Bishop Swing Rewrites Christianity And History
ECUSA'S "UNITED RELIGIONS" ADVOCATE, SCORNS CHRISTIAN MISSIONS, EXCUSES ISLAMIC PERSECUTION
Swing Hailed By Jesuit University President
Commentary Report By Lee Penn
THE CHRISTIAN CHALLENGE (Washington, DC)
July 12, 2001
CALIFORNIA EPISCOPAL BISHOP WILLIAM E. SWING, founder of the United Religions Initiative (URI), promoted his interfaith movement to members of the prestigious Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on April 25--with the support of a nationally-known, liberal Roman Catholic university president.
Fr. Stephen A. Privett S. J., president of the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco (USF), introduced Swing to the audience, praising him as a "bishop for all peoples and all seasons." Said Privett: "At the Jesuit University of San Francisco, we aim to educate students to change the world...Bishop Swing really has changed the world.
"Bishop Swing's vision and spirit are the driving force behind the [URI]," Privett said. "His realization that dogma divides and action unites is the foundation of this worldwide, loosely-knit union of religious persons of all persuasions who work together on the local level for peace, justice, and healing."
With this endorsement of the six-year-old URI, Fr. Privett follows the lead of Fr. John LoSchiavo S. J., Chancellor of USF and a member of the URI "Interim Global Council," its board of directors.
These prominent Roman Catholics support the URI despite a 1996 warning (as quoted by Bishop Swing himself) from Cardinal Arinze, head of the Vatican's Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, that "a United Religions would give the appearance of syncretism and...would water down our need to evangelize. It would force authentic religions to be on equal footing with spurious religions."
But such disapproval did not deter Privett or Swing. In his speech to 40 members of the Commonwealth Club, Swing put the URI forward as the solution for violence and persecution motivated by religion-- though it seemed from his remarks that only non-Christians are victims of the same.
He cited the burning of synagogues and discrimination against Muslims as examples of "how much religious persecution goes on in the United States of America." Throughout his speech, Swing gave examples of persecution of Muslims, violence committed by Christians in India, and outrages in historically Christian countries. Swing never alluded to the persecution of Christians by Muslims, Hindus, or Communists.
He once again predicted that the world will insist on religious unity. "The time will come," he said, "when the world will see the potential of religion and be so frustrated by religion being stuck in the rut of violence that the world will demand a United Religions, and there will be one." He did not say who will make this "demand," or how it will be enforced.
Swing apparently expects religious unity to arise from URI's 1996 decision to include all religions and "spiritual expressions." URI decided to "open the door all the way, and say that anybody from [any] religion, indigenous traditions, or spiritual expressions can come to the table," he said. This paved the way for participation in the URI by Wiccans, theosophists, and New Age authors such as Neale Donald Walsch and Barbara Marx Hubbard.
Swing said the URI is built upon interfaith chapters, called "cooperation circles;" 125 of these now exist worldwide. He described it as "an organizational design where the greatest amount of authority is invested in the smallest unit, which is un-bureaucratic" and "un-centralized."
As Swing reads the Scriptures - especially the parable of the Good Samaritan - "Jesus was a revolutionary about interfaith."
Swing asked, "Can you stand it if God is generous toward Hindus, and Muslims, and Jews?...When we go back and read our scriptures again, we're going to find that there is an awful lot of interfaith that has not been accentuated by our teachers in the past," he claimed. A similar re-interpretation of the Bible had occurred in the U.S. Episcopal Church (ECUSA) after women began to be ordained, he contended; ECUSA then discovered that Jesus had a revolutionary attitude toward women.
The stories of Jesus' birth, teachings, miracles, crucifixion and resurrection apparently aside, Swing averred that "Most of us have learned religion through war. We go back and read our stories, and our group, with our God, fought their group with their god, and we won...and that proves that God loves us and God hates them."
Moreover, Swing said "fundamentalism"--described as adherence to the "exclusive claims" of one's own religion--is one of many obstacles to peace among the nations. In other words (evidently), world peace is threatened by religious believers who uphold their faith as a matter of truth--e.g., the Christian claim that Jesus is "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6).
He said: "Fundamentalism...comes about where people feel more and more insecure, and grab harder and harder to the exclusive claims of one religion or another...The sense of the freedom that there must be in God, and the generosity of God, and the compassion of God, gets frozen out with the exclusive claims. So, fundamentalism is a real issue. But I think fundamentalism isn't just a group of people; I think it's the human heart. How much freedom can you stand? And how much does your lack of security cause you to grip at life so hard that you squeeze the life out of it?"
