Thoughts on Christians persecuting, not loving, their neighbors

So, you’re sitting in the lunch room at work, when someone commits the unforgivable party foul: they start a conversation about their religious convictions. If you’re lucky, the conversation will remain civil, and it could even lead to greater mutual understanding among your coworkers. But, if you’re unlucky, the conversation could quickly degenerate into a middle-school-like name-calling affair. “How could an intelligent person ever believe that?” Might be the closing phrase. Or even worse, “Well, at least I won’t be burning in hell for all eternity!” might disassemble the group.

But regardless of who “wins” this mess, at least someone is going to leave the table feeling persecuted. Maybe it’s you. Or maybe it’s your neighbor in the cube next door.

What I have never given much thought to, however, is how a conversation like this might make a non-religious person feel.

Daniel Florien acknowledges that oftentimes, non-religious folks feel persecuted. I guess that’s not surprising after thinking about it for a few seconds. What was surprising to me, however, is how he suggests people should respond.

He says:

“Don’t Return Criticism

This seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget. When someone criticizes us, we want to criticize them in return — or at least complain about them. Fight that urge. It doesn’t solve anything and creates a vicious circle.

Be Sympathetic

Remember that you probably once thought like they do. You know how they feel and why — they’re trying to help you in their misguided way. This should make you sympathetic instead of angry, which means you’ll be happier and less likely to say things you’ll regret.

Talk to Them Privately

If a family member or friend is constantly pressuring you and/or making barbed comments, have a private conversation with them about it. Tell them their methods are ineffective and damaging to your relationship.

Explain that you love talking and debating, but social pressure and bullying is not going to change your mind, because you reject Christianity for intellectual reasons, not relational.

Disagree Calmly

Whenever you get into an argument, never raise your voice. Listen to what they have to say, consider it, and respond calmly. If they get angry, ask them also to be calm. This keeps the tone civil and keeps things from getting out of hand. If things get uncomfortable, insert a joke to lighten the mood.

Emphasize Your Open-Mindedness

You are open to believing anything if there is evidence for it — tell them that again and again. And be sure to act on that open-mindedness. They won’t criticize you if you are willing to seriously consider what they have to say.

Admit When You’re Wrong

Whenever you realize you are wrong, admit it. It’s hard to criticize someone who is willing to admit they’re wrong. It also makes it easier for others to admit they are wrong. As Dale Carnegie said:

You will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong. That will stop all argument and inspire your opponent to be just as fair and open and broad-minded as you are. It will make him want to admit that he, too, may be wrong.

Don’t Tell Them They’re Wrong

I don’t think anyone has ever changed their mind because someone said, “You’re wrong!” That doesn’t change minds — it closes them. It puts people on the defensive. It hurts their pride. It also makes them dislike you.

Instead, use tact. Try to understand things from their perspective. Ask them to explain their beliefs and why they hold them. Perhaps through questioning you will show them their position is illogical or cannot be supported by facts. But don’t just tell them they are wrong. That’s an easy way to make an enemy.

Listen, Listen, Listen

Don’t be a bore — you know, the guy with the inflated ego who loves the sound of his own voice. If you want someone to listen to you, you must listen to them. Don’t interrupt to interject your witty insight or fact correction. Have the respect to listen to others the way you want them to listen to you.

Focus on Areas of Agreement

Always end on a note of agreement. You may not agree with them about the resurrection of Jesus, but you both can agree that it is a hard thing to believe — even Thomas doubted, after all. You can agree that it is good to question things and make sure there is sufficient evidence to believe in it. And so on.

Instead of emphasizing where you disagree, emphasize where you agree.

Love Them Anyway

Life is too short to make enemies of friends. If possible, ignore their vices and enjoy their virtues.”

———————————————–

Interesting post, you think? I think so, and here’s why: this post is from http://www.unreasonablefaith.com which is written by a converted atheist. Daniel was formerly an evangelical Christian and eventually became an atheist (and is somewhat evangelical about his atheism).

I guess I have never really thought much about how an atheist would feel persecuted by a religious person, but after having read his blog for a while, it makes a lot of sense to me. I can see how a discussion about religion that quickly turns into, “Well, if you want to burn in hell forever, that’s your choice!” could be awful.

So, some things I’ve been thinking about over the past few days as I’ve digested this post:

1) I think this post is an indictment of the way we do evangelism. In the first place, evangelism must be holistic. The command to preach the gospel must always be paired with the command to love one’s neighbor. Evangelism is not about “I’m right. You’re wrong. And if you don’t believe me, then make sure to get back to me when you’re burning for all eternity.” That’s not love. And frankly, that’s not Gospel either.

By contrast, the type of evangelism I would consider to be authentic can be summed simply (at the risk of sounding cliche): Talk the talk, and walk the walk.

