St. Paul Pioneer-Press, Jun. 05, 2004

Pastor and scholar preaches the virtues of hospitality

By John Blake
Cox News Service

ATLANTA -- If you don't know Martin Marty, you haven't been paying attention.

The 73-year-old Lutheran pastor with the ever-present bow tie has left his imprint on American religious life. He is the author of 50 books, winner of the National Book Award and a constant fixture in documentaries and panel discussions. Time magazine once called him the "most influential interpreter of religion."

He also is a senior regent and past acting president of St. Olaf College in Northfield and the father of Minnesota state Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville.

Marty recently concluded a stop in Atlanta -- as the Robert W. Woodruff visiting professor of Interdisciplinary Religious Studies at Emory University -- where he co-directed a major research project on the religious issues affecting children.

In 1987, Marty helped lead a team of international scholars who spent six years writing a five-volume study on the history of fundamentalism across the religious spectrum that became known as "The Fundamentalism Project."

Marty, a retired University of Chicago professor, said that study and his experience studying religious conflict have persuaded him to practice hospitality at his home in Chicago with his wife, Harriet. They do so by inviting people over for dinner who hold opposing religious points of view.

"Being hospitable also doesn't mean leaving your convictions at the door," Marty said. "If you're a Jew or a Muslim (who has) come to the Marty house, we don't take the crucifix and icons down, but we do talk differently and listen differently -- and so will you. That starts with conversation."

While fine-tuning the manuscript of his next book, "When Faiths Collide" (Blackwell), due out this fall, Marty talked about the divisions within and among religions and the sacred duty to practice hospitality -- the theme for his new book.

Q. Your next book will deal with the religious importance of hospitality. Why focus on that now?

A. When you ask how to begin to bridge the gaps and gulfs of left and right, Christian and Muslim, Jew and gentile, all of them rubbed raw at the edges, I think we can learn from ancient concepts and practices of hospitality.

I like that word better than tolerance since that has gotten to represent weak virtues, as in 'If I can get you to believe as little as I do, and be nice about it, we'll get along.' Hospitality struck me as a better concept to start the conversation.

Being hospitable doesn't mean that I become the other and the other becomes me. Nor does it mean parking your deepest convictions at the door. We need models in which differences remain, but people interact positively.

We're so polarized into red and blue, and all. But liberals need conservatives and vice vers

A. The pathos of the splits in groups like the Southern Baptist Convention is that they were at their best just before they broke up. Under the same roof, the moderates could monitor and nudge the conservatives and vice versa, usually to good effect. Conservatives: "Why aren't you saving souls?" Moderates: "Why don't you put more energy into changing the world?" Both had to respond. Then came not a political but a military model: "Shape up or ship out."

Q. How will the issue of homosexuality ultimately affect mainline denominations?

A. In the short run, it can only be traumatic. About 20 percent of the people are extremely against churches ordaining homosexuals in open relationships, and 20 percent are extremely for it, with about 60 percent in between. In the long run, I can only say that when there is more familiarity, there is more openness. As time passes -- we like to say, as soon as every 10th evangelical pastor's son or daughter comes out -- you'll see considerable change in the culture.

Q. Define fundamentalism.

A. In "The Fundamentalism Project," we asked why the 20th century needed a new term since it already had conservative, traditional and orthodox. A new word often signals a fresh reality. Fundamentalism grew up on traditionalist or conservative soil, but its leaders and followers were experiencing a profound and total threat. The code word for the threat is "modernity" or "modernism," usually referring to pluralism, diversity. In Islamic fundamentalist circles, "the Jew" represented the threat, and, in Israel, vice vers

A. In American fundamentalism, there were Protestants who felt that their old verities and territory were being taken away, that they were being forced to accept unwelcome change.

Q. How do fundamentalists react to unwelcome change?

A. They feel that if they do not resist, they will be overwhelmed. They think of themselves as "the old-time religion." But the fundamentalists and their kin that we studied all outdid modernists in the use of media and technology. They couldn't exist without them. Think of radio, television and the Web in their hands.

Next, fundamentalists build figurative walls and barriers against first the outsider, the great Satan, the liberal, the modernist. Second, they attack the insider, the liberal or, more vividly, the moderate who commutes between realms. He knows better and gives away too much.

Q. Why do fundamentalists insist on a literal reading of sacred texts?

A. The fundamentalists engage in what we call "selective retrieval." They don't often talk about the great themes: the Trinity, the Incarnation, the sacraments. They fight what will oppose theological venturing. William Jennings Bryan, the great first-generation fundamentalist layperson, accused liberals of using the words "sacramental" and "symbolic" while fundamentalists liked "literal." Of course, no one is or can be literally literal. Think of the "Left Behind" books, based on dream language in the Bible and developed with imaginative, often mathematical games. The "Left Behind" books are not literal readings of the Bible. The authors favor dream and visionary books in the Bible.

Q. You have had an amazingly productive career. At 73, how do you remain so productive?

A. I've never been anybody else, so I don't know what other way I could be. I like what I do. I get up early in the morning. I married well. My wife and I complement each other. She is a musician, and she keeps a good house and (she) is fun to come home to. I got more done because I taught mainly graduate school, which is less creatively stressful than is undergrad teaching; there is more time to write. I've had good health -- as a Lutheran, I say, "by grace, not by merits." I missed one day of work in my life because of illness. We goof off, too. I like Baroque music, piano jazz -- old-time favorites like Art Tatum and Bill Evans down into our time. My wife is an opera person. I'm learning, and hope I always will be.

Q. Are fundamentalist Christians running the United States' foreign policy?

A. Fundamentalists have to feel they have a mission, that they are called to lead an army of reaction, using the fundamentals of doctrine, law or story as ammunition. You know God is on your side.

Fundamentalists by themselves are not running America and can't run Americ

A. To win anything they have to be in coalitions, which takes the edge off what they believe and say. This is a hard country to remain hard-core fundamentalist. Lures in moderate evangelicalism and elsewhere are too strong. ,br>  John Blake writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.