Susan Henry-Crowe

April 20, 2016

UMC Official: Christians, Jews, and Muslims on Same “Spiritual Journey”

Last year, the Episcopal Church and United Methodist Church (UMC) officials downplayed their traditional differences and optimistically predicted they were on their way to “full communion.” Now the head of a major United Methodist agency has insisted that God is calling Christians, Jews, and Muslims to put aside their differences to advance the social gospel.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary of the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), preached at the Washington National Cathedral on Sunday, April 17. She began by celebrating the ecumenical cooperation between the UMC and Episcopal Church and the ministry of Methodist Rev. Canon Gina Gilland Campbell at the cathedral. Campbell, who presided over the service on Sunday, joined the staff at the cathedral following an ecumenical agreement between the two denominations.

Yet Henry-Crowe went far beyond Methodist-Episcopal ecumenism during her sermon. She delved into interfaith cooperation – particularly between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – that bordered on syncretism. This sentiment was mirrored by the cathedral’s decision including readings and sung calls to prayer by Jewish and Muslim representatives: Cantor Mikhail Manevich from Washington Hebrew Congregation, Rabbi Bruce E. Kahn from Temple Shalom of Chevy Chase, and Imam Talib Shareef from The Nation’s Mosque, Masjid Muhammad.

Henry-Crowe preached from Genesis 12:1-9, the passage in which God called Abraham to journey “to the land that I will show you.” She used the reading to demonstrate how God supposedly calls Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the same way:

“The text is about the journey that we all share. Each faith family has its own history and narrative and ways of telling the story. But it is God’s story, and it is our story. It is a pivotal story of God calling us – Jews, Christians, Muslims – through Abraham and Sarah. It is about our spiritual journey.”

Henry-Crowe said Abraham and Sarah’s journey to the Promised Land foreshadowed the shared spiritual journey of the three monotheistic faiths “into the new country.” According to Henry-Crowe, this “new country” is a utopian world where all three monotheistic religions unite around the social gospel. After reiterating that “God’s story is given to us all, those who claim Judaism and Christianity and Islam,” she insisted:

“God will come to us and lead us into this new world, where we can care for children on the border, stop gun violence, end racism, eradicate poverty, tear down walls, and remember and desire and hunger for the tree of life and the garden of peace.”

She suggested that achieving this goal required overcoming mere stylistic differences. She said those journeying “across faith lines and into new territory” would encounter “new friends, with unexpected communities, unknown rituals, unfamiliar practices, curious words, strange signs, uncommon or no symbols, unexplored conversations…”

Interfaith cooperation isn’t new for Henry-Crowe. She said that early in her ministry, she began meeting with leaders from various major world religions. During her sermon, she revealed the telling sentiment behind these meetings: “Most of all we did not want to hurt each other’s feelings, and we were burdened with many histories and narratives of ourselves and of one another.” In the end they were able to express their “own authentic faith identity and voice” while ministering together.

What was so troubling about Henry-Crowe’s message was how she emphasized acceptance of other religions at the expense of the Christian claim to exclusive truth. Never did she clearly articulate the Christian gospel during her sermon. She did, however, find time to highlight numerous popular facets of the social gospel.

In contrast, Scripture makes clear that neither the social gospel nor any other belief system is a substitute for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter said of Jesus on Pentecost: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, ESV)

Henry-Crowe’s goal to foster understanding between Christians, Jews, and Muslims is indeed laudable. But reducing the differences between these religions to mere rituals, words, or symbols demonstrates that she doesn’t really understand any of these beliefs or is willfully misrepresenting them.

Indeed, each of these faiths makes exclusive claims to truth. They assert that everyone must repent from certain sins in specific ways and adhere to unique moral codes in order to obtain salvation. It’s impossible to reduce them to a single common Abrahamic tradition. They have substantive and irreconcilable theological differences.

What Christians need to hear from the pulpit isn’t that they believe essentially the same thing as Jews, Muslims, or other people of faith. They need to hear that God is calling them to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, and by extension to promote human flourishing.

Lax theology is not the answer. Transformative truth is.

41 Responses to UMC Official: Christians, Jews, and Muslims on Same “Spiritual Journey”

  1. ken says:

    It’s likely that the mainline/liberal churches will eventually all merge. The UCC and Disciples already share some national staff, the Episcs and ELCA’s have “full communion” since 2001, and some of their congregations have merged. PCUSA, UCC, and ELCA are supposedly in full communion after their Formula of Agreement in 1997. Since the UM is the largest mainline, naturally the pro-merger types will want to include it. Liberals can never grow by gaining converts, they can only grow via mergers, and that inevitably follows the pattern of when the Methodists and EUB merged – a one-time increase, followed by years of losses.

