This is the latest in my occasional series of conversations about Christianity. Here’s my interview, edited for space, with Serene Jones, a Protestant minister, president of Union Theological Seminary and author of a new memoir, “Call It Grace.”
KRISTOF Happy Easter, Reverend Jones! To start, do you think of Easter as a literal flesh-and-blood resurrection? I have problems with that.
JONES When you look in the Gospels, the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves. But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.
For me it’s impossible to tell the story of Easter without also telling the story of the cross. The crucifixion is a first-century lynching. It couldn’t be more pertinent to our world today.”
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Kristof and Serene Jones end:
I’ve asked this of other interviewees in this religion series: For someone like myself who is drawn to Jesus’ teaching but doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or the physical resurrection, what am I? Am I a Christian?
Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian minister.
I often feel like we are in the middle of another reformation in a 500-year cycle. John Calvin and Martin Luther had no idea they were in the middle of a reformation, but they knew that church structures were breaking down, new forms of communication were emerging, new scientific discoveries were being made, new kinds of authorities and states and economic systems arising — all like this moment in time. This creates a spiritual crisis and a spiritual flexibility.
Christianity is at something of a turning point, but I think that this questioning and this reaching is even bigger than Christianity. It reaches into many religious traditions. This wrestling with climate change, and wrestling with the levels of violence in our world, wrestling with authoritarianism and the intractable character of gender oppression — it’s forcing communities within all religions to say, “Something is horribly wrong here.” It’s a spiritual crisis. Many nonreligious people feel it, too. We need a new way entirely to think about what it means to be a human being and what the purpose of our lives is. For me, this moment feels apocalyptic, as if something new is struggling to be born.
Like 2,000 years ago?
Yes. Something was struggling to be born on that first Easter. It burst forth in ways that changed the world forever. Today I feel that spiritual ground around us shaking again. The structures of religion as we know it have come up bankrupt and are collapsing. What will emerge? That is for our children and our children’s children to envision and build.