By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
We live in a culture glorifying tolerance, doing a terrible job of it in many regards, and then tolerating so much that it feels we're in violation of everything biblical. We're a melting pot of different faiths, beliefs, ethics, and morals. All of those influence our daily interactions, and if you're like me, talking about the weather seems to be the safest topic these days.
So, is it sunny where you are?
But seriously. As believers, it is important, dare I say, critical, that we learn to show love to those with different beliefs. Why is this so difficult? I'll venture to say that for many of us, we're afraid that showing love and acceptance will be translated as tolerating sin or a different belief system we simply cannot get behind. Therefore, instead of loving and accepting, we hold others at arm's length, or we choose to create a dialogue so we can make a point about how we disagree with a quick addition, "but I still love you," in hopes of softening the blow.
How can we love those with different beliefs? Maybe it's looking at love a bit differently and following the example Christ outlined in Scripture. Let's break it down a bit:
1. Love was never tolerating.
No one will ever accuse Jesus of not loving the Pharisee, the tax collector, or the prostitute. It was evident by His actions that His love for them was insurmountable as well as extremely personal. But He wasn't tolerating their sin. He wasn't tolerating of false gods. By tolerating, I mean He didn't couch His own message in manufactured politically correct terms in order to not offend. In fact, sometimes, Jesus was downright in their face about their beliefs and the error of their ways. But please note something: He was effective because He loved.
Jesus built relationships with individuals. When He approached Zaccheus, he went to the tax collector's house for dinner. The man was an economic thief, and yet Jesus saw fit to still build a relationship with him while never once giving off an air of approval for the tax thievery of the day. When Jesus confronted the Pharisees, he laid out the truth of His teachings while also extending an invitation to come and be part of what Christ offered. Jesus didn't tolerate sin or beliefs contradictory to the truth He brought to the world, nor did He disguise His disapproval of them, but He still loved. The old adage, "love sinner, hate the sin," has its place, but also remember that sometimes communion is difficult to find with others who boldly proclaim their sin as their chosen belief system. So, therefore, can we love the sinner? Jesus did, but it wasn't easy, and it eventually killed Him.
2. Love should welcome open dialogue.
There's a lost art in American culture these days, and it's open dialogue. Should I say healthy open dialogue? There's plenty of arguing. A copious amount of shutting others down or "unfriending" when you don't like what they say. And frankly, sometimes people are downright mean when trying to convince others that their point of view is incorrect or ignorant.
This is where we can make a huge difference. Let's bring back healthy dialogue. Once again, learning to love others with different beliefs goes back to healthy communication being integral in the relationship. This means that to be effective, both parties need to enter the conversation with an understanding of mutual respect and care. Even the most biblically sound argument can be couched in bitter condemnation that eliminates any element of love and concern for the other person for the sake of speaking truth. But then, even the most culturally relevant argument can be shrouded in angry intolerance of a more conservative viewpoint and dismissive because it's "typical of Christianity."
It's time to set the example and reach out in a loving dialogue. Ask questions. Lots of questions. Even if you're sure you are following a biblical principle, there is nothing wrong with learning the other side's point of view. The attempt to sincerely understand why a person believes what they believe will give you much insight into who that person really is, what drives them, what has hurt them, and what will heal them. Accepting that you may never change their opinion or belief but realizing that it's important to be able to talk about it respectfully is critical to healthy dialogue.
We need to avoid verbal strangulation, where we cut off the airways of the other's belief to make them hear ours. A true example of Christ-like love in action is learning who the person is, which means we need to learn what they believe and why. Healthy dialogue, friends. It's time it finds its place in our world again.
3. Love can set boundaries.
It's also okay to set boundaries. Sometimes one belief system will dramatically affect your belief system. Perhaps it brings back old temptations, or it's attractive to something inside of you, or maybe, those beliefs make you doubt your own foundational principles.
It's important to note that while loving someone, you can also create lines you cannot cross. For example, when I visited a Tibetan temple, I was comfortable giving my time to the monk who was showing me his place of faith, but I drew the line when it came to entering, removing my shoes in deference to his god, and bowing. A loving explanation was given. I must honor my God; therefore, I respect you and care for you, but I cannot cross that line because of my personal faith.
Given in love and respect, those boundaries will typically be honored and respected in return. Not always. No. But it's something to consider carefully and incorporate when appropriate. It will provide safeguards for you and set clear expectations for the other individuals while still understanding that underlying truth of love.
Different belief systems are difficult to navigate. There's no doubt. As the day and age become further and further away from traditional beliefs and the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, we will find ourselves communing with many from different walks and ways of life.
Learning to share the love of Christ while still staying true to our beliefs is critical. Ostracizing others due to "erroneous" belief systems or "sinful" belief systems will put a stalemate on spreading the Gospel of Christ's grace and submission to His Word. There's a careful balance between love and tolerance; they're not necessarily the same things.
Don't be discouraged! Christ has called us to reach those with different beliefs. Seek Him as you seek to love. Approach all with an attitude of service and humility, and practice the fruits of the spirit. When these principles surround us, truth becomes easier to communicate, and while it may still sometimes be a bit abrasive—it can be spoken in love.
Find those who don't believe what you believe. Love them. Make a difference. Go in the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!