I heard two comments and read two things this past week that really struck me as interesting and interrelated. 

I was in a store that specialized in home design.  Chatting with the salesperson, she asked me, “Do you decorate for the Christian holiday?”  I thought, “What an odd way to ask that question.”  Christmas is a Christian holiday, but I guess that is for me a new way to refer to the celebration of the Incarnation.

Then, I heard a person describing missionaries as those who move into a country in order to proselytize.  Again, I thought, “how odd,” because I do not consider proselytizing to be a good thing and wondered what she meant by that.  When I think of the term “proselytizing”, I think of one who is either attempting to impose or manipulate another person to believe as I do.  It almost feels like a power play when I think about it. I thought that missionaries go out to evangelize, to bring the Good News.  Historically, missionaries did use force but I don’t see that today.  I guess it is a matter of perspective.

I read an essay by Elsa Tamez entitled, “The Bible and the Five Hundred Years of Conquest.” (in Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, Orbis Books, 2006)  The author explores how the lens one uses to approach Scripture impacts the way one uses Scripture.  Our lens impacts our perception.  Tamaz writes regarding the Bible being used to justify the conquest of the Americas.  Essentially she puts forth the notion that the Bible has been used to condemn indigenous peoples and then has been used to justify the killing of indigenous peoples as an act of God.  The conquest of the Americas, she writes, is similar in thought to the conquest of Canaan. 

John Naisbitt in Megatrends 2000 said that in the 21st century, Europe would begin a trend toward restoring the pre-Christian religions that dotted the European landscape, because the Christian Church is viewed as a conquering force.  Both Tamez and Naisbitt refer to Christianity as a conquering agency.  This is also a matter of perception but it is here that perception can become reality.

The writings go on and on.  I think I have made my point about how the world views the Christian Church.  I would like to move on with some thoughts about how we might re-engage the world..

For those of us who love the Church and who have been both saved and transformed by its message, it is hard to understand why people feel the way the do towards us.  Yet, if I pay attention, I can begin to see exactly why they feel as they do. 

It is a matter of perception.  The Christian Church has proselytized and has killed people who rejected Christianity.  The Bible has been returned by indigenous people at various times in history because of their anger.  Tamez writes, “we find another notice of the Bible’s return in a letter that the Indigenous people handed to Pope John Paul II, in which they said, ‘We, Indians of the Andes and America, decided to take adantage of John Paul II’s visit to return to him his Bible because in five centuries it has given us neither love, nor peace, nor justice.  Please, take your Bible and give it back to our oppressors…”  

A little closer to home we read of the perceptions of young adultsI in “They Like Jesus But Not The Church” (Dan Kimball, Zondervan, 2007).  According to his research, young adults find Jesus attractive but have no interest in organized religion.  The perception is that organized religion does not walk the talk. 

Perceptions are reality and If we are going to change perceptions, we may have to learn to do things differently.  No one is saying that we must give up on what we believe or that we must believe something different.  However, with the continual confrontation that goes on around us, it would seem that we might learn that there is a better way.  Confrontation is not the answer.

 I thought about these things during the 42 years I spent in the insulated Lutheran bubble, but now I work in a setting in which Lutherans are the distinct minority. I not only have to think about the others, I need to serve them.  I work with people, and serve people,  from almost every continent, from various cultures and ethnic groups, and from a full spectrum of religious faiths.  The number one thing that I must do with those from other faith backgrounds is LISTEN.

Listening involves striving to understand the viewpoint of the other.  When I can clearly understand and articulate their views, then, if I am given permission to do so, I have the right to express my own views.

 I desire for all to know the saving power of Christ.  I am not negating that.  But, in order to share that Good News, we must come to a new and more respectful way to do so.  In order to truly change perceptions, we are called to listen, learn, embrace, and then share.  Providing a safe place for dialog and listening in the first step in the development of meaningful relationships.

 God is a God of love, acceptance, peace, wholeness and completeness.  The God who gave Jesus for the sins of the world is a God who loves the very creation that God made. 

That is the what we are called to walk and talk.


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