, and thus to form a new kind of fellowship cutting across the boundaries of religions, cultures, races nationalities and languages” (Kuncheria Pathil, “Plurality of Religions”, in Jegadish P. Gandhi and John K.C. Upon the wings of wider Ecumenism, Delhi: ISPCK, 2006, P 215), I may add gender. J. Moltmann said that the ‘acceptance of Jesus by Jews as Messiah, Greeks as Logos, the Germans as the Leader of souls were not simple cultural, rather were more religious in kind. Hence “today we shall also have to inquire into Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic reasons for faith in Jesus” (Jurgen Moltmann, Church in the power of the Spirit. P. 162). There is one point I missed. Adam was set in a definite environment which was given under his ‘dominion’ (of course I passingly referred to that) which always challenged him. Though he failed in it, the environment continued to hold him fast with its diversity. That remained to be the oikos of Adam and oikos had to be diverse but one too. That was the dream of the prophet Isaiah shared in chapter 11: 1-9. So oikos has to be the church with all its diversity.
To conclude I should say that it is not ‘Church Amidst Diversity’ rather Church as oikos is diverse in itself. There is God the creator and there is the creation or oikos and there is Adam that is diverse in self in the oikos. So we are diverse in ourselves as we are Adam and we are called to be Adam in this diverse oikos.