Atlanta Episcopal Bishop Departs from the Faith in Interfaith Comments

Wright is wrong in rants over the Faith and other religions

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue DD

At an interfaith inaugural worship service at Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta marking the beginning of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s second term, the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta Rob Wright made comments that fundamentally denied the Christian Faith and his ordination vows.

WRIGHT: Greetings to you in the name of Yahweh the Almighty, in the name of Allah the beneficent and merciful. Greetings to you in the name of the Eternal One who gave the Buddha his great enlightenment, and in the name of the Hindus’ Supreme Being that orders the cosmos.

VOL: This is a fundamental denial of the uniqueness of Faith in the Holy Trinity. The First Article (of the 39 Articles) reads thus: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

By acknowledging Allah and Hinduism, he has attempted to shatter the unique historical, theological and ontological understanding of who God is, as well as the personhood of God and the fullness of the godhead.

WRIGHT: Greetings in the name of generosity and human compassion that guides some of us who claim no faith at all. Greetings to you to in the name of Jesus of Nazareth through whom many of us hear the words of God. It is wonderful to be here on this happy occasion. Thank you to Pastor Moss and the people of Cascade United Methodist Church for your leadership and hospitality. It is a delight for us to be together, in the spirit of prayer and fellowship, raising our voices in praise and rededicating ourselves to the common good, as we embark with our Mayor Kasim Reed on his second term.

VOL: To lump Jesus in with unbelievers as though they are on an equal footing with believers is to deny the uniqueness of Jesus, his claims, personhood and the salvation he offers to unbelievers. Wright’s attempt to create a level playing field is false.

It is also an insult to The Rev. Marvin A. Moss of Cascade United Methodist Church whose church Mission reads: “The Mission of Cascade United Methodist Church is to bring others to Christ and to nurture and develop the spiritual growth of our membership. The Vision of Cascade United Methodist Church is to be a Christ-centered church that effectively and efficiently develops spiritual gifts, embraces the local and global community and nurtures all generations.”

That is not the “mission” of the Diocese of Atlanta which reads: “The work of the church is to follow Jesus’ command to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’ – as we move our worship out into the world, whether around the corner, around the diocese or around the globe. Throughout our diocese, leaders encourage people to reflect theologically and practically on issues of poverty, social justice and advocacy. The Diocese of Atlanta also has a corporate voice as it engages government entities and public policy at every level.”

In the diocese of Atlanta’s mission statement there is no mention of God’s gracious gift of his Son for our salvation…it is all about social efforts of human amelioration. There is nothing transcendent in this statement at all.

WRIGHT: The Psalmist puts it perfectly, “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity.” (Ps. 133:1) Some of us have already been to worship today or have led worship today so don’t worry, I’m sensitive to that; I won’t be long this afternoon.

VOL: The Psalmist was not preaching a faux ecumenism of Muslims, Jews, (Christians) or Hindus. David, the Psalmist was lamenting the need for kith and kin to be in harmony with one another. The previous Psalm, which sings of the covenant, had also revealed the center of Israel’s unity in the Lord’s anointed and the promises made to him. Brethren dwell together in unity when God dwells among them, and finds his rest in them. The translators described it and the preceding as a “Psalm of Ascents”, the benefit of the communion of saints. Bishop Wright completely misuses and abuses the text.

WRIGHT: There is an implicit message in our gathering today. It seems, at least to me, that there’s an expectation written in to our being together in prayer and praise. The expectation is that we the people of various faith traditions and those of no faith tradition at all might leave this place more seriously committed to collaborating with government for the good of all people, especially the most vulnerable. Especially the indigent, the immigrant, and the ignorant.

VOL: This is a total confusion of what the church is called to be and do and what the state does or is supposed to do. Nowhere is the church called to bless or necessarily “collaborate with the government” or its activities on every issue. The church is a counter culture and called to speak truth to power. There are a great many Christians in the U.S. who believe that President Obama does not speak for them and is doing things that violate their cherished freedoms. Bishop Wright does not speak for all Episcopalians or all Americans and, we suspect, not all Atlantans either.

WRIGHT: It is as if there is an engraved invitation from our mayor to each of us today ― an invitation to partner more purposefully with him. I don’t know about you, but I believe that real interfaith work is not so much in the praying but the doing, in the going, the giving and the governing, in advocacy and advancement.

VOL: That all depends on what the mayor advocates for the city of Atlanta. Christians are not called to roll over on everything a mayor says, advocates or does. A lot of US cities have long histories of corrupt and inefficient local governments and that includes Atlanta. In 2004 Mayor Campbell was indicted on charges of racketeering, corruption, bribery and tax fraud in violation of the RICO statute, mail and wire fraud statutes.

