January 06, 2016

Michael Brown wants to befriend Muslims, Atheists, Gays
But try to guess the motive...

Michael Brown wrote an op-ed for the Christian Post headlined, "A Christian Goal for 2016: Interact More with Muslims, Atheists and Gays".

You can see why I had to click on it, right?

On the surface, it's not a bad idea. In fact, Brown appears to be advocating a very similar attitude to one that I myself am trying to encourage: engage with people who believe differently than you, not necessarily to disprove them, but to understand them. It's a personal goal.

Here's how Brown puts it:

But this will also be a great time for bridge-building outside of our own circles, as we determine not to get carried away with cheap slogans and political rhetoric and seek instead to reach out to those we differ with and — gasp — seek to build relationships. 
I'm talking about interacting with Muslims (the vast majority of Muslims in our country will not try to behead you), atheists (they do not bite, and sometimes their anger reflects disappointment with God or the church), gays and lesbians (if you ask them honest questions rather than attack and demean them, many will gladly share their hearts), people whose race and ethnicity are different than yours (we can learn so much from each other just by asking what life is like in someone else's shoes), and those on the opposite side of the cultural divide from us (you might be surprised to find out that they have strong reasons for their beliefs and values, which will only challenge you to reinforce your own).

Okay. That doesn't sound so terrible--a little condescending with a side of patronizing at some points, but still, not terrible.

So what's the catch?

It's pretty clear:

We are called to be the Lord's ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5:20), and that transcends being Republican, Democrat, or Independent, or being conservative, liberal, or libertarian. 
Somehow, we must use the extreme polarizing that will surely come in 2016 as a stepping-stone for preaching the Gospel rather than as a barrier that drives people further from the Lord, although that is more easily said than done.

Let's back it up and use terms that I think we can all understand. Let's use (American) football.

So I'm from South Carolina. That's not a secret. We have two major college teams (one of which will be playing for the national championship shortly): the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers.

The rivalry between these two schools is intense. The annual rivalry game usually takes place on the weekend following Thanksgiving and I am not exaggerating when I say people literally get shot and killed over that game. That's a thing that, regrettably, actually happens.

If you are a Gamecock (like yours truly) interacting with a Tiger fan, you're not going to be able to convince them to switch teams. I'm just being honest here. These loyalties are pretty much for life.

Not unlike religious affiliations...

Now, if you approach every conversation with someone from the other team as an opportunity to evangelize for your team, you're not going to get far. Despite the fact that you may assert that you are trying to be "relational", no human being enjoys constant conversion attempts. No one wants to be told that the Gamecocks are better, over and over again. They especially don't want to be told this when it flies in the face of evidence, like the fact that the Tigers are playing for a national championship title and the Gamecocks...well, my very dear Cocks are not, suffice to say.

It's the same with these seemingly altruistic gestures. You cannot build relationships while maintaining that your way of life is superior. Relational moves come from a place of pluralism--not tribalism. There are many Christians that understand this, but Brown...Brown's not one of them.

And, for the record, neither are his commenters. Check out some of these responses:

Here's someone arguing that unbelievers hate Christianity.

This one is...a bit racist, honestly, especially when you consider that people of color have significant histories of religiosity:

Here we have unsubstantiated claims against atheists:

Yes, Brown appears to have an ulterior motive for his offers of friendship...but at least he offers the friendship to begin with, I suppose, unlike his followers.

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