3598 Talbot Street, San Diego
Pastor: Tony Wolfe
Born: Parkersburg, West Virginia
Formation: Union Theological Seminary, New York; Claremont Graduate School, Claremont
Years Ordained: 33
San Diego Reader: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?
Pastor Tony Wolfe: Where my gut is, I think, is in putting the love of Christ into practice in the political, economic, and social sphere. Being a Christian to me is not a matter of what you believe; it’s a matter of how you treat your fellow human beings. I base that simply on Jesus’ answer to the question put to him by a lawyer — “What is the greatest commandment?” He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. This is the fulfillment of all the law” (Matthew 22:37-40).
SDR: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
PT: I try to encourage people to put the love of God into action in their relationship with other people in society at whatever level it may be, from the family on up to the national level of politics. Some people try to separate religion and politics and say that they don’t have anything to do with one another. When someone says that to me, I will challenge them to pick any page in the Bible and I will show you the relation of religion and politics on that page. It’s all through the Bible.
SDR: What is the mission of your church?
PT: Our mission is to share the love of God, in word and deed, with everyone we meet.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
PT: …[T]he whole idea of life after death has a long evolution in the Bible, starting with the idea of “Sheol” in the Old Testament, which is a kind of shady gray area under the Earth where people move like ghosts…. Then the evolution continues through the Persian influence in the captivity of Israel in Babylon, and then into Jesus’ day with Greek ideas and other ideas coming into the pot…. I think the only real answer is that we don’t know, but that whatever it is, we’re in God’s hands, and God will do something good with it. That’s good enough for me.
SDR: Does the classic dichotomy of heaven and hell reflect reality, in your view?
PT: I think there is a hell but it’s not something that happens necessarily after death.… Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is among you” (Luke 17:21). So we don’t have to wait for the presence of God to be in our lives until after we die, and we don’t have to wait for consequences of really bad decisions that we make to be in our lives until we die either. I think there’s an aspect of heaven and hell we experience right here in this life. Beyond this life, what a loving and compassionate God does with people, I don’t know, but I’m content to trust that whatever it is will be good. The only definition of God we get in the whole Bible is “God is love” (I John 4:8). So I think there are dimensions of that love we can never fathom. We can only know what we have experienced of that love from a Christian perspective and try to embody that as best we can. Speculation about the details of heaven and hell are just that — speculation.