I hear a lot of different things on the radio when I park people’s cars. One of the most prominent things, aside from country music, is the Mike Gallagher show. I think the man is a nut job, but most of the time I can at least tolerate him. Today, though, something happened on the show that really bothered me.
During a call-in segment about McCain’s renouncing of John Hagee as an endorsement, he flat out laughed at a caller who said he didn’t believe in God. If you don’t believe me, you can listen to the segment here (click the link entitled ‘McCain’s Pastor Problem”; the atheist caller is near the end). I sat there and listened as the caller was chided and then let go from the phone lines. I got out of the car before I could hear any commentary that may have followed.
In hearing this, it got me to thinking about our attitude toward those who think differently from us as Christians. Why are we so intolerant? And I am not just referring to major differences in faith like atheism, Islam, or things like that. We are even intolerant of those who interpret the atonement passages of Scripture differently or even think differently about the role women play in the faith. We are sometimes downright rude toward them, even to the point of laughing at them. But is this really the Christian way? Is this what Jesus did?
As I think about how we are to interact with those who have different understandings, and I am going to limit our discussion for space’s sake to atheist/Christian dialog, I am reminded of a little story from the Gospel of John.
Jesus was becoming very popular, and when He heard as much, He went on a trip.
Now he had to go through Samaria. (John 4:4 TNIV)
He probably could have gone anywhere He wanted, but for some reason, He had to go through Samaria. The point is, He went there. And it was important that He did so.
What follows is a conversation between Jesus and a woman, and a “half-breed” woman at that. These were a lowly people, the Samaritans. The true-blooded Jews really treated these people like scum. And here is Jesus, talking to this woman, in broad daylight, and treating her as His equal. And when theological disputes arise, how does Jesus respond?
Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:21b, 23 TNIV)
He doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t scoff. He does point out that salvation is from the Jews, and that the Jews hold the keys to God’s kingdom, but the fact that Jesus was bringing salvation to her is proof that salvation was not to be limited to the Jews, it just came from them; it originated with them. The point is this: Jesus treated her with dignity and respect even though she had theological differences from Him.
The Samaritans and Jews were members, in a sense, of the same faith, so you would kind of expect them to have some sort of mutual respect for each other. So what about when, for example, a Christian comes in contact with an individual who doesn’t believe in God at all? I think Paul gives us a clue as to what our reaction should be.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?…God will judge those outside. (1 Corinthians 5:12a, 13a TNIV)
We are not to pass judgment on those who are outside the church. This means we are to treat them as if we have nothing against them. We are to show them even more respect than those who are a part of the church, within reason of course.
This means that laughing and scoffing are out. God will judge those outside.
For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous. So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences testify in support of this, and their competing thoughts either accuse or excuse them on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:13-16 HCSB)