A Baptist, An Atheist and An Agnostic Walk Onto a College Campus
I read a tweet sometime back, maybe a year or longer ago, that has troubled me. The writer of the tweet (the tweeter?) was upset because she felt disowned and abandoned by her parents. It sounded awful until I read the thread. She wanted to attend a specific theological school for her master’s degree. Her parents disagreed with the school’s theology and refused to pay or help her move. Maybe there’s more to the story, but if not, I’m not sure why a parent’s disagreement and refusal to pay for graduate school equals being disowned.
The sentiment that if I disagree with you I must hate you crops up more and more often in our world. I don’t understand it. For years I’ve been friends with and learned from people with whom I disagree. Why are we suddenly shutting down anyone whose ideas don’t line up with ours?
In college, I was President of the Baptist Student Union. The President of the Catholic Student Union and I were members of the same social club. At the BSU, we had a lot of students who also attended events at the Wesley Foundation (hosted by the United Methodist Church). We all held different beliefs on certain topics, but we were friends.
A dear friend of mine was Catholic and another Morman. I remember sitting at Arby’s one night answering questions about how our beliefs differed as we dipped our French fries in ketchup. None of us ever yelled at each other. My friend who was Morman talked about how she’d converted after being raised Baptist. I was really curious about what drew her into that religion. My Catholic friend had never been around many Baptists so answered her questions as best I could. It was truly an enlightening conversation that Google couldn’t replicate.
Let’s move further down the trail. I also served in leadership on the college newspaper staff. Our photographer was an atheist and our sports writer an agnostic.
The photographer and I had a couple of conversations about religion. He looked at flowers and saw science. I saw God. He knew what I believed. I didn’t hide who I was or try to blend into his lifestyle. We weren’t buddies outside of the newspaper staff, but we worked together well. I still pray God used me to at least plant a seed in this man’s life.
The sportswriter was a lot more open to the idea of Christianity and read a book I loaned to him. At one point I heard him arguing over who Jesus was with the atheist after he read that book.
Beyond college, one of my most revered friends is a Democrat. He knows I usually vote Republican. We even joked about it during the last election. We hold very different political views, but he and his family are such dear friends of me and my family.
Here’s my point. I had no grand ideas that I’d convert either of those guys to Christianity. I have no plan to force my Democrat-leaning friend to the Republican side of things. (We are both professing Christians.) My purpose as a Christian is glorify God and be His witness. Conversion and salvation are His domain. When it comes to politics we have to pray and follow where we hear God’s voice.
I take every opportunity I have to talk about Jesus with whoever will listen regardless of their affiliation to a belief, a lifestyle, or a political party. (Today a vendor asked how I started my business and God is at the very center of it so I told her.) I pray none of them ever believe I hate them because we don’t agree. I try to listen and ask questions and be sensitive to them out of Christian love. They too are made in the image of God.
I won’t support or accept certain behaviors or lifestyles, but it doesn’t mean I should or will act hateful toward someone who disagrees with me.
Let me say it again in case you missed it. Just because I disagree with your lifestyle or beliefs, doesn’t mean I hate you. It may mean we won’t be super close because I guard my heart against being drawn into approving of lifestyles and behaviors I know hurt God. The truth is I have behaviors that hurt God. We all do. We’re human. I don’t want to knowingly add more of those to my life.
Here’s what I’m asking you. Before you condemn someone on social media, talk to them. Before you automatically believe they hate you, talk to them. If they are close enough to you for their opinion to matter, talk to them. Talk to each other, my friends.