  2. Palamas says:

    I’m sure Muslims will be glad to join her in the GBCS’s crusade to normalize the LGBTQIIQXYZETC continuum.

  3. Dan says:

    I would posit that her theology goes beyond lax to heretical. I vote for Pelagianism as her heresy, one that appears to afflict many UMC clergy. Anybody else care to offer alternative or other heresies for which she qualifies?

    • johnschuh says:

      You are not giving Pelagius his due. Augustine made him seem more heterodox than he was, or he makes himself seem so because of his vagueness. The Greek Church didn’t have the same trouble with his theology as Augustine did. But these people are close to being gnostic.

  4. Greg Paley says:

    Until there are Christian and Jewish terrorists flying jets into skyscrapers, we are most definitely not on the same “journey” as Muslims. It’s typical of the Christian left to wave the white flag to whatever ideology seems to hold the power, whether secularism or Islam.

    • MarcoPolo says:

      A very important distinction regarding those who flew the passenger planes into the World Trade Center towers… They were RADICAL FUNDAMENTALISTS who claimed to be of the Muslim faith.
      None of my Muslim friends or family endorse such terror!

      However, lest we forget, former President George W. Bush ordered planes to continuously fly with lethal terror for years, over the sovereign and innocent country of Iraq, all while claiming to be a GOOD Christian! He even initially referred to our “shock and Awe” campaign as a Crusade! YIKES!!!

      Let’s not become hypocrites in our attempts to find common ground!


      • Grundune says:

        Even though your Muslim friends or family do not endorse the actions of “radical fundamentalists”, they still subscribe to an ideology that authorizes the beheading of you and your family for no other reason than you are not Muslim.

        Their ideology also warns them about making friends with infidels so your Muslim “friends” are either hypocrites or true believers biding their time.

        • MarcoPolo says:

          And we must remain diligent against the militant Christians who also feel that THEIR religion is the ONLY one!
          You know…..Old Testament – New Testament conflict?! Yet another good reason to limit Religions from influencing Governments.

          • Grundune says:

            But not Christian principles. Those should be infused throughout all governments.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Given that many other Religions (some defunct) also share similar values and principles, how would Christian principles qualify over the others?
            …Lest we sound boastful!

          • Grundune says:

            If religion means “to bind together as in the original state” (check a good [also old]Latin dictionary), then the goal of true religion is bind us back to God as we were originally when we were with Him before coming to earth.

            If you accept this, then the True Religion would declare this and have a plan for achieving it (enabling us to return to God).

            Most of the broad spectrum of Christianity has some or most of the parts of this plan. None of the major “religions” (ideologies) acknowledge this concept.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Well, there’s one difference between us.

            I’ve never considered that we are “from God”.
            Why would anyone need to believe that?
            We’re simply stardust…nothing more, nothing less! Beautiful, isn’t it?!

            “….before coming to Earth? You’ve opened a can of worms with that thought. Oh yeah!

          • Grundune says:

            Well, now you have considered it.

            Christians all want to return to God, but they never consider that meant first leaving Him.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            I’ve only just heard you say it. That does not mean I’ve considered it, as it makes no sense to me. “Return to God”. Hmm?

          • Grundune says:

            A very light consideration to be sure, but perhaps with time you’ll revisit it in depth.

            I have found that a more full understanding of where we came from, why we are here and where we are going, helps make sense of life.

            I tend to irritate a lot of main stream Christians who haven’t really thought about what they believe.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            One must first leave, in order to return.

            So perhaps the Prodigal Son story best illustrates the appreciation of one’s Homecoming?

          • Grundune says:

            I believe we left heaven to be born on earth. I also believe we wanted to leave and chose to leave because it was the only way we could continue our progression to become like our Father whom we loved and who had been raising us for a long time. In fact, we had progressed as far as we could in his presence so he commissioned his son to create this world.
            So returning to God will be a joyous homecoming for those who make it. This is my paradigm and I’m sticking to it.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            With the exception to the extraterrestrial part, that sounds very similar to the development, departure, and return cycles of many Earthly inhabitants.
            If that scenario satisfies your perspective, then Godspeed my friend!

          • Grundune says:

            There is only error or truth. The truth cannot contain errors. In my humble opinion.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Previously, I would have to agree with you, but
            Quantum Physics now suggests otherwise.

