"Lord of all power and might, author and giver of all good things. Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen."
Every time I hear the phrase, "increase in us true religion," my blood starts to turn a little bit icy in my veins. I think of all the times that I have had to listen to or be confronted with Christian prejudice against me because I'm queer. Recently, I have been stunned listening to people who are otherwise nice, church-going Episcopalians, make all kinds of accusations about Muslims or Jews or Pagans or anyone else who doesn't profess a faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Particularly, the anti-Muslim bias is on the rise, especially with the reports of ISIS beheading people who refuse to convert to Islam. Suddenly, ISIS becomes the face of Islam for the world. That should be as alarming as the thought of Westboro Baptist Church becoming the symbol that represents the face of Christianity.
ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram. These groups, for me, do not define Islam. What they represent is actually something that should chill the blood in the veins of Muslims as well as non-Muslims because they cloak themselves in a religious belief and then commit acts of terror on all those they consider the "other" which quite often includes other Muslims. Islam, like Christianity, has had its splits and fractures beginning with the major division between the Sunni and the Shiite Muslims over who is the truest descendant from the prophet Mohammad. It's a chasm that continues to cause problems and tensions in the Islamic world, and it is the major divide that peacemakers such as the Reverend Canon Andrew White, who is vicar of the only Anglican Church in Baghdad, must contend with as they strive to get the many factions of Iraq to talk to one another. But the groups who commit crimes such as the 9/11 attack on the United States, or kidnapping Nigerian schoolgirls are not representing Sunni or Shiite Muslims. They are simply terrorists.
Well, one might say, why don't the Muslim imams and other religious leaders condemn these acts? They are. Just because their voices are not heard in our media that often doesn't mean that they aren't condemning them. And again I point to the Westboro Baptist Church. Or the late Jerry Falwell. Or Pat Robertson. Or the take-your-pick of local churches both Protestant and Catholic with an outspoken cleric who spouts off virulent anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant stuff. When I was counted among the "unchurched" I used to grumble that church leaders who did not condemn "x" group needed to start speaking up. Some did. But a lot did not which only helped to contribute to the feelings among some that Christianity was about "Love Your Neighbor as long as your neighbor is one of us, and not THEM." Not exactly the message Christ imparted to his followers.
So what then is the "true religion" we should desire to see increase in us? If it is true Christianity, then we might have to be willing to let go of our protective fence of "us" which defines as not being one of "them." The example of this kind of being true to Christ is beautifully illustrated in the story of the Good Samaritan. The one who actually fulfilled the greatest commandment of loving God by seeing the one in need and helping him to care and safety is the one who is doing and living as Christ has said we should all do and live. He didn't check to see if this beaten man was a Samaritan, although he likely would have known that he was not based upon dress or the way he trimmed his beard. But the point is he didn't hesitate to act with compassion and love for a person in need.
"True religion," for us in this world of multi-faith and no faith, therefore would seem to be to make the effort to strive for a more Christ-like approach to people and to all beings on our planet. To live and move and have our being rooted in compassion and to make no peace with those who intend to inflict harm and oppression. "True religion," would ask us to pray for those who are our enemies, and ask that we not drop into the pit of prejudice and hatred, so that we may indeed recognize that we are One with the One.