I know I've said it here before (something else that I often say) but there are times when it feels as if there are issues that keep emerging in my life again and again. I don't think about something for months and months and then, I encounter it repeatedly in a short period. That happened this week.
As you know, I am a Christian. I believe in salvation and in the gift that we have been given by God. I believe that my route to the relationship I want with my God is through Christ and that Christ came to be the lamb that heals our relationship with the Father.
That being said, I find I get very confused when it comes to issues around other faiths and how I am to respond to people whose beliefs are not the same as mine. Yes, the Bible is clear about the route to salvation and yet, I don't feel comfortable saying that others' faith journeys are not legitimate or that they need to "see that this is a Christian country" and that we are somehow oppressed when they desire to pursue their own faith journeys. Maybe I sound like a lackluster Christian or like a hypocrite but that arrogance doesn't fit well with me.
I've had two conversations this week that really forced me to ponder this. The first was with a friend at church last week. Her views are definitely at the most conservative end of the spectrum and at times, I personally experience it as being legalistic and pharisee-esque (yes, I realize I am being judgemental and it is a sin with which I personally struggle). She was complaining about the prayer room for Muslim students which the Toronto District School Board is allowing. She felt that it was a violation of the reality of this as a Christian country and that it shouldn't be allowed and that the school board was promoting this faith. I had trouble with this - this is a small minority of students living in incredibly cramped housing against whom there is so much discrimination. No, I don't believe in much of what they believe, particularly when it comes to women and yet, I don't see Christ telling me to be angry and intolerant towards the stranger, the alien in our land. She was not happy with me when I gently tried to suggest that our concern shouldn't be that they wanted to pray in school but that our greater concern should be that our Christian children were not asking to be allowed to pray.
The other conversation happened today. I gather (I'm out of the loop this week - I get most of my news in the car on the way to work and this week, I've been listening to my Holy Week playlist that I created last year), that there are a group of Muslims who have bought advertising on the TTC and that the ads are considered to be rather offensive to some. If you want to read the ad, I suggest that you read this article - it helped me to understand the issue more clearly. Again, while I find the ad offensive myself, especially when I read that it is, in fact, a mistranslation of the Koran, I don't see how it is any more offensive than any other religious ads. The fact is, any time any religion states that it is the ONLY way, there are going to be people who are offended. While the person with whom I was discussing this generalised it to all Muslims (and intolerance against all Muslims is something that I keep encountering and it drives me crazy), this is obviously an extreme fringe and I know that I certainly would not want to be lumped in with the snake handlers, the Koran burners in Florida or the Christians in certain areas of the world who commit horrible crimes in the supposed name of faith. While I completely disagree with the message, I believe that they have the right to say it. If we don't allow religion, we can't allow any. I don't intend to be quiet about my faith and I will make public statements. One of the ways that I achieve being allowed to be very public with my faith in the secular school system is that I fight for everyone's right to be present and to be acknowledged and the minority parents (primarily Jews and Muslims where I teach) would be the first to fight for my right to speak what I believe, as I show obvious respect for them as well.
I don't know that the right thing is to do with these issues as a Christian. Honestly, I have come to a place of comfort in believing that:
1. The best way to represent God and Jesus in the world is to demonstrate kindness and compassion to those around me, especially those who are oppressed. It is particularly Christ-like when I am fighting for those who are different from me.
2. I can't be responsible for the salvation of anyone else than myself. I need to live life in relationship with my God and to strive to live out my faith as much as I can. I hope that someday, there will be people who see my example and want to know more or to have a bit of what I have. That is the kind of evangelism which I practice and I continue to do so.
3. I will fight for the rights of all to speak their faith, provided that it does not violate the rights of others. I don't want to live in a secular, sanitized world. I want my children to be able to take their faith to the public school and to be welcomed and I will fight for that right. Expressing one's beliefs is not inherently oppressive to others and we need to stop being so hyper- sensitive about it.
Finally, I have come to a place of comfort by trying to follow Andy Stanley's suggestion, which I heard in one of his podcasts (if you haven't checked out the Northpoint podcasts, I STRONGLY suggest them - Andy Stanley is BRILLIANT and helps me to work out so many issues in terms of how to live as a Christian). He said that we, as Christians, need to love those who believe differently than we do with such intensity that outsiders can't always tell what we believe. If we show such love to our enemies that people can't read us, we are truly being Christ in our world.
How do you deal with the struggle between Christian belief and respect and compassion for those who believe differently?