            Just as everyone was thinking that there is ONLY on and off, (binary absolutes and such), there now exists (and not just on the nano level) the discovery that there are measurable variants to both poles/extremes.
            Yes, that sounds like I’m trying to split hairs, but I’m not. I’m simply recognizing that absolutes are just two positions in the full spectrum.

            I’m not prepared to discuss the “God Particle” yet, but isn’t Life/Science amazingly exciting?

          • Grundune says:

            All aspects of our existence are thrilling and a great adventure.

  5. Jason P Taggart says:

    There were plenty of go-along clergy in Nazi Germany too, among them the Luther scholar Paul Althaus. They were happy to view Nazism as a fellow traveler with Christianity. Liberal clergy were much more pro-Nazi than the laity ever were, as they were better educated, and Nazism won over academia in Germany long before it trickled down to the laity. People remember the pastors who resisted, like Bonhoeffer, they forget the clergy who were shameless apologists for the Nazis.

  6. MarcoPolo says:

    I think it quite commendable that the good Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe seeks to unify the three Monotheistic religions.

    After all, this planet isn’t getting any bigger, and we need to commune along lines that display our similarities, otherwise, we’ll find ways of separating ourselves…and that’s not good for anyone!

    It would seem that only arrogance of one’s (personal) religion would see this as a negative. Whereas this is a point where we can ALL learn and grow. Remember, the Ego is where the Devil resides!

    We’ve got to drop the “Us vs. Them” mentality if we are ever going to hope to maintain an inhabitable world.


    • Grundune says:

      Fool’s errand. There can only be one true religion and trying to unify truth with error is… well, dumb.

      Especially when the basic doctrine of Islam is the eradication of all other religions and their adherents.

      • MarcoPolo says:

        So among those Muslims that I assume, you know, how many of them prescribe to that doctrine of eradication? When I asked my Muslim friends that question, they laughed in disbelief!
        I’m quite certain that the vast majority of contemporary Muslims would deny THAT to be one of THEIR closely held beliefs.

        You do realize, that virtually ALL religions have at one time or another, suggested that THEIR religion is THE ONLY religion allowed to prosper, or for that matter, exist!

        Now, do you see the basic conflict with Ideologies?
        Especially when they are integrated into Civic policy making.

        Secularism seeks neutrality, and THAT’S a more egalitarian method of serving the masses.

        • Grundune says:

          Whether or not it is THEIR closely held belief, it is the doctrine of Islam and is totally incompatible with Christianity.

          Susan Henry-Crowe will fail.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            So if that were true, shouldn’t we at least try to unify those ideologies? For the sake of the planet!

          • Grundune says:

            How are you going to unify opposites?

            Christianity records the resurrection of the creator of the world and Islam says it didn’t happen. Surah 4:157

            Islam claims that an angel dictated a book to a man making him the definition of a prophet and Christianity warned of false prophets centuries earlier.

            Islam forces, Christianity believes in free agency.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            I think one chooses their religion, thus making the choice a free will action, not a dictate by elders, et al.
            Whether or not there are differences between religions, there are also similarities, and it’s those similarities that should spurn-on a unification.
            Or at least a dialogue about similarities if we expect to inhabit the same planet without constant conflict.

            As for the “record” of Jesus’ resurrection, that is also hyperbole. The same hyperbole that many other religions claim over the millennia.
            It doesn’t take away anything special from Christianity, it simply clarifies the lack of uniqueness of that particular denomination among those others.

          • Grundune says:

            And there’s the rub. What you call hyperbole is the entire basis of our ability to return to the presence of our Father (in heaven) and live with him. The most important act in human history performed for all mankind throughout all time was the atonement.

            Without that sacrifice for sin by one who committed no sin, we would have no way to repent. Therefore, no way to return home to Father’s presence.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            That was always a puzzle to me growing up in the Methodist Church. The atonement suggests that by “God’s” design, Man was corrupt. Well, I happen to agree that Man certainly has the capacity to be corrupt, and until some have their “Come to Jesus meeting” (I’ve always appreciated that phrase), most sinners should be able to attain reconciliation by pleading and supplication to God.
            I’ve always thought it uniquely strange that God needed a Field Lieutenant such as Jesus, to act as an intermediary of sorts. WHY?!
            Any Deity whose tenets are Peace, Love and Understanding has it figured out!
            Have all religions resorted to violence at one time or another?….YES!
            Are they greater, or lesser than any other religion for doing so?…..NO!

            I’ve always known an extreme variety of people, as I grew up around Circus performers and Carnie-folks. Their Nationalities and respective Religions were all over the board, and that helped me determine that this world needs ALL our diversities! And to me, that means we must ALL find ways of cohabiting.