Likewise, all of Swing's mentions of Christian evangelism were negative, with a reference at one point to the "stridency" of missionary activity. "If you are a member of...a missionary religion, how do you hold on, on the one hand, to being on mission, rightfully so for your faith, and at the same time hold onto a vision of a generous God who holds everything together? How do you keep this stridency and this tolerance together inside yourself?" he asked. "I think you live into the question, till you come to a new internal change in your own heart."
In illustrating his point, Swing revealed that a non-Christian critic of missions--a Jewish psychiatrist from Harvard University--had been chosen to address the March meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops at Kanuga. There, Swing said, some bishops were talking about "going out on mission." According to Swing, the psychiatrist said, "When you guys start talking about being out on a mission, it scares me to death, because what it means is you're after us."
Swing was more understanding and patient toward Muslim intolerance than Christian missions. When asked whether Islamic governments should be forced to secularize, Swing described the Shari'a law against blasphemy in Pakistan, with its provision for executions on the testimony of one witness. He said, "I think we're a long, long, long, long way away from having Islamic countries change. They have a high doctrine of not wanting to get sucked into contemporary values which they think have led a lot of people astray. They feel like the closer they stay with the teachings of the Prophet, and Allah through the Prophet, the closer they are to real law and the closer they are to real justice."
Swing likewise made excuses for the destruction of Buddhist statues by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. While insisting he was not taking the side of the Taliban, he said "There are a lot of things that have the potential to be idols, and some of those need to be blown up." For Swing, the episode "raises the whole question of idolatry in this world."
When an audience member asked, "If one group practices violence in the name of religion, to what extent is violence justified in order to stop them?," Swing said, "I don't know the answer to that one. I have to go to the next question."
Bishop Swing is not the first URI leader to excuse the crimes of Islamic states. In February 1999, William Rankin (URI vice-president from 1998-2000) told The Center for Progressive Christianity that "In North Sudan, the government, in some measure, is forced into strong Muslim identity by the history of overthrows when a more tolerant attitude was promulgated."
URI outreach has also included the Iranian Shiite regime, which the U.S. State Department continues to list as one of seven governments that are "state sponsors of international terrorism." In late October 1999, the URI in Harare, Zimbabwe "formed a unique and innovative Partnership with the Iranian Embassy in Harare. The URI convened a meeting to be funded by the Iranian Embassy at which the URI...was discussed, and more members received into the URI community."
Swing tied the URI's stated goal of a peace-seeking "universe of religions" to the need for global action on the environment and "the population question." Neither matter, he believes, will ever be solved globally "unless the religions of the world come together and find a common voice." Such an effort, however, appears to demand that some "voices," such as those opposed to abortion and contraception, be silenced.
When Swing presented the URI to diplomats, he got a favorable response: "The ambassadors...say it would be so wonderful if religion would come out in the traffic and play where we play. If religion ever had anything to do with reconciliation or peace, what a difference it would make in the world." By contrast, Swing said that the religious leaders he contacted during his 1996 global pilgrimage refused to help build the URI. (Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has expressed support for URI since that time.)
The Vatican reiterated its opposition to the URI in 1999. Fr. Chidi Denis Isizoh, a member of Cardinal Arinze's staff, wrote to the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, a magazine for Catholic priests, that "Religious syncretism is a theological error. That is why the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue does not approve of the United Religions Initiative and does not work with it...As the [URI] develops, the reasons for not collaborating with it become more evident."
The aforementioned Fr. Privett, meanwhile, has achieved notoriety among conservative Catholics by dismantling the St. Ignatius Institute (SII), a Great Books program loyal to church teachings started at USF in 1976 by Fr. Joseph Fessio S. J., the founder of Ignatius Press. In January, the two directors who had run SII for many years (and were close to retirement age) were summarily fired by the Dean of Arts and Sciences. In response, six SII faculty members resigned.
Fr. Privett charged that the six professors had appointed themselves as "guardians of authentic Catholic theology." He claimed, however, that a "one-size-fits-all approach to theology is contrary to the Catholic tradition..."
Supporters of the SII have appealed USF's actions to the Vatican; the outcome of this appeal was unknown at this writing.
At the end of his speech, Swing said of the URI, "We're growing like a weed...It's taking off." The bishop perhaps forgot the parable in which Jesus says "the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age." (Mt. 13:38-39)
Footnotes available upon request
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