Questioning Beyond Ourselves

"Come Sunday" and Jesus as the ultimate question

By Linda Hodges | 5.16.2018

(This post comes to us from Linda Hodges, one of Westar's Board members)

When I agreed to watch the docudrama “Come Sunday,” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m glad I accepted the invitation. (You’ll want to check out our earlier blog post on the film, as well as the Homebrewed Christianity interview with the producer, public radio’s Ira Glass.)

“Come Sunday” is about Bishop Carlton Pearson who was a famous leader of the Pentecostal movement in the 90s. Feeling that God had spoken to him, Pearson began to preach universal salvation and as you may guess, he was declared a heretic by his denomination.

For evangelicals, the idea of salvation for all -- without declaring that Jesus is your Lord and Savior who died for your sins -- is the biggest heresy of them all.  Everything rests on personal salvation.

I know, because I used to be an evangelical.

In fact, I was saved at a Billy Graham crusade in San Diego, California when I was a teenager.

I’m now a Unitarian, but as a born-again Christian teen, “Jesus Christ” quickly became the ultimate answer to all my questions. Then one day, while browsing in a bookstore, I happened upon a book called, Jesus, The Evidence, by Ian Wilson. Thinking that it was along the lines of fundamentalist Josh McDowell’s, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, I bought the book without even opening it. When I got home and began to read it, I was shocked by Wilson’s words, “…it does not need anyone with a Ph.D. in theology to recognize that the Christian gospels can scarcely be the infallible works fundamentalists would have us believe.” Wilson went on to discredit the many verses that I had taken as proof texts. Terrified I slammed the book shut.

But it was too late. My innate curiosity got the better of me and I read the whole book. When I was finished, I felt like I had been deceived. The Bible wasn’t inerrant. Jesus wasn’t born of a Virgin. Suddenly, Jesus was starting to look more like a question than the ultimate answer. Was Wilson right? How many other writers, teachers and preachers agreed with him? Did the Pope know about this? Unsettled and unsure, I set out to learn more, but no one in the church would answer my questions. It was as if I was a child asking them if Santa was real and they were reluctant to tell me the truth.

So, I continued alone on my quest by reading everything I could get my hands on. I finally found answers in Westar scholar Marcus Borg’s book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. His honesty made me weep. Borg’s book led me to Santa Rosa, California, to my first Westar meeting and there, I was introduced to Robert Funk and the work of the Jesus Seminar. Here, at last, were scholars who answered all my questions. They challenged the prevailing religious superstitions with sound scholarship and rigorous methodologies. They were the reason I eventually went to Seminary and why I now serve on Westar’s Board of Directors.

Today, Westar’s work to equip the public “with tools to critically evaluate competing claims in the public discussion of religion,” is vitally needed because religious literalism is on the rise once again. Our mission, geared toward communicating the results of our scholarship to the public and raising religious literacy, makes us unique among scholarly institutions. For me and many others, Westar is a safe place to keep learning and to continue asking the big questions.

And so, the quest continues – for meaning not cloaked in dogma and for truths not based on authority, and for public religious discourse free from religious literalism.

As Marketing and Digital Education Director, Alexis Waggoner works closely with both Westar’s Marketing Committee and the Executive Director to advance the presence and value of Westar in our culture through social media and the use of digital media in public education. Alexis brings to Westar a unique blend of digital marketing and religious education experience. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary. 

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available