Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Controversial Common Law Saints

Miriam, Sister of MosesTo be named a saint officially is a lengthy church process. To become a "Common Law Saint" is much simpler, people just have to think of the person as saintly. Examples from recent history are the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa.

St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco has just completed a decade long mural project with 89 saints dancing in the rotunda over their altar. This impressive project is pictured above from a page in Tikkun Magazine. The saints pictured are listed and described briefly at the church's website - Dancing Saints.

The controversy comes from the fact that not all of the common law saints are Christians. The Rev. Donald Schell, one of the co-Rectors at the time the project was undertaken, writes of this in an essay for Episcopal Cafe telling how he would describe the group to visitors,
Yes, I’d say, pointing up to her icon, that’s Elizabeth I dancing with Malcolm X to her right and Iqbal Masih to her left. We commemorate Elizabeth for her peace-making principle that people praying together would be the ground of our unity, not doctrinal uniformity. I usually began by talking about Elizabeth, because her vision helped shape the whole icon.

We remember Malcolm X, because on his trip to Mecca, God changed his heart and he renounced teaching hate of white people and became an orthodox Muslim, proclaiming and worshipping one God who embraced all humanity. Teaching God’s embrace of all humanity was what got him killed when he came back home.

And Iqbal Masih? He was a Pakistani Christian child sold into indentured servitude at age four. At ten he escaped from crippling work as a rug-knotter, and fearlessly told his story to the world, offering his voice and experience to support the Bonded Labor Liberation Front that was freeing thousands of child-slaves like him and teaching rug buyers around the world to ask who was making their hand-tied rugs, how the workers were being treated and whether they were being paid fairly. In 1995, when Iqbal Masih was twelve, he testified before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. That Easter he went home to his village to go to church, and that afternoon was shot dead, martyred in the street for helping other children find freedom.
Sojourner TruthAs for myself, I absolutely that God touches the lives of those who are not Christian, reaching out to them and drawing them to himself. This is a very Christian idea. I also agree with Schell's contention that God makes saints, we do not and God makes many more than we acknowledge,
Actually, we believe God made them saints, and that God made and is making innumerably more saints, people named and unnamed, so many there’s no wall in the world big enough to hold their icon.
But I would not have even thought of adding "saints" from other faiths to the mural. It just would not have occurred to me. It would call on me to name an action of God's in a way in which I could have no confidence. Yes, I feel I can say I know Saint Francis to have been a saint. Can I name that with the same conviction about Malcolm X whose late in life conversion to a truer form of Islam that caused him to see even white men as his brothers? I value his witness, but I wouldn't be adding his likeness to the walls of King of Peace.

Interested in more on this idea of how God is present to those of other faiths? I have preached before on my own beliefs in this regard God Shows No Partiality.

What do you think?

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor

PS I have past blogs on The Path to Sainthood I, The Path to Sainthood II, and The Path to Sainthood III.



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