A plan to hold Easter service at a Sacramento, Calif., mosque is drawing a mixed reaction from the Christian community.
Some are commending the event, especially the generosity of the Muslim community to provide a place for a Sacramento community needing space, as a needed expression of mutual respect between cultures. But the good news of a resurrected Christ won't be part of the service.
"I know that I don't believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus but I do believe his spirit ascended and his teachings are very valid and transformative," the Rev. Michael Moran, senior minister of The Spiritual Life Center, told The Christian Post over the phone.
SLC will be holding all of their upcoming Easter services at a mosque owned by the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM) – the result of an expiring lease on their building at Pioneer Christian Church.
The church is part of the Unity movement, founded by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore in 1889, which holds beliefs not in line with traditional Christian teaching. Their ministry embraces the controversial "one God, many paths" belief and desires to create peace and harmony among all the world religions. Though they see Jesus as a great teacher, they do not see him as the only way to eternal life.
"I graduated seminary from the Unity School of Christianity," Moran told The Christian Post. "It's s a very liberal form of Christianity and so Jesus is very central to my spiritual path but I would not pass the litmus test of very fundamental Christian beliefs. But for me, Jesus is the most important teacher of my life and he is the one that I strive to be like."
When asked why then he was holding an Easter service in April, which celebrates a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, he responded, "I think there are many ways to look at that."
While many of his own congregants believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, he does not.
"I believe it was more of spiritual resurrection and that it's symbolic of what everybody does when they rise above old beliefs and that we all can have a personal resurrection experience whenever we overcome the world."
During the Easter service, Moran will be speaking to that effect. "I'll mention that there are many different beliefs in our congregation. That there is the physical belief, looking at the story as a metaphor for personal resurrection and ... that Jesus showed us a different way of living life."
Professor Erik Thoennes, chair of Biblical & Theological Studies at Biola University, however, asserted that "an Easter service where the physical resurrection of Christ is not believed, is not an Easter service in any sense, biblically or historically."
"A church that does not follow the risen Christ is not a true church," he told The Christian Post in an email.
Because the SLC would be out of a home by the end of March, the leaders knew they would need to plan ahead and secure a separate area for their Easter service, which draws more than 1,000 people –twice as many attendees as their regular services.
While their regular Sunday services will be held inside a small auditorium at a country club during the month of April as they look for a new building, only their Easter service is set to take place within the Islamic center.
Though some question SLC's views on what to celebrate on Easter, many are receptive to the idea of holding Easter service in a mosque, according to Moran.
"It's almost overwhelmingly positive except when you read the little blogs. But within our community and within the Sacramento community we're getting tremendous feedback."
Those that do oppose the services at the mosque, however, are responding with the same argument that Moran says he always fears – "Let's make them wrong, us right, they're damned, we're saved. He wasn't paying much attention to the criticisms, he noted.
Moran said the idea to hold the Easter services at SALAM's mosque all started with a vision. "In my dream state when I was wrestling with this problem I actually saw a newspaper on my kitchen counter that said 'Easter at the mosque' and I thought, 'oh boy that's really far out, that will never happen,' but the next morning as I was driving into work it ran across my mind again," Moran expressed to CP.
Calling up his friend Dr. Metwalli B. Amer, who co-founded SALAM, he asked him if his church could use their building to worship during Easter.
Amer, a professor emeritus at California State University asked Moran to give him some time to think and pray about it. After a few days, he called back and said that SALAM would love to welcome him, his choir, and his congregation to use their facilities during Easter and all for no cost.
"We were fully prepared to pay and he said, 'this is our gift to you. You're in need, you don't have a place and we do and hospitality is part of all of our great spiritual traditions so please come in and be our guests,'" the reverend described.
Moran believes that "Easter at the mosque" would be a great message for those in the community. "Muslims and Christians can play nice together," he explained to CP. "There doesn't have to be this animosity."
"All of our great spiritual traditions, all of the Abrahamic religions have hospitality to those outside of your community as a core belief. Jesus talked about the Good Samaritan, the Quran talks about for those who love Allah you must serve those outside your community, it's a part of Buddhism, Hinduism – every one of those says care for those that are not like you that live outside of your belief system. That's not always followed but do unto others as others would do unto you. So Metwalli said, 'you're in need and this is what I would hope somebody would do for us.'"
When asked how Moran reconciled many of his beliefs with what was in the Bible, which he taught from along with other religious scriptures on Sundays, the senior pastor said, "I don't believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. I believe over the years it's been changed, politicized, but I believe that in the Bible that there is great truth and there is also a lot of misstatements in it."
Selecting passages that focus on Jesus' teachings of love, generosity, acceptance, and forgiveness, Moran chooses to speak on "beautiful scriptures of love," and not hate and condemnation.
In regards to the afterlife and heaven, he teaches that no matter what someone's belief system is whether in heaven or in reincarnation, "where you go and what happens to you is determined by how you live your life now."
"I trust that whatever is waiting for me will be good and that it will be as good as I am able to live now on a daily basis. If I can be more Christ-like then I don't think I have a whole lot to worry about."
Thoennes rejected those views. "A pastor who redefines the Christian faith to fit with contemporary sensibilities, rather than the whole counsel of God's word, is not a pastor, but a false teacher."
"We live in an age where people feel great freedom to use weighty words with vapid content," he concluded. "[Moran] may call himself a Christian, but Jesus still gets to define what Christianity really is."
"Tolerance without truth is profoundly unloving. Christ told us to speak the truth in love, and make disciples of all nations. Love should typify our lives, but the church's most loving what is faithful to its calling as the pillar and buttress of truth."