Monday, May 19, 2008

Can’t We All Get Along? 3

Civility with different religions

My wife and I recently spent a few days in Las Vegas. In the hotel I opened a drawer and found a Gideon Bible. And a Book of Mormon.

I was sorely tempted to put it where it could do no damage – such my bag or the fireplace. I stared at it and thought about it; I flipped through it; I put it down and stared at it some more. Then I closed the drawer.

I may have made the wrong decision, but my reasoning is two-fold. First, if Christianity can’t play fair and win, it’s not what we say it is.

Second, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Would I want a Mormon taking the Bible out of there? Of course not.

Loving your neighbor, in our pluralistic society, requires treating each other’s beliefs with respect – especially when you think they’re wrong. It’s what “tolerance” used to mean.

Here are a few thoughts on ways we can love our neighbors from different religions.

Don’t ridicule their beliefs
Other religions do things that strike me as quite silly. There are things other Christians do that strike me the same way. There are things I do that seem silly to other people. I really don’t want to hear about it, and neither does anyone else.

If their god is a six-headed elephant that appears in Norway every third Thursday in June, that’s their business. They don’t want our opinion about how silly it is.

Does Ramadan or reincarnation strike you as odd? Keep it to yourself. Think about how “take, eat, this is my body” sounds to outsiders.

Respect their desire to be faithful
You’ve probably known someone who got grief at work because they didn’t want to take a customer to a strip club. Or maybe it was a teen who got teased for not drinking. It’s not a fun place to be, and no one should have to put up with it.

A few months ago one of our Muslim students was furious at her classmates for giving her something to eat and later telling her it was pork. Not nice.

This probably starts in the same place as the ridiculing. I see no need for Muslims to avoid pork or Hindus to avoid beef or Mormons to avoid caffeine because I think their religions are wrong. That doesn’t change the fact that they desire to be faithful to their upbringing, and we, who often struggle with the same thing, should respect that.

Be sensitive about issues they’re sensitive about
If you’ve got Roman Catholic friends, you probably tread lightly discussing the priest abuse scandal. If you’ve got Presbyterian friends, you might be careful bringing up homosexual bishops.

I’ve had a number of Muslim coworkers. We can talk about family, movies, sports, religion, and the madness we deal with at work. We don’t talk about Jerusalem.

At work you don’t want to start a fight that can get you in trouble, but more than that, we just need to be sensitive to the feelings of people around us. We don’t want to offend unnecessarily.

Don’t evangelize them to death
I will never suggest that you shouldn’t witness to anybody. However, when the people in your life know where you stand and what you believe, you don’t need to keep pestering them.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t discuss your faith or theirs. I’m not saying don’t invite them to church or any other activity. I’m not advocating letting the great commission down. I’m saying let’s don’t be jerks.

As the saying goes, the gospel is offensive enough without our help.

Don’t pretend your beliefs don’t matter
People aren’t stupid. If they know you’re a Christian, they have at least some idea what you believe. We don’t need to become milk sops who don’t stand up for our beliefs.

Believe me, when coworkers want to make an issue out of Christian exclusivity, or want to evangelize for vegetarianism, or starting spouting some new age mumbo jumbo, I’m ready to rumble. But there is a time and a place for everything and a manner in which it should be done.

It’s all about love
Here in the West, especially in America, we’re in a multi-religious environment unlike anything that has existed for over a thousand years. We have the two-fold duty of representing Christ well and getting along with our neighbors in this pluralistic society. I am convinced that we have the truth. We also need to have love.

P.S. I closed the drawer, but I continue to pray that whoever opens it will ignore the Book of Mormon or, better yet, see through it. You might too.

1 comment:

Spherical said...

Here's my 2-cents worth:

As Christians, we spend way to much time thinking about what others should be doing, not doing, or be exposed to. That makes us feel better, but it also diverts us from what God wants from us, a personal relationship. First, worry about the log in your own eye!

True peace is found in surrender to God, not submission of our enemies. We are to be sheep among wolves, not wolves among sheep or even cops among bad guys.

I don't think you made a wrong decision. If Christianity hasn't already won, it's not what we say it is!