A reader reached out (love it when ya’ll email) sharing their struggle of trying to be friends with people of different beliefs. Which sparks the question: is it really possible (as a Christian) to be friends, even close friends, with someone of different beliefs?
Well, instead of a full blown theological response (which I promise I’ll throw in) I thought I’d share a recent experience…
I was asked to officiate the wedding of a man from Pakistan.
At first I was like, YES.
If you read my blog, you know I like pushing myself out of my box and meeting – even understanding – people who are different than me.
But, you have no way of knowing the fear that hides inside of you – placed by media, news, political powers and even religious institutions – until you’re sitting face to face with what you’ve been taught to be afraid of.
As I went to meet the groom and prepare the legalities for his marriage, my thoughts raced a billion miles a minute. Thoughts of terrorism (yes, it was in there) to Islamic faith – I was a MESS.
Walking in I mumbled under my breath, Get it together, Anna. YOU NEED TO GET IT TOGETHER.
I slowed my breathing and turned the corner. Siting nervously, I saw him waiting for me. As I approached, our eyes met and a warm smile stretched across his face forming lines to the kindest eyes.
We shook hands as this giddy groom began to gush about his fiancé.
I couldn’t help but get caught up in his excitement (After all, that’s what we were here for. A WEDDING. What should be the most exciting, fun day of his life. And meanwhile Debbie downer over here was mentally freaking the crap out. GOOD LORD)
This is why I was a wreck:
My whole “church” life I was taught what was wrong with other religions – what was evil and scary about different beliefs and how I needed to be wary of them.
I was taught that my sole purpose was to change them over to my beliefs. How to look for ways in conversation to “trap them” into an answer they just couldn’t deny. How to convince them that everything they’ve been taught is wrong.
That the belief I hold is the one and only way. That there is no in between; there can be no middle ground.
And most importantly, that if love them – really love them – then I have no choice but to warn them of the eternal consequences if they don’t accept what I am saying as truth.
I spent years being taught this.
The problem though: it doesn’t look like Jesus.
It looks like fear.
I’ve been unable to reconcile any action with faith that involves fear.
So, our next few days looked like this:
We talked and talked and talked some more. I chose to listen with an intent to understand; not with an intent to change.
I asked a lot of questions.
So did he.
I learned about his Muslim faith.
He told stories of tragic killings in his town and of his genuine fear. I learned about his family and we exchanged tearful stories of heartache and pain – two things that universally connect us all.
When talking about radical Islam, he said, “Violence is not something the Koran teaches….but, they have been misguided. They believe it is their job to execute those who do not honor the rules they have in their beliefs. It is sad. Very, very sad”
This was a powerful moment for me.
In our Christian faith, we do not have radicalists who execute people physically. (And, I have never in one single conversation been more thankful for the freedoms I have)
But, in the evangelical world, we have imposed expectations to correct, warn, use all tacticts necessary – including fear – to strong arm others who believe differently into conformity.
If they don’t comply, we won’t execute them – we just excommunicate them.
We call this love.
In my stripper post, transgender post and recent gay post, I was bombarded with emails shaming me for not understanding Christ-like love. Saying that real love would quote scriptures to “prove” their behavior is wrong. That real love would warn them of their eternal damnation. That real love would tell them they will not be accepted by God if they did not change their behavior.
I argue that real love never – ever – includes fear.
Because perfect love casts out fear.
Fear and love cannot occupy the same space.
GOD IS LOVE.
If sharing my faith is anything other than sharing my personal experience, it is a recruiting pitch.
And that’s just gross.
If sharing my faith makes you afraid, then it isn’t love.
And that isn’t Jesus.
Mankind will constantly misunderstand, misuse and misinterpret God. Because we are human and he is divine.
But, Jesus gave us a glimpse of the heart of God – a snapshot of the real deal. Something to help us (maybe) get right what people continue to get wrong.
The counter argument that typically ensues at this point is this,
But, Anna, Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more”…
Jesus did say this to her.
But he didn’t say it to the woman at the well.
Or to the HUNDREDS of others that he healed.
Biblically speaking, he didn’t say this phrase to many people at all (only two to be exact).
To take two interactions and make a theology out of it, saying this is what Jesus wants us to do EVERY TIME WE ENCOUNTER SOMEONE OF A DIFFERENT BELIEF does Jesus’ character a disservice. Because, even he did not live by this standard.
What Jesus did do, was offer kindness, grace, mercy and equality to everyone he encountered.
Jesus brilliantly said: the greatest command is to love others as you love yourself.
(He didn’t say the greatest command was to correct people or try to change people. Just sayin’)
When talking with my new friend, I decided to embrace the simplicity of what Jesus said.
I asked myself, how would I feel if instead of listening to my journey, he spent the entire conversation trying to trap me into agreeing with his Islamic faith or trying to scare me (with eternal damnation) into conforming to his beliefs?
I honestly answered: I would have felt angry and offended.
That’s when it clicked.
For me to love him like I want to be loved meant that I would listen to him, open-heartedly without an agenda. Hear him share his spiritual journey. Listen to his personal convictions. Respect his beliefs and how he came to them. Show him the same honor towards his faith and his story as I would want him to show towards mine.
And you know what?
We both did that.
And it was BEAUTIFUL.
As I left with tears in my eyes, I had this thought: maybe this is why Jesus said that was the greatest command. Because it is only when we lay ourselves, our pride and our agendas down that our eyes become open to truly see (and love) the human in front of us.
With our eyes open, two seemingly different people learned that we are actually not that different.
In the words of Dr. Suess, “There are so many things you can learn about. BUT…you’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut”