I wasn’t going to answer the door. I should have ignored it.
My sermon is usually put to bed by Saturday night, but this particular week I was lazy, so I was in my office, scribbling down notes when I should have been watching Hockey Night in Canada.
Maybe I was being punished for my sloth.
I answered the door.
“We want to talk about God,” they said. Two young men. One dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. The other in what I can only describe as a long, dress-like, shirt with matching beige coloured pants and sandals.
“Boy, the fish are jumping right in the boat,” I thought to myself.
I invited them to my office and they sat down. They got right to the point.
“What do you believe about God?” one of them asked, demandingly.
I was taken aback. I stammered a bit. How does one encapsulate Christianity?
“We believe that God, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross and rose again three days later. And that we are joined to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection through what we call ‘Holy Baptism.’”
A quick answer. They were unimpressed.
“You also believe in the Holy Spirit?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “We believe the Holy Spirit is the power of the Risen Jesus alive in us and in the world.”
I mentally patted myself on the back for such a succinct answer. But it was clear that they weren’t buying it.
“So, you believe in three gods?” he asked.
“No, we believe in One God, three Persons.”
“What’s the difference?” he asked, his voice rising.
“Think of H20, it is liquid, steam, and ice. Three different expressions of the same substance,” I said, knowing how oversimplified my answer was.
He rose from his chair and yelled with his index finger pointing heavenward, “There is not three gods, there is only one God, and his name is Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet. The Koran is God’s Holy revelation to mankind!”
Whoa! You guys didn’t tell me you were Muslims (although I suspected as much).
“You do not have the authority to forgive sins!,” he continued, “You don’t need priests to mediate between God and man…!”
“How about between God and women?” I thought to myself, “And who said anything about priests? This is a LUTHERAN church.”
“You don’t need phony rituals like baptism and communion! All you need is to get down on your knees and BEG Allah for forgiveness and turn your life towards him!”
Phony rituals? Baptism and communion? He obviously came with a prepared speech.
His sidekick chimed in. He had a softer tone, clearly the good cop to his friend’s bad cop. “It’s not that we’re trying to convert you,” he said, “We just want to have a conversation.”
“This 'conversation' is over,” I said ushering them to the door. And as they were leaving, the loud one turned to me and said, “You’ve been given God’s message from not ONE, but TWO Muslims. You need to turn your life over to the true God NOW, before it’s too late. You could die tonight on the way home, and if you don't repent, you will find yourself in damnation.”
Was that a threat?
“Please leave,” I said.
This happened about 4 years ago when I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I write this not to beat up on Muslims, but because it showed me how religion can be abusive, uncaring – the very opposite of what its scriptures teach.
My encounter with these Muslims haunted me. I’ve tried to pin-point what made me so troubled. And I think it was because, despite their warnings, they actually didn’t care about me. Ultimately, they didn’t care if Kevin George Powell husband to R, and dad to S and N, became a Muslim. They wanted to hammer away at my beliefs; they wanted to punish me for my differing religion.
They wanted another covert. Another notch on their belt. Another conquest.
They wanted to be superior.
It breaks my heart when I see Christians doing the same thing, Christians who threaten non-Christians with damnation as if we are arbiters of God’s judgment. Churches who adopt a hostile stance toward so-called "non-believers."
A church here in Lethbridge recently displayed a sign: “Jesus is coming back whether it is politically correct or not.”
But the bible tells us that we are simple messengers. We have been asked to bring good news where there is bad news. Healing where there is pain. Comfort where there is grief. We are to announce that the Kingdom of God has broken into our world.
We are to love as God loves.
When people strike back at Christians, it is because we’ve forgotten what it means to love as God loves - unconditionally, sacrificially. When non-Christians lash out at us it’s usually because we demand that they adopt our agenda without first receiving our saviour. When secular people oppose us it’s often because we insist on a privileged position in society, rather than taking our rightful place as servants.
What people do NOT need is dogmatic absolutism. Folks aren’t swayed by hostile arguments or rigid “propositional truth” demands. People need love. They need forgiveness. They need to know that there’s nothing they can do to make God love them more and there’s nothing they can do to make God love them less.
Let me say that I know how hard it is to love. I work with people, after all. People can be petty, angry, mean, self-absorbed, self-righteous, and abusive.
But people can also be kind, generous, warm, and compassionate.
Often in the same person.
But Jesus never said it would be easy. Loving people can be risky. It can hurt. It might even cost us our lives.
Just ask Jesus. He knows something about the price of love.
UPDATE: Edited for spelling, grammar, and typoes.