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In Theory: A campaign to include and not exclude

"We should be known not by what we oppose, but rather by what we propose," said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez on the launch of his project called the Imago Dei.

The campaign calls on evangelicals to recognize and affirm that undocumented immigrants, gays, liberals and atheists are made in God's image. Its motto is, "I recognize that every human being, in and out of the womb, carries the image of God; without exception. Therefore, I will treat everyone with love and respect."

Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, says the goal of the campaign is to "change the narrative of evangelical engagement in the public square, especially when it comes to traditional culture war issues," according to an article in Time magazine. Rodriguez has picked up some big names in support, including Jim Daly, president of Focus On The Family, televangelist James Robison and vice president of Liberty University Mat Staver.

However, those who've organized and who support the scheme say they won't change their stance on gay marriage or condone homosexual behavior.

Q: What do you think of this campaign? Can it make a difference?

 

Not sure if it'll make a difference, but it's about time! For too long a time, in my opinion, evangelicals have been more concerned about saving souls for heaven than with loving the unlovely. And look at Jesus, whom all Christians claim to follow. He made it a point to welcome those on the fringes of society, especially the unlovely like the lepers and the prostitutes.

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 5: 1-12, part of what's called the Beatitudes. (The word comes from the Latin "beatus", or blessing.) In the Beatitudes Jesus really turns conventional wisdom on its ear; actually, I think Jesus did that his whole life. Anyway, the very first Beatitude is, "Blessed are the poor." (I know: you've always heard, poor in spirit, but the phrase "in spirit" may be a later addition.) Really? The poor are blessed? Jesus is really upsetting the apple cart with that one. But that's what Jesus did: welcomed those whom nobody else wanted, and in his day it was the lepers and prostitutes. In our day it's the gays, the transgendered, the poor, the homeless, the sick.

Do evangelicals really think it's their job to save souls rather than befriend the ugly, the hurting and all the other marginalized folk in our society? It's high time the evangelicals started thinking about this life, not only the one to come.

So, way to go, Samuel Rodriguez. I think the Lord's talking to you!

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church

La Cañada Flintridge

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Yes, this campaign can make a difference.

Unity Church of the Valley is a member ministry of Unity World Wide Ministries (formerly known as the Asson. of Unity Churches); Silent Unity Prayer Ministry and Unity, publishers of The Daily Word inspirational magazine.

Unity's core belief is that we are all spiritual beings. One of our favorite prayer statements and hymns in our Unity Wings of Song hymnal is: "I Behold the Christ in You." No restrictions or discrimination. In Unity's philosophy of Practical Christianity, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, we accept all people and recognize that everyone is a child of God.

We are all spiritual beings, having a human experience. I applaud any efforts toward embracing our oneness. Let us not focus on how we are different; but, rather, how much, at heart, we are alike.

The Rev. Jeri Linn
Unity Church of the Valley
La Crescenta

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Probably not. It sounds like a Latined-up version of the old "hate the sin, love the sinner" approach, so common among evangelicals. I've been in the room when that approach was being utilized toward (in this case) a gay young man, and it looked an awful lot like condescension and shaming, not love and respect. (There are few things creepier than having someone who opposes your very existence ask, in saccharine tones, to hold hands and pray for you.)

The movement might have more power if they dropped the gushy image-of-God stuff — which seems like theological window-dressing — and focused on the last part of their proposal: "I will treat everyone with love and respect." Or, you know: "I will love my neighbor as myself" (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19).

The most interesting part of the campaign, to me, is the idea of any religious group defining itself by what it proposes, rather than what it opposes.

We liberals are guilty too, of describing what we stand for by saying, "We're not like those other guys" (in our case, evangelical Christians). We too, in an age when so many are earnestly searching for a spiritual foundation, need to alter our public address, to speak in terms of the depth and beauty we do offer, rather than sneer about the things we renounce. People want to hear about God, not our internecine pettiness, a fight in which they have no stake.

On that point, my neighbor Rodriguez and I agree.

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church

La Cañada Flintridge

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No less a person than Coretta Scott King is reported to have said: "I believe all [Americans] who believe in freedom, tolerance, and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation." King's statement is clear, concise, and above all transparent. When there is transparency there is room for trust to grow in relationships. We know that people can be counted on. We know what they can be expected to do, because we know what they propose and oppose.

Saying that you like and respect some parts of me but not all parts of me means that our relationship is always going to live in the tension. There are sections of me that frighten you. There are things I may want to share with you that creep you out. I am constantly monitored by your comfort level. The worst-case scenario is that as we associate, you may always be waging a war against me to change the way I am, to make you more at home in the world. What an exhausting relationship for both of us.

