My God Can Beat Up Your God

What is our problem?  How have we developed such a narrow-minded faith that we cannot interact with people who believe differently with any kind of tact, grace or kindness?  Why can we not “offer an invitation” to know our God without turning it into a defiant line in the sand?  Day after day there are new stories about Christians attacking non-Christians, and Christian leaders saying all kinds of nasty things about Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews.  Uhm, did I miss something?  Aren’t we supposed to speak truth in love and manifest the fruits of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control — especially with those whom we disagree?

I have been promoting interfaith and interreligious cooperation and communication — especially in light of what has happened in Haiti — and I am getting my head handed to me.  Christians from all over are accusing me of heresy and compromising the purity of the gospel.  I am hearing from people who want to have nothing to do with “towel-heads” and “Satanists.”  People who would never engage in racial slurs have absolutely no problem practicing religious bigotry at the drop of a hat.  Question: is a child of God any less a child of God simply because he or she doesn’t believe in God?  Is our edict to treat each person as we would treat the Christ any less binding on someone who doesn’t believe what we do?  Come on!

I have encountered a growing interfaith intolerance over the past decade.  Now, I am not sure that the intolerance is growing, but I am spending more time promoting ecumenical and interfaith engagement.  Some truly spiritual visionaries — calling us to a global compassion and justice — are Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus (as well as Christians).  Is the vision false or corrupt simply because it comes from “the wrong mouths?”  Can the word of God cross lips that preach another belief system?  Is our God so weak and impotent that other’s words can negate God’s truth and purpose?  In my own twisted opinion, it is not those who seek interfaith collaboration who lack faith, but those whose beliefs are so fragile that they think they might be tainted by engaging with non-Christians.

I once wrote that Bernie Glassman’s, Bearing Witness, was the most Christian book I had read in a long time.  Glassman was raised Jewish and became Buddhist, but in a very real sense he is first and foremost a deeply spiritual, fundamentally good, person.  I received hate mail from United Methodists appalled that I would recommend “sacrilegious” books.  When I reviewed and highlighted Mariana Caplan’s excellent, Halfway Up the Mountain, a book that explores the dangers of taking shortcuts and over-simplifying religion and spiritual enlightenment, I had pressure put on me by a bishop to take it off the website because it “honored anti-Christian, godless” belief systems.

The ultimate flaw in this kind of logic is this: just suppose we are right and everyone else is wrong.  If we want to continue to be a positive witness for Christ, how can we do that by slamming the door on all contact and dialogue with people who believe differently than we do?  I want to WITNESS to the power and goodness and life and light that comes from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  I want to let people see how wonderful this life can be.  I want to share the core values, beliefs and practices of a life-affirming, loving and just faith with others.  I want to offer Christ to everyone, and hope they find enough value to accept it for themselves.  I want to find out how others think and believe so that I can find common ground and celebrate the ways we share a vision for beauty, truth, and justice.  My faith in God is strong — I’m not going to lose it because someone else shares a different, attractive faith.

We live in an ever-expanding, ever-integrating global community.  Competition and an unrelenting “us vs. them” mindset will do no one any good.  We must find gracious and healthy ways to disagree, yet enjoy one another’s company.  We have got to develop open means of communication that don’t necessarily imply agreement, but do convey respect.  And we need to soften our language so that we don’t tell others “we must,” “we’ve got to,” and “we need to” all the time.  (See I’m self-aware…)

9 replies

  1. I had a professor in divinity school who said “Jesus Christ is all the God I can stand but not all the God there is.” Thank you for continuing to challenge me and others.

  2. Sunday night a fellow in one of my congregations asked me if I had heard some Haitian leader proclaim that “you don’t have to be a Christian, all you have to be is a good person.” This congregant said it with contempt and condemnation in his voice, like he was spitting it out.

    All I could say was, “Nope, I didn’t hear that. I haven’t had the TV on today.”

    What I really wanted to say was, “So what? He has a right to his beliefs whether we agree with them or not. Our job as Christians isn’t to condemn him for having a belief that is different from ours but to bear loving witness to the Gospel in his presence.”

    Maybe I should have gone with my instincts.

  3. What is our problem? Our problem is that some have created “God” in their own image and any being that doesn’t think like them and act like them cannot possibly be God. Why wouldn’t God hate those who are different. Isn’t that what we humans do all the time? But Jesus came to show us what God is like; a God of grace and reconciliation, not a God of sin and separation. If God is the source of grace and love, then Jesus is the personification of grace and love. I cannot and do not accept the idea of a hateful God whether proposed by a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew or any other false prophet of hate. Loving my enemy does not make them my friend, but I love them just the same. Why? Because that’s what Jesus did.

  4. Great post.

    As a non-Christian/Progressive Christian who attends a United Methodist church I am lucky that I have never experienced anything like this there. These United Methodists believe that Jesus Christ is the messiah and how humans are to develop a relationship with God.

    However, none view themselves as perfect and all-knowing which means that they are open to non-believers and when the do witness it is done with love and respect.

    There have been times when I have been asked what I believe and the best answer I can give is that I am a Progressive Christian which to many is not a Christian at all. However, despite this I have the ability to belong to the church and at no time have I ever been attacked or put down for my beliefs nor have I seen this done to anyone else.

    I wonder if this is just a symptom of the ever changing religious landscape that we have in this world. We live in a pluaralistic culture and a pluaralistic world. I know of some (outside of the church I attend) that are hostile to all non-Christian religions and think any type of sharing is absolutely wrong.

    I feel sorry for these people and I believe as the years progress they will become the minority and hide in their churches angry at the world for not believing as they do.

    Truly sad for many different reasons.

  5. In terms of softening our language (and also, actually, sharpening it) I have been practicing writing “a” instead of “the”. Simple as it sounds, it has been a difficult discipline to follow. I have to go back and edit many a posting or email.

    I have hope for it though as I remember this same discipline bearing good fruit regarding my mouth and inclusive language. I first found I heard what I had already said. Little by little my awareness of the language got closer and closer to my tongue and lips saying male-only things. There was an awkward time when I would catch what I was going to say and what I really wanted to say at the same time and space, causing a bit of a stutter. Little by little the language settled in, closer and closer to the thought.

    Blessings upon your continue best practice of softening and sharpening.

  6. So many Christians actually agree with your viewpoint, Dan. Sadly, “A group of Muslims, Jews, Christians and Buddhists agreed to work and pray together based on what they hold in common, while respecting their differences,” isn’t compelling news. On the other hand, if enough Muslims, Jews, Christians and Buddhists did agree to work and pray together based on what we hold in common, while respecting our differences the world would be a different place and Pat Robertson couldn’t stand in the way of the change. That would only get attention if Pat Robertson publically denounced the effort. On the other hand, if enough Muslims, Jews, Christians and Buddhists did agree to work and pray together based on what we hold in common, while respecting our differences the world would be a different place and Pat Robertson couldn’t stand in the way of the change. I hope you have received some measure of supportive messages to go along with the hate mail.

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