Bahai News - 'Who do men say that I am?'
'Who do men say that I am?'
For the world's nearly 2 billion Christians, Jesus
Christ is the miracle-working Messiah whose coming 2,000 years ago was foretold by biblical prophets and who
one day will return to Earth.
2:03 p.m. 12/22/2001
By Phil Anderson
During his three years of ministry, Jesus changed water into wine, fed the multitude of 5,000 with five barley
loaves and two fish, made the blind see and walked on water. Based on his words and deeds, his followers believed
him to be the son of God, who came to take away the sins of the world.
Yet he died at age 33 as a common criminal, crucified on a cross, before his resurrection three days later, which
gave rise to the spread of his message.
Thousands of his believers were persecuted and martyred in succeeding years. Instead of the religious movement
fading away, however, it prospered and spread around the world.
Today, Christianity is the world's largest and most geographically diverse religion.
According to gospel accounts in the New Testament, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in the village of Bethlehem,
an event which will be commemorated Tuesday as Christmas Day is celebrated around the world.
While Jesus is the focal point of the Christian faith, and, it could be argued, the central figure in human
history, he is viewed differently within Christendom and by other major world religions.
Often seen as a great prophet or a wise teacher, not all religions are willing to ascribe to Jesus the same
divine attributes he is accorded in Christianity.
Once, when he was with his 12 disciples, Jesus asked the question: "Who do men say that I am?" Today, the
question is just as compelling.
To that end, The Topeka Capital-Journal asked several local religious leaders to weigh in on this question.
Nearly all the leaders who were asked graciously consented to make a response.
Their statements follow.
American Indian tradition
"American Indians, like people of other backgrounds, follow a variety of beliefs and practices," said Steve
Shewmake, of Topeka. "Some have abstained from participating in religious practices that are viewed as
non-indigenous, but many others have embraced the Christian faith wholeheartedly and see nothing that should
prevent them from also honoring the ways of their ancestors.
"As a Cherokee family, we know that many of our people have been Christians for a long time. Sometimes it is easy
to forget that many of the first churches built in this country were started as missions to the American
"Some say that our Cherokee ancestors frustrated the missionaries because they -- the Cherokees -- were already
aware of what the missionaries were teaching. Our people have always 'gone to the water,' a custom of prayerfully
beginning each new day with a ceremonial washing that purifies the spirit as well as the body. Many people
believe that it is basically the same practice taught by Jesus and his disciple, John the Baptist. Also, Cherokee
people have long worshipped a creator whom our ancestors called the Three Above Beings: One God in Three
"Our stories tell us that Creator sent his spiritual beings to tell us of his son long before Europeans came to
this land. People have to decide for themselves whether they will accept these stories. Cherokee elders say that
they are true, while some anthropologists say that our people obtained these stories from missionaries. However,
the writings of the missionaries tell of their own amazement at our Cherokee ancestors' understanding of what was
being told to them. There are many parallels, including the Cherokee names of Creator and his son that sound very
similar to the names that other peoples have used: 'Yowa' or 'Yehowa' for Creator and 'Tsisa' for Creator's
"Even before the Trail of Tears, from 1838 to 1839, when thousands of our people were removed from their
ancestral homeland in the East, many of them were already Christian. There were many Christian hymns sung in the
Cherokee language as our people traveled along the trail, including one that has become the Cherokee national
hymn. It is sung to the tune of 'Amazing Grace,' although the words are very different from the English-language
version. It tells the Cherokee people that Tsisa -- Jesus -- has gone away to heaven to prepare a place for us,
but that he has given his promise to return for us some day.
"The Cherokees have long had a name for those who are called Christian in the English language. We are Tsuneladi,
'Those Who Follow Creator's Son.'
"Since European people introduced new ways, Cherokee people began celebrating Christmas. The Cherokee word for
Christmas literally means, 'When they set off firecrackers.' It has been a custom among Cherokee people for
"Recently, our family shared something of our heritage by helping decorate our church's Christmas tree with a
medicine wheel. For us, the wheel represents the cross bridging the gap between Creator and all of creation ...
the very action set in motion with the birth of Tsisa -- Jesus.
"We also enjoy participating in the traditional Indian celebrations of the winter solstice. Not everyone will see
this the same way, but for our family the solstice -- the shortest day of the year -- is a reminder of the coming
spring and a return of new life, a definite symbol of hope and resurrection."
