March 17/17 |
by Rev Gordon Taylor
Supercessionism – and it is a problem … not just because it sounds like a word only pompous cross-word puzzlers use. If we pretend it is a long Latin term for a contagious germ, we might approach the idea with the right amount of caution.
Supercessionism refers to the view that a later set of beliefs is superior in every way to what preceded it, even if the former gave rise to the latter. Those who hold this view may feel they may “sit upon” (the Latin root of the term) or completely replace what has come before.
Sometimes supercessionism make sense. In writing a will, this kind of language is often present: … “This new legal document replaces all that were written before.” In a kitchen or lab, it is sometimes appropriate to toss out an unworkable recipe. There was no point in Edison continuing to use the scores of filament materials that DID NOT work in his bulb. But when it comes to religion, supercessionism is a problem; it all to easily becomes disdain for and rejection of others.
Supercessionism does not make sense when it comes to faith. God is too big to be described in legal terms; God cannot be contained by one recipe rather than another. And so, we cannot begin to imagine that one religion has enough wisdom and lives with enough grace to discount the genuine love and honest faith that another brings to the table. I like the line in The West Wing, when Toby Ziegler is asked if he believes the Bible is the Word of God. Toby says something like, “Yes I do, but I don’t think either you or I are smart enough to fully understand it.” That works for me, too.
Christianity has been particularly susceptible to supercessionistic views. It has justified its behaviours toward Jews (and Indigenous spirituality)* with this sense of superiority. In order to do so, we have had to suppress our own Jewish roots. Let me illustrate this kind of thinking that the United Church of Canada intentionally rejects**:
If we are truly loyal to The One God, we may think we have to reject (or worse, get rid of) all that has gone before. And so over time we deliberately forget that the one we follow was born as a Jew and died as a Jew and that all of his first disciples were Jews; we forget that he did not create the supper he celebrated the night in which he was betrayed; to forget that the “blood of the Lamb” is a Passover reference; to forget that virtually everything Jesus taught was already found in Tanakh (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) and so interpret them in a way that is disconnected from their origins. Knowingly and unknowingly, the interpretation of angry portions of New Testament scriptures have sowed seeds of anti-Judaism, a hostility that bore poisonous fruit in sword-point conversions (ISIS didn’t invent that), inquisitions, ghettos, and in Nazism’s God-awful “final solution.”
With the rise of right wing populism around the world, once again, we hear leaders and movements calling for the elimination of whole groups of people because their faith has been superseded. If we ever grow comfortable or complacent in the face of that kind of rhetoric, because we feel our faith is superior to that of others, we have caught the fatal disease of supercessionism. Let us always speak up to challenge the right of any person, leader, or group to advocate such replacement. As the United Church of Canada Song of Faith says:
God is Holy Mystery,
beyond complete knowledge,
above perfect description.
the one eternal God seeks relationship.
So God creates the universe
and with it the possibility of being and relating.
God tends the universe,
mending the broken and reconciling the estranged.
God enlivens the universe,
guiding all things toward harmony with their Source.
Grateful for God’s loving action,
We cannot keep from singing.
What do you think? Comment at UCiM’s Facebook page.
* Christianity is not alone in having held, or continuing to hold, supercessionist views. However, it is not my place to confess the sins of others, just my/our own.
** Bearing Faithful Witness, 1997. The United Church of Canada. Available online.