Popular media rapidly changes our perception of many things. I am warmed by the fact that formerly exclusionary faiths, even the one led by Pope Leo, are ever so gingerly testing the waters of sexual tolerance and acceptance. However it is important that people of different sexual orientation not be fooled. At this stage of evangelical development, it is more important than ever to enter any discussions as fully entitled and beloved equals rather than as converts. Knowing what people propose may be one thing, not knowing fully what they oppose means you may be setting yourself up to be further catechismed into more brainwashing and self-hatred.

The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel
Burbank

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The goal of this campaign, as I understand it, is the proper realignment of Christians' treatment of those who for the most part do not belong to our faith. Most of those mentioned (excluding undocumented immigrants) have taken a hostile stance against historic, orthodox Christianity. In standing for moral and doctrinal truth believers tend to forget that we are all made in God's image and that God still deeply loves the person lost in sin.

Paul the Apostle wrote, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves" (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). God calls us to seek out and remove sin from ourselves and to seek and save those who are outside with the message of God's love, the kindness of which leads sinners to repentance.

We must remember that sinners can do nothing but sin. The natural man does not accept the things of God and is incapable of pleasing him. Those outside the faith must have their eyes opened by the gracious work of the Lord Jesus who loved them and gave himself up on the cross for us all. We indeed should treat everyone with love and respect, with the hope that they will repent of their sin and turn to Jesus.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist

Burbank

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I can appreciate the sentiment of this campaign, but it seems rather faddish since it proposes nothing new. It may sound new, but the point about all people being made in God's image is the reason we Evangelicals exist; we must take the message (the evangel/gospel) of salvation to all because all are made in God's image (Genesis 1:27) and all need saving (Acts 4:12). Everyone bears the Imago Dei, or image of God, but everyone will not abide our message because it comes with a string attached; repentance (turning from sin).

The tag-line about being known by what we propose rather than what we oppose is catchy, but nobody can fully get away with this if what they propose is in any way going to oppose someone else's behavior or views. Evangelicals wish to be known as positive heralds of God's forgiveness and everlasting life, but those who embrace what God clearly condemns will hear only their pet sins denounced, and will negatively declare this our single mission. The fact that the Imago Dei campaign motto proposes the recognition "that every human being, in and out of the womb, carries the image of God," will immediately draw the ire and opposition of abortionists, despite its positive proposal.

Understand that holding this belief in the human reflection of God goes beyond the small politically charged list provided. It also includes pedophiles, dictators, rapists, Klansmen, Mafioso's, and drug lords. It even includes the opposites of the Imago Dei list: legal immigrants, heterosexuals, conservatives, and Evangelicals. Everyone should be seen in light of the Imago Dei, but they should also be seen as having need to obey the Dei in whose imago they are made. Christ was opposed for what He proposed, and the imago's crucified Him. Image is not everything…

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church

Montrose

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Francis Schaeffer, one of my heroes, described humans as being "glorious ruins." We are glorious precisely because we are made in the Image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 records that in the beginning God created mankind in his own image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Every human who has ever been born bears the image of God regardless of gender, race, disability, orientation, IQ or class. This is a compelling reason to treat every individual, "in and out of the womb," with respect, compassion, and dignity. No one who is made in the image of God can ever be thought of as ordinary, boring, unworthy or respect or sub-human.

But the early chapters of Genesis also record the first rebellion of humans against their creator God, and the entrance of sin into the world. This is why Schaeffer described humans as "glorious ruins." Sin has marred the image of God in humans, but it is not altogether lost. As sinful people we no longer reflect the knowledge, righteousness, and holiness of God as we should. Sin ruins us. But these ruins are still glorious, because the image of God remains, even when our sinfulness makes it difficult to perceive. This dual perspective, as both glorious and ruins, gives us the resources to treat others as we should. We treat all people with respect, acknowledging the Imago Dei, but need not condone every lifestyle or decision, acknowledging the pervasive influence of sin.

The campaign organizers are completely correct to say that we should treat everyone with love, while not condoning gay marriage or homosexual behavior (or any other sin, big or small). Achieving this balance is not always easy, but who said following Jesus would be easy? And the good news is that Jesus does not leave us as ruins, but went to the cross, taking our ruined-ness on himself, so that we might be restored. So long as the Image of God is obscured by sin, we will need a savior and redeemer. We need Jesus.

Pastor Jeff Tell
New Life Burbank
Burbank

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The Imago Dei Campaign is a curious mix of spiritual uplift, reality politics and business acumen.

At ImagoDeiCampaign.org I find a candid admission that reactionary fundamentalists (they call themselves evangelicals, but stray from that basic mission of spreading Jesus' teachings), fired the first shots of the culture war by using "battle language."