"Through the physical and historical person Jesus Christ, the divine attributes of God were made manifest in the
world," said Duane Herrmann, a spokesman for the Baha'i communities of Topeka and Shawnee County. "The sonship
and divinity of Christ are absolutely upheld as well as the Virgin birth. The reality of Christ is everlasting
and eternal. It has no beginning and no end. People who come into the Baha'i faith from backgrounds other than
Christian have to accept the divine station of Christ. One cannot be a Baha'i without Christ.
"And, just as Christ said that Elijah had come before him in the person of John the Baptist, Christ himself would
return with a new name. Baha'is believe that new name to be 'The Glory of God,' which is the English translation
"Someone has called Baha'is to be 'Christians of the Second Advent,' and I would agree with that. Though I left
the Lutheran church, I have never left Christ."
Christian -- African Methodist Episcopal Church
"The basic understanding that Methodists in general, and, therefore, members of the African Methodist Episcopal
Church, have is that Jesus is the Christ, the special son of God, who, as a 'flesh and blood' human being, just
like us, revealed the nature, power, intentions, forgiveness and love of our Creator-God," said the Rev. John A.
DeVeaux Jr., pastor of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Topeka.
"The primary focus of Christianity is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter, an early disciple, 'discovered'
that Jesus was the Christ -- the Messiah. The resurrection carried the believers through the terrible trauma of
the death of the one in and through whom they -- and we modern believers -- found salvation and a peace that
"We believe, with Paul, the earliest interpreter of Christianity and the person who was author of most of the
letters, or epistles, that make up our New Testament, that Jesus was the Christ -- the Messiah -- not only for
the Jews who were longing for him to come, but for the whole world . He writes: ". . . God was reconciling the
world to himself in Christ" (II Corinthians 5: 19).
"The humanity of Jesus is supremely important. Paul writes: 'For since death came through a man, the resurrection
of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive' (I Corinthians
"The celebration of Christmas is in keeping with our certainty that God acted for our salvation in a real human
being. So we testify that he was born of woman in the most common of circumstances, i.e., he was meek and lowly.
The one who revealed the heart of God was one who understood what it meant to be despised and rejected of men, a
man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
"But the celebration of the birth of Jesus is a celebration that we must have because, having discovered and been
redeemed to God through faith in Jesus, the Christ, the sacrifice for our sins and failures, we want to know all
we can about him. His birth then, becomes so important that believers have established how we count the years on
the basis of his birth. We rejoice that Jesus was born into our world and into our lives, for he showed us the
way back into the heart of God."
Christian -- Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
"'Who do people say that I am?' More than academic speculation, more than a challenge to the learned minds of
each generation, Jesus' profound question begs for a response," says the Rev. Peter K. Lange, pastor of St.
John's Lutheran Church in Topeka. "Ironically, the one who asked the question is the same one who, through his
own self-revelation in history, answered the question.
"Jesus was an historical figure -- flesh and blood like every human being. He called the little children to his
side to bless them. He hungered, thirsted, cried and bled. All of this Jesus accomplished, not as an abstract
spirit, but as a human being. He could relate to humanity because he was one with humanity. He who was both human
and divine blessed, hungered, thirsted, cried and bled. Jesus was and is God. True God and true man. This had to
"Humanity had fallen apart and desperately needed someone to rescue it and reverse a deadly trend. In Jesus, God
took on human flesh -- God became one with humanity -- in order to redeem all people of every time and place. God
did this out of love.
"Jesus became a man because God loves his creation, each and every human being. God is love. Divine love was
again shown on the day Christians call Good Friday, when the God-man died on the cross to save all people. Three
days later, on Easter, Jesus was raised from the dead, and 40 days after Easter he ascended into heaven.
"Jesus was not just an ancient prophet sent to model the 'good life' for us to imitate. Certainly he did provide
a perfect example of earthly kindness, love and charity. But the contemporary significance of Jesus extends well
beyond earthly blessings to the heavenly love, forgiveness and grace that Jesus pours out richly and generously
on those who cling to his promises.
"Strange as it might seem to our human reason, Jesus chose to locate himself -- his very presence -- in his holy
Church. The Church, which includes all believers in Christ, receives Jesus through the proclamation of the Holy
Scriptures and the ongoing participation in the Holy Sacraments. This is how Jesus dwells among humanity today:
in his Word and his Sacraments.
