I walked out of one of my schools today and a woman in a Burka was walking toward me. It was one of the ones where everything is covered other than her face–not one of the less sexy ones with the just the eye slits–so I could see her smile when I asked her how she was doing today. She said, “I’m doing very well today. Thank you for asking.” She spoke English very well, but still had a thick accent–I have no idea where from. I think maybe Boston….
As I walked away, I patted myself on the back for my meaningless nicety to a Muslim stranger. “That’s right. I’m a white, American, Christian man living in the South who just smiled at you and said ‘Hello.’ As you can now clearly see, we are not all a bunch of hate-filled prejudiced hypocrites (thought the man who is clearly prejudiced against white, American, Christians living in the South…. Yes, it’s not lost on me–I’m working on it).” Ahh, yes–I’m a pretty good person for loving someone from a different religion–as if my cordial greeting made some sort of difference. I fantasized about her going home and telling her kids about this white guy who showed her kindness today. “I just had this feeling he did it because of how much he loved Jesus,” she would tell them. And then the barriers between our two cultures start to break down…. Way to go, Me!!!
Seriously, though–As I walked away, I thought to myself that if I actually had the opportunity to get to know her and be her friend, I would have absolutely no interest in attempting to get her “saved.” I was involved in Young Life in college, and I know a bit about telling people about Jesus. I have talked to a lot of people about Jesus–a few of those people have ended up believing that he is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Some people call this “leading people to Christ” (as if we had something to do with their salvation). This “Getting People Saved” thing looks different for different people: Some people think it’s as simple as saying a prayer. Some people think it involves a “personal relationship” (a phrase that never appears in the Bible). Some people think it’s about “accepting Jesus.” Or repenting. Or baptism. Or even speaking in tongues. Some people think getting saved is all about what happens when we die (getting into Heaven/staying out of Hell), others think it’s more about what happens right now–That salvation is something that is lived out in loving everyone (even your enemies) right now, and working to help and love the most vulnerable people. For others, “being saved” means trying to get as many other people to say the magic prayer as you possibly can (this is the sort of person who leaves a Bible “tract” in lieu of a tip at restaurants). It’s weird–as I get closer to God, I honestly get less and less sure how the whole salvation thing works anymore (from our end, anyway–I get how it works from God’s end). And you know what? I’m not worried about it. God is good.
Listen. If I am kind to a woman in a burka, it sure the hell is not because I am trying to get her saved–It’s because I love her. And It’s not because I hate Islam–If I have hate in me, it’s for the ignorance and fear and enmity that she has probably had to endure at the hands of people who call themselves Christians. This is why it’s so frustrating when Christians paint Muslims as a threat or an enemy. Either Jesus is the real deal, or he’s not. I’m not going to talk anyone into believing in Jesus. Jesus speaks for himself. And a changed heart that is filled with love instead of hate is the most powerful testamony there is. Like Saint Francis of Assisi said, we “preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, [we] use words.”
It seems like the strategy for many Christians today is one of two things: Either trying to make sin illegal (while calling for smaller government…. Wha?), or trying to tell people (whom they don’t even know) that the things they believe are completely wrong. Muslims, Gays, Atheists, liberals, communists…. People say things like, “The most loving thing that I can do for someone is let them know they are going to hell unless they change.” Really? I can think of a lot of things more loving than that: Inviting someone over for dinner, mowing someone’s lawn while they are out of town, watching someone’s kids so they go out on a date, or maybe even just spending time together, listening to their stories, and laughing together….
To quote Paul Simon, “You want to be a missionary? Got that missionary zeal? Let a stranger change your life– How does it make you feel?” Trying to change someone’s life who you don’t have any sort of relationship with seems like a bad business model. It has all the genuineness of that moment in a conversation with a stranger when he explains how much money he has saved by buying things directly from Amway…. “Wait, you brought me this fruit basket because you want me to change my religion?” We love people, not because we’re trying to keep them from Hell–We love because he first loved us. It’s got to be about community and relationship. If anyone gets to know me–even a little bit–chances are really good they are going to know that I love Jesus. Unfortunately, that person is probably also going to know that I am sometimes a real jerk…. So that sucks.