Today on Facebook one of my friends posted a link to a transcript from the show "Being" on public radio. This episode of the show was devoted to the topic of "restoring political civility." The interviewee, Richard Mouw, is the president of Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. His premise on this show is that we need to get to know people who are different from us, spend time with them, and not lump them in the category of...well, "them." They are not them...they are us.
I recommend reading the whole transcript, but here are some key pearls in my opinion
Yeah, and you're getting a lot of today overtly anti-Muslim stuff. It's almost as if we've always got to have somebody that we feel legitimate about really hating. And that's, I think, intrinsic to the kind of fundamentalist Christianity, with conspiracy theories and antichrists and beasts and all the rest. So, you know, to all of a sudden start thinking about civility and not allowing yourself to get into that kind of thing has been a kind of a shift for me spiritually.
Hebrew people in exile trying to figure out how in the world they're going to relate to a pagan culture. And then God says, seek their Shalom, seek their well-being, you know, even if you disagree radically with them. And then in the New Testament, the Apostle Peter says that we have to honor all human beings and have a regard for their well-being. I take those to be sort of different ways of getting at a very common Biblical theme. What does it mean for me to honor the Muslim, to honor the Mormon, to honor people of unbelief who are hostile toward Christianity? What does it mean to honor them? And then I think we need to work at the theology there, you know. How do we view other people?
Yeah. You know, you're getting at something that I'm just really deeply disturbed about — that, for Christians who take the Bible seriously, it isn't that we have these convictions and then we also got to try to be civil, but the truth element of civility is itself one of the convictions. I mean, if our repertoire of convictions includes this, that God tells us we must not bear false witness against our neighbors, then how can we be so fast and easy and loose with telling the truth about others? Making these blanket statements about Muslims? I mean, you and I know Muslims who do not fit any of the stereotypical caricaturing kind of claims that are being used these days. And yet people think nothing of just saying, you know, the Qur'an is an evil book and anybody who's devoted to the Qur'an is just an evil person and we might as well just…
And then Mouw goes on to say...
I do think that Jesus is a model of civility, of convicted civility. I mean, you know, the murmuring against him that we read about in the Gospel accounts is that this is a person who associates with harlots and with corrupt tax collectors and, you know, other "sinners" in the culture. And yet it's very clear that Jesus did not approve of prostitution or of compliance with the economic practices of the Roman Empire, you know. So it is a clear case where Jesus reached out to people, but in none of that was he sacrificing convictions about what is right, what is good, what is true. And some of his harshest judgments were for people who were very condemnatory toward other people and not aware of their own sin, not aware of their own shortcomings, you know.
The discussion goes on to talk about how we need to know people to understand them and to personalize them. That is so true!! And I fear that as Mouw suggested, evangelical Christians either want to overtake the world and be in total control (i.e., the religious right and that agenda) or pull away and hide in holy huddles (e.g., family life centers, Christian-only homeschool co-ops, Christian schools, Christian fiction) and either refuse or be too fearful of people who think and act differently than we do.
This article got me thinking about how important it is that we have friends and/or spend time with those who are different from us. I think that not only having non-Christian friends, but friends who have different political ideologies, sexual orientations, belief systems, ethnic backgrounds, etc. is a particular pitfall for families in vocational ministry. Often times life revolves around church, especially if the wife doesn't work out of the home. If she has small children she may be involved in MOPS (a Christian organization), attend a Bible study, etc. for an outlet, but this still keeps one to the close Christian inner circle. I was a SAHM for many years as a a pastor's wife when my children were young and I did MOPS, Beth Moore Bible studies, women's ministry, VBS, etc. It would have been easy to stay in those familiar circles, but I didn't. I also volunteered at my son's public school and I taught ESL at the neighborhood literacy center. I learned that "those Mexicans" that church people talked disdainfully about were actually from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and weren't Mexican at all; just Spanish speaking. I learned that many had been raped at gunpoint in their home countries and came to the U.S. seeking refuge. They worked twelve hours a day doing manual labor for pennies and then sent most of it home to provide a better life for the children they left at home. So when people start talking about sending all of the illegals home and "if you're in our country, speak our language," even now I see the faces of Zoila and Noe who came twice a week to learn English after a 12 hour workday and with the academic skills of a 6th grader. I see them playfully pushing each other in line when I took them to get ice cream and said it was my treat, but they had to practice their English by ordering their own ice cream. When people talk about Muslims, I see my friend Azza and my colleague Ish. Azza was a Fulbright visiting professor teaching Arabic at the university where I teach. She attended our church briefly and made good friends among our community. We ate many meals together and she made us a native Egyptian dish to share. Ish is my colleague who drove for four of us faculty to attend a conference three hours away. On our return we saw a man getting beaten up by two other guys on the side of the road. Without a moment's hesitation he jumped out of the car, into the fray, and broke up the fight. Yes, and he's Muslim. I also have many Jewish friends...and new age friends...and agnostic friends...and even atheist friends.
One of our oldest and dearest family friends and former youth has come out as homosexual in the past few years. I have many gay and lesbian friends from high school and college and currently as colleagues. I have friends, not just acquaintances, who are Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Nicaraguan, Brazilian, and Peruvian. I know people of Polish, German, Czech, Norwegian, British, and Dutch descent. And the amazing thing...I have learned at the core that we have a lot of similarities. We all want to love and be loved. We all want the best for our children. We all have hopes and dreams and feelings and passions. I have also learned that we have some big differences---maybe religion, maybe values, maybe politics. We don't have to agree. And my being friends with people who have differing lifestyles and beliefs from me doesn't mean that I condone their way of thinking. Rather I want to be a model of convicted civility...like Jesus. I don't want to lump people into overused stereotypes or put them in boxes. And how can I love them if I don't know them? How can I extend grace if I am too scared to get close?
As I stated earlier, as PWs it is too easy to stay insulated. Even with my ESL teaching, I still was in a spiritual bubble of sorts. However, as I entered the workforce it was easier to be with different people because my coworkers and patients were different from me. I learned that "those people on Medicaid" weren't sorry, lazy bums, but often middle class parents who had been overwhelmed with medical debts due to a severely handicapped child. If a PW stays at home with her children, she obviously doesn't have the wider borders of the work environment, but she still has neighbors, community organizations, a grocery store, a library, etc. Join a book club, go to a play group, etc., but not a "Christian" one--just a *gasp* secular one. I already have plenty of white, middle class, Christian friends who are the same kind of same as me. However, I am very thankful for the lessons as I have learned from those who are so very different. And...I am thankful for God who created ALL of us in His own image and gave His Son for each and every one of us. My prayer is that I could continue to let my feeble little light shine and extend grace, love, and truth to all.