Dear Christians: Stop Being Dicks About Other Religions
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I got thinking about all the things I read on the internet from alleged Christians directed at people who worship God, except they call God Elohim, or Allah (the All Merciful), or Krishna, or they don’t worship a deity but follow a path of peace and enlightenment in the hopes of ending the cycle of rebirth, or they worship One God who calls them, among other things, to serve the poor, never cut their hair, and men are required to wear their hair under a turban in to which they tuck a knife that is their sole protections against those who would threaten their lives. I could go on, but you get the idea. By and large what one reads on the internet by alleged Christians is that all these other folks, regardless of their closeness or distance from us in terms of dogma, or even filial relationship, is so embarrassingly stupid and hateful, I often picture Jesus, seated on the throne at God’s right hand, looking something like this:
In the first place, part of being a Christian includes respecting other people, meeting where they are instead of demanding they come to us and bow before the precious truth we and we alone possess. Since the average Christian knows as much about other faiths as I do about arc welding, I think it’s safe to say that before one of these alleged Christians goes around telling these people how wrong they are they spend just a little bit of time reading up on the history and tenets of the faiths they think are not only wrong but occasionally demonic. God didn’t give you that brain so you could waste it on football statistics and brands of beer that have disappeared.
In the second place, witnessing to those of other faiths includes respecting those other faiths, and the people who adhere to them, enough to consider the possibility they are as faithful as you are. Rather than shout, “WRONGWRONGWRONG!!!!” at them, shut your mouth and listen. After listening for a while, quietly – and I do mean quietly – share what your faith means to you. Talk about the history of Christians working with those abandoned by society; talk about how the Church kept learning alive through centuries of official ignorance; tell them how your unique faith tradition, regardless of the name, contributes something particular to the lovely multiply-branched tree that is the Christian faith; finally, tell your own story how your encounter with the risen Christ has changed everything for you. By and large, such a discussion will result in two adult human beings coming to respect one another’s differences while also recognizing what may well be an unbridgeable gap between you. Nevertheless, you will discover the thing you share, a deep, abiding, life-shaping faith, can serve as the basis not only for an ongoing conversation, but perhaps a friendship as well. A friendship in which each of you recognizes and respects the differences without ever once demanding a change in the other precisely because part of the beauty of your friendship are those very differences that make this world so astoundingly beautiful.
Finally, remember that the biggest mission field for Christians in the early 21st century isn’t Islam, or Judaism, or Baha’i, or Sikh. The real leg work are our fellow formerly Christian Americans who no longer consider religion in general, and Christianity in particular, to be relevant to their lives. That far too much effort is spent by far too many denominations trying to figure out why that is and create pastiches of what they believe will attract young people with neither an understanding nor much in the way of a care one way or another about what the church teaches is, of course, an impediment as much as the weird language we use and the far too often hateful, exclusive language some alleged Christians use toward any who are different, including other Christians. That’s why the best thing to do is invite a few folks to a Starbuck or Panera, spring for the coffee and pastries, and start talking. Don’t even mention God at first. Doing so, you might as well advertise “God-nerd here!” Nope, sit down and start talking. Actually, start listening. Listen to their hopes and dreams and fears, their immediate goals and obstacles. Do not dismiss what they tell you as “white people problems” or the fevered imaginations of minorities who are brain-washed by race hustlers. Hear what they have to say. When it’s your turn to speak, talk about your own life. Talk about your ups and downs. Talk about how you struggled with your parents, how you struggled to pay the rent on your first apartment. Then mention – just mention – how attending church (maybe once, maybe on a regular basis) offered an opportunity to pray even if you weren’t sure that whole prayer thing was anything more than gabbing to yourself, either outloud or in your head.
So, please, fellow Christians: Stop being dicks. Stop insulting people about whom you know nothing. Stop telling the world that when this or that celebrity dies, that person is going to hell. Stop telling people of other faiths they worship demons, or that their faith isn’t a real religion so it has neither legal status nor anything we Christians should respect. Instead, start acting like Jesus did when Jesus hung out with people. You might just be amazed at the results. And when we do finally see Jesus face-to-face, that palm-shaped bruise on his face might just have faded a bit.