Being friends with someone of different beliefs

friends with different beliefsA 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.

Here’s why:

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.

Why?

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”

Anna

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17 thoughts on “Being friends with someone of different beliefs

  1. LOVE this Anna! Thank you so much for this gentle reminder to stay on course. I love my church, I love going to mass, but the teachings change you over time. Most of the time this is a good thing, but not always. Even Mother Theresa said “If you are busy judging people, you have no time to love them.” That is exactly what trying to change people is… judging them. And you’re 100% right, that is not Christ-like. Thank you, and God Bless

  2. Thank you! There are so few of my Christian friends who believe as I do… Love is the most powerful force that draws people to Christ. It is Christ’s job to change their hearts, not mine. I want people to be drawn to Him and let the Holy Spirit do His work. Love will do that! Christ sat with prostitutes and tax gatherers. They felt comfortable in His presence. They felt His love for them. Who did He scold? The self-righteous religious leaders. They wanted the Gentiles to conform to the religious rules in order to be accepted. Jesus calls us to believe!
    Kathy

  3. I love this post SO MUCH!! It sums up exactly how I feel about “evangelizing” and the Great Commision. Really , God’s love is very simple – it’s only when we start to question and dissect it that we make it complicated, hard, and scary. Thanks so much for verbalizing this so well!!

  4. I’ve been a little shy about commenting since I only found your blog a month ago, but in light of you receiving nasty e-mails and comments about your “love” policy, I want to say this:

    You are and are working toward the kind of believer I want to be — one who does not judge, who loves without condition, and who truly understands who Jesus was and why He came.

    Do not listen to those who criticize this approach. You have the right idea about what it means to be a Christian. Jesus never used force. He never used shame. He never used guilt. He never bullied. And He never, ever used fear of damnation. And yet that is what humans have done WITH His message for centuries.

    And now, it needs to stop.

    I grew up in a church environment similar to yours. I am struggling with the same things you are. It’s hard to cling to IDEAS about people and their sins, when confronted with the people themselves.

  5. I so connected with this! Growing up in a generation when we were taught that if you weren’t Catholic you weren’t going to heaven. This was a difficult thing to accept when my father was Lutheran. As a much older and hopefully wiser adult I agree that the idea does not mesh with the teaching of Jesus yet I have heard that belief stated by someone within the past year. It makes me sad to hear as I believe it contributes to the divisions of the world – something I do not believe Jesus stood for…

    • Hi Laura! Walking away from ideas we have had since childhood can be so scary. But,being free from fear and judgement is a well worth trade. The further we get from a “them vs us” mentality, the closer we get to a table where all are welcome, all are safe and all are loved – which is about as close to God (I feel) we can get this side of heaven. Hugs.

  6. It is refreshing to read this! Thank you! I feel more and more God calling me to be this kind of Christian, but my up bringing constantly brings accusations to my mind like ” no, Julie you’re being deceived” Yet I feel that God keeps bringing me back to loving not judging, and not feeling like it’s my job to correct everyone. I earnestly pray to Him to not let me be deceived, but only to be taught by Him, so I trust that what He keeps bringing me back to is true and I am not deceived I am being taught by Him.
    LOVE

  7. I absolutely LOVE your words! They are absolutely beautiful. I just watched The Shack again last night with my small church community and it truly emphasizes your points. We are not called to judge. That is not our job.
    Thank you for sharing your journey. It was truly written from the heart.

  8. Yes.. We are to Love all, Love our neighbor as ourself.. Truth should never come with judgement, but with Love, mercy and grace. When people see Our Love that comes from Christ, they are drawn to that. However.. There is only one way, and it is narrow for a reason. Christ alone died , was resurrected and is alive today! Yes! We should Love all, but not compromise the truth in Loving others.

  9. We’ve discussed how I had to simplify my take on faith, and this goes along with it beautifully. My before faith didn’t result in my judging others so much as judging myself–which leads to judging others. (Tricky wicket, that judgy thing.) Fear paralyzed my heart.

    That’s when I came to believe, literally, that God is love. When I tell someone I love them, that is my way of recognizing them as another child of God–whether they remember it or not. I know God loves my perceived enemies as much as He loves me. I believe one day the scales will be lifted from both of our eyes, and we will see each other clearly. Then we won’t have barriers between us. God will have all His children home. We will be one family in God, and that will be the atonement.

    When I find myself angry with someone, I try to remember this. To be angry at some jerk is one thing, but to understand that I am judging another one of God’s kids instead of letting him deal with it is something else. (Seriously! Who am I to bogart in on God’s parenting techniques?)

    It has gotten tricky. The children I am responsible for are also God’s kids. One socks the other or says something horrible, I step in. As a civic-minded citizen, I speak up for what I believe is closest to what balances my call to protect and help others with my call to respect their free will.

    Now. You want to ruffle some feathers? How about we talk about hell? 😉

    I love you, Anna.

    • Hi Melissa!
      I love your thoughts. Like usual, our mind is tracking on the same wave length. You have and continue to be an incredible example of expressing divine love. Thank you for being an inspiration to me and a constant safe place for those around you to land. Love you to the moon and back.
      Anna
      PS: I think we need more feathers ruffled, so one day I just might open up that discussion 😉
      xoxo

  10. Well said. I’m so tired of the sort of beliefs that claim Christ and “we have the truth” and all the other Real Christian ™ phrases… and yet fear is the prime motivating factor. “Well we have to be careful! We have to be smart about dangers! And we have to be ready to argue everyone out of their beliefs and into ours.”
    While I think safety, sensible foreign policy, and apologetics all have their place and their inherent value, they cannot take the preeminent place in how we live and love.

  11. In a world of uncertainty your words bring peace. And I’m grateful to know someone who has the courage to say them.

  12. Interesting story of your real-life interaction with a Muslim. I recognize the need to let the Holy Spirit bring conviction of our sin, on both sides, because His conviction is life-giving not condemning. I also realize that Jesus is our Judge, so He has the final say in all matters of life. I know that Jesus kept good company with people who others condemned, and He challenged the Pharisees who had no regard for other people. I find your post to be thought-provoking.

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