The campaign freely quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was launched on his holiday. They talk of treating all with dignity and respect, including those who disagree.

Their website speaks of a "social media/digital platform" attracting millions to the movement. Other plans include promoting a line of apparel with all proceeds going to end human trafficking. Two successful TV producers are involved in the campaign.

Rev. Rodriguez admits that "younger generations have had enough" of religious narrow-mindedness. When Imago Dei says on their website that "Change is a reality," they are recognizing that the world is passing them and their religion by.

Yet a banner headline on that same site also says "Today's complacency is tomorrow's captivity," which is puzzling but possibly means that the Imago Dei folks feel threatened by the mere fact that people exist who are different from them.

When I assess a religious trend, I like to ask myself, "What would Karl Marx say?" He characterized religion as a human invention providing "the heart of a heartless world." To the extent that Imago Dei is sincere about putting more heart in conservative Christianity, I suppose that they can make a positive difference.

Roberta Medford
Atheist

Montrose

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As Christians, we are called to live a radically different lifestyle, because we operate in a different world reality, the kingdom of God. God's kingdom operates by principles that seem upside down when compared to those that exist in the culture around us. For example, we are called to love our enemies. We are told that the first (i.e. those most prominent) will be last, and that the greatest among us must be the servant of everyone.

Scripture makes it clear that God's reasoning is vastly different from our human reasoning (Isaiah 55:9). However, when we accept Christ, we have access to a whole new way of thinking through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2; Philippians 2:5) so that Christ may dwell in our hearts and we will know the love of Christ and be filled with all the love of God (Ephesians 3:17–19).

Father God places primary importance on our thought life, for our actions proceed from our thoughts. (As a person thinks in their heart, so are they. Proverbs 23:7) To me, Imago Dei is an attempt to transform Christian interaction with others who have differing views on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. It calls Christians to exhibit Christlike character by remembering the innate humanity and dignity owed to each individual.

I pray that the motto of Imago Dei will seriously be embraced by every Christian. It is a call to all of us to imitate the son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. It is reflected in his last commandment to his disciples, "Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples." (John 13:34–35)

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church

Pasadena

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The message of Imago Dei represents the essence of what Christ taught, and how he acted, during his years on Earth. Following his example sincerely and consistently certainly can reduce the bitterness that infects the public debate.

Years ago, while serving as a missionary, I learned that little is gained through argument and acrimony. Especially when the argument is about religion. How, exactly, do we profess Christ's love if our goal is to win the upper hand or embarrass an opponent?

However, communicating a message of love and compassion is especially challenging in a world where discourse has become so cynical and duplicitous. Goodness is easily overlooked because it simply doesn't drive traffic to websites or fit the stereotype that many want to apply to those to profess belief in God. But the truth is, Christians should do this whether or not it influences the outcome of our culture wars. "Love one another" isn't just advice. It is a commandment, albeit a very difficult one to follow.

One thing to remember: as much as Christ loves and accepts us as children of God, he also requires us to live within the bounds that he set. The story of Christ's intervention to prevent stoning of the adulterous woman is a beautiful example of the Lord's willingness to forgive. But we mustn't forget that even as he saved her from physical death, Christ was clear that her old ways were not acceptable. "Go thy way," he said. "And sin no more."

Likewise, we ought to show love and respect for everyone we meet but remember that we can't always agree with them or endorse their choices.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta

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I am pleased to hear that a number of those in various Evangelical Christian groups are moving in the direction of acceptance of all people being made in God's image — if that means a more expansive view of those who have different opinions. That stance would seem to open the door to dialogue about a number of hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, interfaith cooperation, abortion, atheism and undocumented immigrants.

But I am concerned with the reluctance of some of the same people in the Imago Dei project to embrace the extension of that doctrine to include the actions of people who are gay or have other "unacceptable" behaviors. It sounds very much like a current version of " love the sinner but hate the sin."

We Unitarian Universalists believe in "the inherent worth and dignity of every person." That includes those with whom we may not agree. And our belief goes beyond simply tolerating their ideas. Tolerance of people, even with some form of kindness, just says we will put up with them — not that we will truly be open to their beliefs that do not agree with our definition of what is right. My understanding of love is that it is unconditional and goes beyond using nice words in the hope that others will see the error of their ways. Love for me means providing support and acknowledgment for all people even when we differ in our opinions.

If we can't get over our need to make judgments about others according to our limited perspective, we will continue to limit the divine to what we can imagine. If that is true, we are making God in our own image, not the other way around. My hope is that we will find a way to get over ourselves and love all people in all their incredible diversity. Namasté.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills

La Crescenta

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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