“As Christians, we are always at our most comfortable when we are with other Christians. We can’t be comfortable with those who don’t share our faith.”
That’s an assertion I heard the other day and it annoyed me.
I’m married to someone who isn’t a Christian, lots of my friends aren’t Christians, a great many of the people I meet each day might write CofE on an official form, but if asked, wouldn’t claim to be Christians. I am hugely and ever-increasingly uncomfortable with a number of assumptions about what it is ‘not’ to be a Christian. It doesn’t make people less human, less caring, less concerned for their neighbours. Yes, many people who are not Christians are uncaring, unkind, thoughtless, selfish bastards. But they don’t have a monopoly on those characteristics, any more than Christians are all caring, kind, thoughtful loving people.
But the underlying problem is much worse than assuming the characteristics match the label. The very lovely person who made their assertion didn’t realise it was their assumption, their version of truth. They thought they spoke the truth. It’s an attitude that I had never encountered until I went to University and met differently flavoured Christians. They were the ones who came from good Christian families, had Christian friends, went on Christian holidays to Christian events, and worried about me when I cheerfully indulged in all the fun I could, much of it with heathens. To be fair, the Christian Union mob were quite worried that I joined CathSoc (mostly Roman Catholic) and went to events held by both. My Mum asked why I hadn’t joined AngSoc (mostly Anglicans) instead, and was I think relieved when I explained that CathSoc had a bar.
I was bemused that one set of Christians thought I shouldn’t associate with another set of Christians. (CathSoc didn’t mind one bit.) I was even more bemused when they cautioned me against speaking to and associating with unbelievers. To my mind we are all God’s children, beloved by God. If I take seriously the call to “Go and make disciples of all the nations” then it’s hardly going to work if I sit in a (freezing) cosy church with other (freezing) cosy Christians talking about how awful it is that people don’t understand us. We could man the barricades, pull up the drawbridge, and then complain bitterly that people ignore us, but frankly, that’s what we’d deserve.
Alternatively we could get out, be part of our communities, live our invitational, hospitable, welcoming faith as part of our lives. We could fall in love, make friends, form relationships of different kinds. We could find God in all those things, and point out God and God’s love to others. And if they show interest, we could welcome people to share the formal, corporate parts of our lives with God, and help them to understand why we bother. But that does rather involve being with people of different beliefs and being prepared to be challenged, laughed at, told we are wrong, scoffed at for our delusions, or just gently reminded that we are irrelevant to a good 90% of the UK population.
So, by all means, man and woman the barricades. But don’t expect me to help. If you prefer, let’s browse down the shop or lurk in the library or quaff in the pub or chat with people, or bake (or write a sermon, or do admin, or enjoy a meeting about drains). We’ll be laughing or trying not to cry, filled with awe at the things people say about God when they are given permission to talk in their language about the God that they experience. And through it all, we can pray for ourselves and our fellow humans, which ever barricades we are behind, and whatever assumptions we are making.