Be open, honest, and transparent about who you are and what you believe. And back up those words with a lifestyle that is consistent with what you say. If you’re a Christian who believes strongly in loving and serving others, then your actions should show that.

Furthermore, I would take a page from Daniel’s book and say:

I don’t think anyone has ever changed their mind because someone said, “You’re wrong!” That doesn’t change minds — it closes them. It puts people on the defensive. It hurts their pride. It also makes them dislike you.

Instead, use tact. Try to understand things from their perspective. Ask them to explain their beliefs and why they hold them. Perhaps through questioning you will show them their position is illogical or cannot be supported by facts. But don’t just tell them they are wrong. That’s an easy way to make an enemy.

In the second place, I think it’s downright wrong to ever assume the place of judge over another person. If Christians are right, and there is a final judgment in eternity, we should remember who the judge will be — not us. Remember that if we’re right, we too will stand as defendants, not judges. What makes us think we have the right to play the role of judge in the here and now?

2) I think that in many ways, this post sounds a lot more like Jesus than a lot of Christians I talk to.

To understand what I’m saying, let’s take a quick survey of the Gospels, the narratives that tell Jesus’ story to us.

Does Jesus’ ever pronounce judgment on a person or a group of people? Yep. For sure. No question. But, Christians believe Jesus is God (which is a bit of a game-changer, don’t you think?). But even more importantly for our purposes, consider that Jesus’ words of judgment are almost always directed internally and not externally.

Jesus’ parables of rebuke are almost always directed at Jewish religious leaders, and lest we forget, Jesus was a Jewish rabbi.

When it comes to “outsiders” Jesus is almost always incredibly generous, loving, and forgiving. Take Zaccheus, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, and the list goes on and on. Would it be fair to say  that any of these people would have felt persecuted by Jesus? I, for one, don’t think so.

3) Remember that Christian faith is just that, faith.

We cannot prove what we believe and confess to be true about Jesus, God, Trinity, Incarnation, Creation, and the list goes. We believe all those things to be true, but we can’t prove them.

And that can make faith hard, really hard sometimes … and that believing without seeing even led one of Jesus’ disciples to doubt. As Daniel rightly notes, even Thomas doubted the resurrection.

For all their trouble, the rest of the disciples could not convince Thomas that Jesus had been raised from the dead. I can only imagine that they each told him their experience of the empty and hence risen savior. I can imagine that they reasoned and even argued with him. But he was a skeptic and refused to believe.

And the only one who could convince a skeptic like Thomas was Jesus himself.

I would suggest that story itself should change the way we think about the skeptics we encounter in our own lives, even when that skeptic is ourselves (it’s been that way for me, many, many times).

It’s not our job to save the world. After all, if we’re right about Jesus, that’s his job — and he’s already done that.

We’re not called to be telemarketers who harass people into buying our product.

By contrast, we are called to live as witnesses — in word and deed — to the salvation that Jesus has already accomplished.

And that means loving people altruistically and unconditionally, regardless of how they receive the message of Jesus — because that’s exactly what Jesus did and continues to do.

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Christians persecuting, not loving, their neighbors

  1. You would have to be a non-believer to know what it feels like not to be able to tell anyone that you don’t believe.

    Most people believe in God or in some sort of supernatural reality–regardless of church membership or professions of faith. So, if we dare to mention that we think there is no God, all hell breaks loose, even if we’re talking to non-church goers.

    In other words, if I want to HAVE friends and keep the peace, I must never disclose to anyone that I don’t believe in gods.

    Now, if there is a Christian around, then the “persecution” becomes real, becomes to him/her, I am a heretic, a member of Satan’s army, a danger to human kind, a depraved sinner, and possibly a thief, or a rapist, or an hopeless liar. Christians think that not believing in their God renders a person the scum of the earth.

    So, if you don’t call that persecution, I don’t know what is.

    1. Thanks for your honesty, Lorena.

      I hope I didn’t convey that I think that type of persecution is not real — I certainly didn’t mean to say that explicitly or implicitly.

      What I was intending to communicate is that I hadn’t given the issue much thought until I read Daniel’s post and read the comments of some of the posters on his blog.

      After doing so, I was trying to convey that experience as accurately as I could to people of faith like myself in hopes that we can move toward a more peaceful future. That’s what I meant to say when I said,

      When it comes to “outsiders” Jesus is almost always incredibly generous, loving, and forgiving. Take Zaccheus, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, and the list goes on and on. Would it be fair to say that any of these people would have felt persecuted by Jesus? I, for one, don’t think so.

      I acknowledge your feelings, and I am sorry that people of faith like me have made you feel as you do. I can hope and act for a better future, and I hope others will do the same.

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