            I’m sincerely happy that you (and millions of others) have the comfort and confidence in your Christian faith. That’s wonderful!
            But lest one be guilty of pride, one shouldn’t be boasting of their God over another person’s God.


          • Grundune says:

            As I grew up in the United Methodist Church I was puzzled by the lack of answers to my questions. I didn’t like the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) answer, “it’s a mystery”.

            I didn’t like the fact that members could hold opposed positions on important points of doctrine and the minister was okay with that. As far as I was concerned there was one and only one truth and I only wanted that.

            As for being guilty of pride, I like what Dizzy Dean said, “it ain’t bragging if you can do it.”

            If God has revealed himself through his modern day prophets AND the Holy Ghost has unmistakably confirmed directly to you that what these prophets have published is true, than the argument is thankfully over for you.

            It ain’t pride if you KNOW it.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Dizzy Dean was certainly a childhood Hero of mine, and he was correct when he stated that quotable phrase… However, he was referring to Skill, NOT Faith. Big difference!
            Unless you look at it as “My team can beat your team”, then that would be bragging, which is considered sinful, ( if one is Christian ).

            Can you name any modern day prophets?
            I think one of the last Prophets, was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King.
            Though, Pope Francis is currently working diligently toward that status.

            The quest for Truth is never settled or even satisfied, as long as the Earth keeps turning, we’ll lean upon the age old fables of yore to try and reconcile reality with religion.

            That’s why I prefer to avoid Organized Religion.

          • Grundune says:

            Interesting dichotomy you raise. Skill vs Faith. I hadn’t thought about it before.

            At one time I had “great” skill in baseball. As a kid I was always cleanup and held the record for home runs one year. Also had a great run of double plays at second base. We had a fast pitcher, so I got a lot of hot grounders. I’d field them, tag the runner going to second as he ran by me and throw the hitter out at first.

            Didn’t have to brag because everyone I cared about know I was good.

            Now I have faith and no sports skill at all.

            So how does this relate to pride? I was proud of what I could do on the ball field, but even now, I don’t consider that a sin. I was happy. I was a happy kid when it came to baseball.

            Now I am a happy adult. Not always, however. I wondered about (and worried about) what lied ahead for me and my loved ones. I also wondered who am I, why am I here and where I’m am I going after death or is death the end.

            I already told you some of what it was like growing up Methodist. I eventually decided that no one had the answers to my questions and I soured on organized religion and stopped attending church.

            So I totally sympathize with you.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Thanks for your cogent response…much appreciated among so much vitriol.

            Humility is basically what I was trying to illustrate.
            One’s learned and honed skills are indeed virtuous in context to the BIG picture, but my point was that any religion who boasts of “their” God being THE ONLY God, is unnecessary, given that this planet will do better without that conflict.

          • Grundune says:

            Getting back to Dizzy Dean, if I can borrow from his idea: if a religion can prove that it is the true religion and it is commanded to bring this message to the world in spite of all sorts of opposition should it also be condemned for boosting?

            And yes, that’s a lot of if’s.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            I suppose any religion is prepared to defend it’s existence. Whether it ever ‘proves’ it’s validity or superiority is a matter of perspective.

            Given that humans are involved, that matter becomes more competitive and convoluted.

          • Grundune says:

            A religion cannot prove it is the TRUE religion. But the true religion can teach folks what they must do to receive the proof.

            When I use the word “proof” I mean that the person has gone from “believing” and/or “faith” to KNOWING. How is this possible for the most religiously skeptic person in the world?

            The only way someone can KNOW that anything divine is TRUE is if God himself provides that truth directly to him.

            Humans insist that a scientific proof be replicated independently by others before it is accepted as real. But on an earth created by God for his purposes, he has reserved the proof only for those who he knows are ready for it. Because once the proof is given to a person, that person “knows” and can no longer grow in faith in that area. It takes a God to know when a person is ready to receive God’s proof.

            Once someone has received proof from God, that person can try all he wants, but he can’t prove what he knows to be true to someone else. God reserves the proof for himself.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            I know you’re attempting to be clear and perspicuous in describing your position, however, I’m still struggling to fully understand what you mean.
            I will no doubt, re-read your comment several more times, in order to comprehend your point.

            At this point, I can only congratulate you on your belief in your faith. That’s not something that can be taken away by Man.

            Be well and prosper!

          • Grundune says:

            Sometimes I do have trouble expressing myself. The problem is, I don’t seem to improve with practice.

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