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
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 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
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
Q. How will the issue of homosexuality ultimately affect mainline
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
Q. Why do fundamentalists insist on a literal reading of sacred
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
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
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.