WRIGHT: “…we must always remember, beloved, the climax of prayer is action not amen. The most worthy enterprise of our coming together is to take on the challenges that are too big for us individually. This is the most worthy enterprise of our coming together. This is the best vision of real interfaith work. It is true in the Atlanta metropolitan area that you can’t throw a rock without hitting a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or house of prayer. If this is so, then after we are empowered by prayer, and strengthened by fellowship, we could suspend dialogue about doctrine and make a difference in this city together…”

VOL:Actually bishop the climax of prayer is amen and you are not permitted to “suspend dialogue about doctrine” that is forbidden. The Christian Faith is riddled with doctrine; it is the lattice work that holds the faith together. It is what we preach….Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (everyone else). Islam offers neither hope nor salvation and neither does Hinduism.

WRIGHT: Now is the time for us to celebrate our individual faiths for what they actually are: traditions of revelation and wisdom and insight. Iron anvils where human purpose is forged and refined. Not competing religious product offerings. God is big and the world that God loves and has intertwined God’s self with is vast and dynamic.

VOL: This is the great interfaith mush god talk. There is little or nothing uniquely revelatory or self-disclosing in Islam or Hinduism. Islam tracks its lineage from the birth of a child of unmarried parents. It is a bastard religion. The polytheistic religion of Hinduism with its 33 million gods speaks for itself. India’s economic backwardness for centuries has been rooted in its multiple religions. The West has thriven under Christianity.

WRIGHT: To be committed to interfaith work is an easy thing, really, if you understand God. God is always simply but sublimely calling us to be the words we pray. Listen to the great Sufi Rumi: “I was dead then alive, weeping then laughing. Love came into me and I became fierce like a lion and gentle like an evening star.” Listen to the great Jewish call to worship: “Shema Israel, adonai elohainu adonai ecahd. Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one.” Listen to Jesus remind his disciples not to be religiously narrow. “I have sheep who are not of this fold,” he told them. My purpose is to go after the lost. Or in another place, real worship is in spirit and in truth. The good news today is God is for all of us. Goodness is for all of us. We were made by good to do good.

VOL: We had a presiding bishop, one Frank Griswold, who also had a fondness for Sufi the Rumi and meeting in plains beyond good and evil with Bishop Charles Bennison. Never happened. It was fiction and then and remains so today. Jesus’s condemnation was aimed at the Pharisees and Sadducees whom he called a “generation of vipers” and “whited sepulchers”. He offered the woman caught in adultery freedom from her sins as he did the dying thief. Wright’s appalling misuse of Scripture and his understanding of “goodness” without seeing the possibility of sin that lies at the root of even the best of intentions and the fact that good is little more than exercised common grace. The bishop says he wants to “go after the lost” but what’s the message he plans to deliver? The bishop should be reminded of what the Apostle Paul said, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:15)

WRIGHT: I’m saying God is not a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim. But God is real, and able, good and generous. And while we have this faith in the real world, we serve a yet more real God. That’s all you have to believe to collaborate with others. That there is truth, but none of us have the copyright on it. And our understanding of this truth is evolving. So while we are growing up in the full stature of the divine, let us do those things together that we know are of God. Those things that are ethical and moral.

VOL: Our God is The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob fully and completely revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. If you cannot affirm that bishop then please don’t call yourself a Christian. You cannot nor are you permitted to reduce the Christian Faith to things that are merely “ethical and moral.” You can join the Ethical Society or the so-called Moral Majority, but you cannot reduce Christianity to these mandates. Truth evolves but it must never lose its footing in the ancient record otherwise you will end up like Bishop Charles Bennison who said man wrote the Bible and can therefore rewrite it. Mercifully the Church will survive Bennison.

WRIGHT: It is the day when we believe that the wise men actually reached Bethlehem and met Jesus. It’s poetic because those wise men were from Iraq. They weren’t Jews, Muslims or Christians. But they found some direction in Jerusalem. That ultimately led them to Bethlehem and to the new thing that God was doing. Many faiths, no faiths all under the same star. Going forward in a new way.

VOL: Not true, Bishop. Traditionally, the view developed that they were Babylonians, Persians, or Jews from Yemen as the kings of Yemen then were Jews, a view held for example by John Chrysostom. There is an Armenian tradition identifying the “Magi of Bethlehem” as Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India. You cannot assume they were from Iraq, that is assumption based on almost nothing. Finally, the star that lead was not to “many faiths or no faiths” but to a manger from which the future Savior of the world lay and to which you once prostrated yourself before and whose person and salvific work you swore to uphold.


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