Respecting the Beliefs of Others
by Jim Venable

America and the world at large are extremely diverse with multitudes of different cultures, languages, traditions, and faith systems. Faith and religion are, for millions of people, inextricably bound into lifestyles, cultures, upbringing, value systems, world views, business practices and even national identities. Our religions help make us who we are. Because of this, we're often very protective of our beliefs. Our faith, traditions, rituals and emotions are interwined. To harm one part injures the whole and an attack on one, such as one’s faith or religion, would, for many people, be perceived an assault on his person, his identity, or his god(s). History records a great deal of turmoil over religion, and such strife continues today in various parts of the world.

But love demands that we respect each other's beliefs and traditions. If we do otherwise, we're guilty of pride, prejudice and even hatred. In America, where we have freedom of religion, each person has the right to worship according to his faith, as long as in so doing he doesn't trample upon the rights of others. Such permissive diversity understands that we can love without agreeing, even on important issues of faith. It opens a channel for dialog, and enriches everyone as we see beyond the horizons of our own parochialism. In order to have the freedom to be "right" or "orthodox" in our beliefs, we must permit others to be, in our eyes, wrong and unorthodox; even "pagan infidels." Religious pluralism gives everyone the right to be wrong. That is as it should be.

You may find it surprising to know that Jesus took this very attitude. While declaring Himself to be "the way, the truth and the life," and saying that no one could come to Father God except through Him, He attempted to coerce and convince no one. He often said "follow me," but He never pushed anyone. Nor did He chase anyone who turned away. The decision to follow is always left up to the individual. Christianity, then, is rightly not coercive in nature, but proclamatory. We seek to publish the truth, letting the hearers decide whether it really is the truth. They may respond as they see fit. Everyone is free to follow or not follow. There's no reason to be threatened, unless, perhaps you're beginning to believe, and you're current religious convictions are challenged. See John 6:64-69.

Furthermore, no one can convert another person to Christianity. This is widely misunderstood. I can teach Christian doctrine. I can share my experiences of God, speaking of what He's done for me. But I can't convert you. It's impossible. See John 6:65. Since this is true, there are a lot of unconverted people who attend church services. They've mentally accepted the teachings, or they may like the music or the rituals. But they're usually totally unaware that they haven't been converted. So they think they're Christians when they're not. You're not a Christian until you have a genuine, personal relationship with God. You must understand and know that Jesus made this possible by dying in your place, paying God's penalty for your sin and rebellion against God, thereby removing your guilt and making you acceptable to God. By this route, God can reach out to you and beckon you to become part of His eternal family. God initiates; we respond. None of us can convert.

So you're free to live and believe in your own way. But when God calls, there's really only one choice. As Peter said when others turned away from Jesus, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

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(C) Jim Venable. All rights reserved.