"Through these means, he still becomes one with his people, and gives them the fullness of his peace, comfort and
"So the way in which we answer the question 'Who do people say that I am?' is not the point. Jesus answered the
question. In Holy Scripture, he has been revealed to all people as the way, the truth and the life. He is the
Life of the World. This eternal life, which the world cannot give, is precisely what the Church has to offer
"Jesus, son of God, son of Mary! These words are familiar and comfortable in the Catholic Christian tradition,"
said Sister Anna Marie Broxterman of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Topeka. "They lead one to ponder the mystery of
Jesus the Christ, fully human, fully divine.
"Yet, in the Catholic mindset, our everyday living faith is rooted more deeply in the belief that Jesus is the
self-disclosure of God; hence, we know God is love, compassionate and forgiving. We know God is truth and
integrity. We know God longs for reconciliation of neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God. Jesus, the
Christ, is the reconciler. His life, death and resurrection have given power to each of us to also become fully
human and fully participative in the divine.
"'He is not here; he is risen' (Luke 24:6), the women at the tomb were told. And so it is. He is risen. Jesus,
the Word become flesh, dwells in our midst. In a most particular way, Jesus identifies himself with those in
need. '... in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me'
(Matthew 25:45). It is this conviction that undergirds all Catholic social teachings. There is inherent dignity
in each person, for in each the son of God, the son of Mary, dwells."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints places Jesus Christ at the epicenter of our religion," said
Bishop Kirt Saville, of the Sherwood Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Topeka. "He is
the great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the messiah of the New Testament. He was the firstborn of the father, the
only begotten son in the flesh, the redeemer of the world. He is the resurrection and the life, a light unto the
world, the bread of life, the lamb of God.
"Though sinless, He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He healed the sick, caused the blind to see, the
deaf to hear and raised the dead. He taught us compassion, love, empathy and gave us a higher law that requires
us to love our enemies and to do good toward those who despitefully use us.
"He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary's
cruel cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of
all who would ever live upon the earth. We believe that he rose from the grave to become the "first fruits of
them that slept" (I Corinthians 15:20). We believe that because of His atoning sacrifice that all mankind will be
literally resurrected and brought before God to be judged according to their works and according to the mercy,
grace and justice of Jesus Christ, our lord.
"By virtue of his matchless life and by the infinite consequences of his great atoning sacrifice, we believe that
no other person has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon this Earth. We
present to the world a second witness of the living Christ, another testament of Jesus Christ -- The Book of
Mormon. The Book of Mormon is a sacred record of peoples in ancient America. Written by ancient American prophets
and kept hidden by the Lord, we believe that it was revealed in our day to serve as another witness of the
divinity of Jesus Christ.
"In the foreword of this sacred record we read that this record was kept to 'the convincing of the Jew and
Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.' We declare in words of
solemnity that Christ has restored his ancient church once again upon the Earth, "built upon the foundation of
... apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). We present unto the
world our own personal witness, that Christ lives, and that he loves and knows every man, woman and child by
"His mercy is infinite, his love unmeasurable and his concern for each of us is real and tangible.
"We believe that Jesus Christ is the light and life of the world. We worship no one else. We join with all
Christendom at this glorious time of the year to remember and celebrate our savior's birth. He is our hope, our
exemplar and our lord. We bear witness that Jesus is the living Christ, the immortal son of God. He is the great
King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of his father. His way is the path that leads to happiness in
this life and eternal life in the world to come."
"What does a Hindu think about Jesus?" asked Dr. Padma Raju, a Hindu from Topeka.
"I believe it is impossible to find anything ancient about this, because Hinduism is so much older than
Christianity. We can only talk about what the latter-day Hindus feel about Jesus.
"You are probably aware of some questionable historical evidence that Jesus traveled to Kashmir, Tibet and
northern parts of India as a young man. Some scholars believe that he may have studied Buddhism and perhaps
Hinduism during his travels.
"I particularly like what Mahatma Gandhi said many times: 'I am a Hindu. I am a Muslim. I am a Christian. I am a
Jew.' That really sums up how I personally feel.
