Sunday, January 07, 2024

Welcoming and Sometimes Disaffirming

                                         (Redeemer - getting ready to worship!)

(I am re-posting this to keep it in play.)

I was asked the question, "Would a Muslim be welcome in your church?"

My answer is: "Yes!"

And Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, too.

I would be thrilled if people of differing beliefs came to my church. Even atheists. When I was teaching at MCCC, some atheists would sometimes come on Sunday morning to check us out. I was so glad to see them there. And a few atheists became followers of Jesus as a result!

I loved them. And obviously, my love for them did not include affirming the belief that there is no God.

Someone asked me this. "If a Muslim came and asked you to affirm their belief that Jesus was merely a prophet (and not God the Son), and that Jesus did not die on a cross (the Koran says this), would you affirm this?"

My answer is: "Of course not." And, BTW, the serious, practicing Muslim would not affirm my belief that Jesus died on a cross to atone for the sins of humanity. I have dialogued with some Muslims about this, even with a Muslim leader from the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

What does it mean to "affirm" something, or someone?" "Affirm" can mean, to agree with. Or, "affirm" can mean, "I value you." But this does not mean I value all your beliefs. From my Christian point of view, I want to affirm what God affirms. As far as I can tell, God does not affirm the following Muslim beliefs: Jesus was only a prophet, and Jesus did not die on a cross. (Note: If you want to have true interfaith dialogue with a Muslim, you disrespect them if you do not talk about how our core beliefs are different, and expect them to affirm your core beliefs. But there are those who know more about this than I, one of them being my friend J. S.)

Welcome and love people? Yes. Even enemies? Read here. And here

Affirm every belief people have? No. To do that is neither loving nor truthful. And, BTW, Jesus didn't affirm all the beliefs the people and religious leaders had.

Is it loving to welcome but not affirm? Of course. To love someone is not equivalent to affirming every belief they bring with them. That would be disingenuous. I have had a few atheists over the years tell me they respect the fact that I can be gracious towards them while not affirming their beliefs. One atheist looked me square in the eye and said, "I respect you for not affirming my atheism. That's why I am interested in you."

The atheist Christopher Hitchens said the same, and castigated both Christians and atheists who mindlessly and hypocritically affirmed everything, no matter what. (See The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist.)

The philosopher skeptic David Hume said the same. There's the story of Hume getting up at 5 AM to travel to hear George Whitefield preach. Asked if he believed what the preacher preached, he replied, "No, but he does."

No one affirms everything. Probably, people disaffirm more things than they affirm.

Much depends on a person's worldview. It is within a worldview that affirming and disaffirming find their place. Everyone has a worldview. Even the view that there are no worldviews is a worldview. The question becomes: Is my worldview true? That is, is my worldview the way things really are? This is not the special province of Christians. Everyone believes their worldview represents the way things really are.

Everyone affirms and disaffirms. It is unloving to expect, even force, someone who does not share your worldview to affirm it. But we can try to understand. And then, evaluate. And then, in a civil way, disaffirm. (Unlike life at American universities today, which mostly are disaffirming and not welcoming.)

"Could an atheist teach atheism in your church as something God affirms?" Of course not, for what seem to me to be obvious reasons.

"Could a Muslim be one of your youth leaders and teach your youth that Christ did not die on a cross?" Of course not.

"Would you, John, be allowed to be a youth leader at the Islamic Center of America, and tell Young Muslims that the Koran is wrong, and God is a Trinity of Persons, in One?" Definitely not!

"Could someone teach your people that marriage is not limited to a man and a woman?" No.

"Does that mean you don't love people who have beliefs contrary to the Jesus way?" Of course not!

The idea that we ought to love everyone, even our enemies, finds its most powerful formulation in Christianity.

The idea that we should affirm every belief is unloving, and pop-culture nonsense. If love meant affirming everything people believe, we would love no one, not even ourselves, not even God.