Rohr, Mandela, Westboro and, a book shop

Today, something strange happened to me; well I thought it strange.

I went into a small Christian bookshop and asked if they would order me two copies of Richard Rohr’s ‘The Naked Now,’ subtitled Learning to See as the Mystics See. I was hoping to give the copies to friends as Christmas presents. To my surprise back came the answer ‘No.’

The retailer then explained that he couldn’t help me because Rohr, is – wait for it – a Catholic, worst still one of the Roman variety! Now the book is nothing to do with Catholicism. In fact Richard Rohr is frequently critical of his own tradition. He operates from the periphery of the Catholic Church. Through his work Rohr seeks to reach out to all denominations. He is not interested in selling to anyone Marian theology, doctrines of purgatory or, transubstantiation.

Earlier in the week the (in)famous Westboro Baptist Church saw fit to inform anyone who would listen that Nelson Mandela is now in hell, alongside Gandhi. Presumably Mandela and Gandhi are anticipating the arrival of Aung San Suu Kyi. Mandela’s crime? Divorcing his first wife. Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi? Simple, not being ‘Christians.’ If you are gay watch out, for you might get to meet some very interesting ‘world changers’ in the next life, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as he supports any form of minority going, especially those who are discriminated against. You might also get to meet the odd Roman Catholic writer. Hell, in the Westboro scheme, will be very large and packed with some very interesting souls! It might look a little like a community of those who stood in solidarity with, and sought justice for, the oppressed in this life.

Poor souls, they had obviously misunderstood the part of the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ where we ask for the breaking in of the ‘kingdom on earth as well as in heaven.’  If Westboro and their ilk have got it right then the ‘reward’ for standing alongside the oppressed in love and justice (i.e. bringing a foretaste of heaven to earth) is hell! That’s just plain weird.

So in order to be saved do we need to:

a) explicitly declare an allegiance to Christ?

b) join a specific denomination, or church?

Is this what Jesus expects for those he admits to his many roomed mansion? I don’t think so.

It seems to me that Jesus welcomes all that seek to stand alongside the poor in solidarity, charity and hospitality whether or not they explicitly understand that in serving the oppressed they also serve Christ. Why do I believe this to be the case?

The (salvation) Parable of the Sheep and the Goats would be my key text. (Matthew 25 31-46). I would also site Paul’s encounter with the righteous Athenians (Acts 17, 23), ‘what you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you.’  In fact, I would go one step further and cite Matthew 7, 21-23:Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…………’

And, no we don’t need to belong to a specific denomination or church, for there really are ‘many rooms’ in God’s mansion, and in any case Jesus’ last prayer is that we should all be one (John 17, 20). I am not sure the oneness that Jesus desires is contingent on one group dominating all others. I sense that Jesus had quite a lot of experience of what this type of behaviour felt like!

Does this mean I am free to reject Christ, to assume that my salvation can be assured through living peacefully in pursuit of justice?

No, because in His grace, I believe that Jesus has revealed Himself to me, and that my ‘election’ is not a passport to heaven but rather an invitation to be one of the ‘first fruits.’ In strange and different ways God may elect others to take great risks for the sake of the ‘kingdom here on earth.’ I suspect that Mandela, Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu and a whole bunch of Catholics (including Richard Rohr) may one day dine together not in hell, but in heaven. As for Westboro and their ilk, well that’s up to God.


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