"Another Hindu scripture quotation you may find useful is 'Sarva dharma samanvaya' -- all religions are equal. In
the Vedanta philosophy, it is quite clear there is one God and there are many paths to reach God.
"People who can accept this will see Jesus as a great teacher or guru.
"I am not aware of any prominent Hindu accepting Jesus as the son of God. But Hinduism, as many other religions,
has the tradition of reverence for knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge and self-realization -- the
knowledge of self.
"We have gurus galore throughout the history of India. Of course, some of these people have abused their
influence. Hinduism has a tradition of tolerance of other religions. However, recently there have been ugly
incidents of burning of mosques and churches in India. Fundamentalism to the point of hatred of other traditions,
unfortunately, is not limited to Islam or Christianity."
"Most people know that we believe that Jesus was a prophet of God," said Imam Omar Hazim, of the Islamic Center
of Topeka. "According to the Quran, we believe that Jesus' birth was a miracle, because he was born of a mother,
but not of a father.
"We believe that Jesus was not crucified on a cross," he added. "The Quran says he was not crucified on a
"In reference to the second coming of Christ, or the return of Christ, the prophet Mohammed said the people of
the world will see prophet Mohammed and Jesus together in the last day. That means that people will see that the
teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Mohammed will come together, and people will see the teachings are the
same in reference to the oneness of God. However, Mohammed is not going to return physically, and Jesus is not
going to return physically.
"Jesus taught the oneness of God. Mohammed taught the oneness of God, and people will recognize the unity and
togetherness of both prophets, as well as the prophets before them. Many believe that this time is now. We see
the Christians and Muslims coming together, trying to understand what Christianity is teaching and what Islam is
"We believe Jesus was a prophet of God, not the son of God."
"From a Jewish perspective, Jesus was a first century Jewish teacher who was very much a part of the Jewish
community of his time and place," said Rabbi Lawrence P. Karol of Temple Beth Sholom. "He spoke in parables like
many rabbis, often with an emphasis on making the kingdom of God a reality in daily life.
"Jesus believed in discovering the spirit of Jewish law and practice, rather than focusing only on a literal
approach. Yet, he also insisted that people's thoughts be held to the same standard as their actions.
"I would concur with most Christian and Jewish scholars that much of what Jesus said and did was intended to
bring constructive change to the Judaism of his day."
"As far as our scriptures are concerned, there is no mention of Jesus," said Daljit Singh Jawa, of Topeka, a
member of the Sikh tradition. "But going with the basic principles of the Sikh faith, we do not believe that God
ever takes birth as a human being or as any other species. Because to believe that God takes birth will
automatically imply that he also dies. But the Sikh basic philosophy is that God is timeless -- he never dies.
"As per Sikh faith, it is through the guidance of a spiritually enlightened soul, i.e., the guru, that man can
reach and in fact merge in God.
In that context, Sikhs will view that just as the they should follow the teachings of their guru (Granth Sahib),
similarly, Muslims should follow their guru (or prophet) Mohammed, and Christians should follow their guru, Jesus
Christ, and Sikhs respect and honor the spiritual guides of all other faiths."
"Unitarian Universalists are non-adorationists," said the Rev. David Grimm, of the Unitarian Universalist
Fellowship of Topeka. "We think of Jesus as a human being. Those among us who do esteem Jesus in a special way
worship him, not with words of praise or professions of faith, but with our daily life and the way we seek to
live it. We think of Jesus as one of the important instructors of the human race.
"As the Rev. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it during his days as a Unitarian minister, 'He teaches us how to become
like God. A true disciple of Jesus will receive the light he gives most thankfully, but the thanks (the disciple)
offers (in return) and which an exalted being will accept are not compliments (or) commemorations -- but the use
of that instruction.'
"Not every Unitarian Universalist thinks of Jesus in this way, however. Being a creedless religious movement that
has championed freedom of conscience for centuries, Unitarian Universalism reveres the right of each person to
draw upon whatever sources of inspiration speak to them most powerfully. Thus, Unitarian Universalists find other
inspiring teachers and role models of human greatness to imitate in Buddha, Ramakrishna, the Adi Granth, Lao Tzu,
Confucius, the Baal Shem Tov, Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Goethe,
Thich Nhat Hanh.
"You get the idea -- the list is endless."
©Copyright 2001, The Topeka Capital-Journal
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