It is a blessing to be and feel supported. I have great parents and siblings; a remarkable husband, who builds me up in ways I don’t even know I need; two rambunctious boys, the oldest who tells me everyday how much he loves, just because I’m me; an up-lifting Life group at church; and a newly-formed small group that meets in my home. In these situations, I am supported, accepted, and loved.
Now, let’s be clear, I don’t always agree with these people. In fact, I disagree with all of them on all sorts of topics. My son and I disagree over the importance of cleaning his room. My husband and I disagree on the correct order of dusting and vacuuming. (I am firm believer that you dust first, which dislodges dirt that the vacuum can collect. He is firm believer that you vacuum first, which stirs up the dirt that you can then dust. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this…but I digress.) But those are simple topics in the grand scheme of things. The two biggies are religion and politics. Last Sunday in Life group, there was a deep discussion about the meaning of baptism and whether it is a means of salvation. Our class didn’t agree. And my father and I have agreed never to discuss politics again, since a very heated argument almost 10 years ago. But all of these disagreements, large and small, don’t alter the relationships we have. Our relationships are based on more that one issue; they are based on love and acceptance.
However, what happens when you have a similar disagreement about religion with someone you don’t have a loving and supportive relationship with? Typically, the response is judgement. They think you are less of a person, less of a fill in the blank, confused, or just plain stupid. And what’s even more painful is when someone attacks your beliefs unprovoked with partial information or misinformation. That is likely the worst; people who just spew their understandings without love or care for those they are hurting. It’s not a easy place to be. And it’s not a place that people want to stay for long. So here’s my advice if you find yourself in that situation:
- Think carefully before you confront those who are attacking you and your beliefs. There are times to speak up and there are times to let it ride. Try to learn the difference.
- When you speak up, speak from your personal experiences and vetted knowledge. Speak with authority and absolutes sparingly. The only absolute is Jesus and God’s love, (and some historical data, but remember some of that is also up for interpretation).
- Forgive and love people as they are. They are learning and growing, just like you.
- Encourage them to learn more, read more, pray more.
And here’s my advice if you find yourself becoming the one who is imposing your religious beliefs on others:
- Be assured that all people and religions have elements of beauty within them; after all, they are children of God. Seek to find their beauty and learn from them. And yes, sometimes it’s not easy. (A great mentor to me in my first years of teaching once said, “You must find something about each child to love or you won’t make it as a teacher.” She was right. Some kids it took minutes, others months; but it was there.)
- Resist speaking with authority about topics you really don’t know about. Be honest with yourself and ask someone or research. Prepare yourself to learn; your understandings may be misinformed.
- Love them as they are. Remember that accountability should come from someone they trust. If you don’t know a person, chances are you should’t confront them, no matter how strongly you feel about an issue. It won’t go well.
- Encourage them to learn more, because God reveals himself to everyone in His own time.
I hope this is helpful! It has certainly been a great exercise for me to make these lists. Admittedly, I have been on both sides of this and am trying to take my own advice.