In the book of James you talk about “reaching out to the rejected.” Why do you think so many Americans and politicians have difficulty with that concept?
Although it’s not mentioned in the Bible, the so-called seven sins include the ones that human beings have identified, and I think the most important of those is probably pride – a belief that we are somehow superior to other people. Or to look at it a different way, that other people are inferior to us. So we look upon them as not worthy of equality of treatment. They’re not worthy of our giving them assistance, they’re not worthy of giving them a boost in life so that they can overcome a physical, mental, or economic handicap. I think pride also leads people to refrain from resolving differences peacefully because we feel that those who disagree with us are inferior to us. Sometimes we even think that those who disagree with us are not favored by God and are actually subhuman in a way. We don’t even count their lives to be important. So I think pride leads to fundamentalism in its worse form – that is we are right because we agree with God, God agrees with us, other people that disagree with us are not favored by God. That’s completely contrary to what Jesus taught.
Given the peace you’ve been able to work toward while being a devout religious man, what do you say to those who see religion as an underlying cause of conflicts?
It is, there’s no doubt about that, that’s one of the tragedies of life. People who are fervent in their beliefs, what I described a few minutes ago as fundamentalism, it’s an exultation of one’s status in secular life or in the eyes of God to the detriment of others. So we have had those wars. In ancient times of course, during the crusades it was Christians versus Muslims, and I think that was contrary to the teachings of God as well. Nowadays of course we’ll have many of our most fervent Christians who are the strongest proponents of war. When we had the unnecessary Gulf war expenses, a lot of my fellow Baptists were on the forefront of saying “let’s go to war” and some of them are now taking the same position concerning Iran. I’m not trying to be critical of them, but I think it’s contrary to Christianity, or contrary to Islam, or contrary to Buddhism, or contrary to Hinduism, to go to war. I think we should remember that facet of our faith which many of us, Christians and others, forget about.