Here in the United States, an election day is approaching that is the most consequential one in my lifetime. On trial is the kind of nation and people which we will see ourselves as, and as the peoples of other nations will see us.
In his sermon, "What Is Our Religion Doing to Our Characters?"1, Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote:
"Some years ago in the American College at Beirut, Syria, I addressed an audience of students in which, so they said, there were representatives of sixteen different religions. One could fairly feel the rival faiths bristling at each other. I still can see in my mind’s eye a Moslem from Upper Egypt, a fierce devotee of Islam, who had come to the college at Beirut determined that he would never give in to the influence of Christianity. He was there, and others like him, on guard against this preacher from the West who probably would argue for his religion against theirs. And I can feel yet the tense quietness of the audience at the first sentence. It ran like this: “I am not going to ask any here to change his religion but I am going to ask every one here honestly to face this question, What is your religion doing to your character?”"
That was a fair question for Fosdick to ask then, and it is a fair question for us to ask today. What is my religion doing to my character?
My nominal religion, and possibly the religion to which I adhere, might or might not be in sync with any of the great religious teachers. Furthermore, the thoughts I have and their resultant actions might or might not be in sync with the religion I espouse.
As I was taught in seminary, and as many people were taught in other venues, often there is a difference in our espoused theologies and our theologies in practice. Often there is a difference in what we say we believe and our actions.
Is my religion teaching me to be depressed, or is it teaching me to soar? Is it teaching me to marvel, or to think nothing is particularly wondrous? Is it teaching me respect and love, or arrogance and indifference? Is it teaching me honesty and truthfulness, or dishonesty and falsehood? Is it teaching me that vileness is good, or that immorality and lack of ethics are not to be sought? Is it teaching us to despise or uphold righteousness?
It is said that we are known by the company we keep. It can be said that we are known by the people we choose to lead us. It also can be said that the people we choose to lead us are known by the people who chose them. “What is your religion doing to your character?”
1See the first page of Chapter 11 in, Answers to Real Problems: Harry Emerson Fosdick Speaks to Our Time, Selected Sermons of Harry Emerson Fosdick, Compiled and Introduced by Mark E. Yurs. Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Oregon, © 2008 by Mark E. Yurs. The sermon is from an earlier work of Fosdick’s, The Power to See It Through, © 1935 by Harper and Brothers. Copyright renewed © 1963k by Harry Emerson Fosdick.
Rev Jim Sinclair
Pastor Jim is the minister for First United Baptist Church