R-E-S-P-E-C-T Why it's important to have it for those who believe differently

This meme has been making the rounds for quite some time with both fans and critics taking a swipe at what it means and what we, as Christians, should do about it.

Often, in posts from ‘Christian’ sources, the conclusion is “The KKK? Satan Worshipers? Are you going to respect them? That’s ridiculous. No, you don’t have to respect them.” Or they state “Our job is to share the gospel, and sometimes that means telling people they are wrong.

And while I get that, while I sort of understand “loving someone sometimes means correcting them”, I don’t honestly believe that sharing the gospel means being disrespectful and confrontational. In fact, it’s the “us and them” mentality that has caused so many problems throughout history. “We’re right, they’re wrong, so we don’t have to respect them” – with the “them” being any religion or nation we choose as the ‘wrong’ one.

Now, putting aside the whole argument as to whether Christians are to ‘evangelize’ – for the sake of this blog post we’ll say they are – does that mean that it’s our job to tell people when they are wrong in their sincerely held religious beliefs? Or are we to just respect them as this meme states?

First, let me state that there are extremes that need to be addressed. In every faith-group there are extremists. Westboro Baptist, Isis, the KKK, Buddhist Nationalists. These are dangerous groups. They don’t really follow the faith they claim to belong to. They are harming and killing people. “Respect” doesn’t mean you let people die. So no, we’re not going to ‘respect’ terrorist. Everyone that says ‘respect others’ will agree on this. Respecting a belief does not mean the extremes. Logically, there’s a middle ground and those are the people we need to be talking about. The peaceful, sincere followers of Christ and Muhammed and Buddha. People that aren’t harming anyone and are sincere in their beliefs and habits.

That being said, I honestly believe we should not only practice respect, I feel we are COMMANDED to practice respect. And yes, respect means not telling people they are wrong “for the sake of the gospel”.

There is one very prominent example in the Bible that shows how to love your neighbor without disrespecting them:

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others. – Acts 17:22-34 (NIV)

So here’s Paul, in Athens, at a meeting of the “Areopagus” – basically the elders of the city, the court, or a public gathering of some kind, the text isn’t clear as to whether it’s the location or the organization that shares its name -whichever definition, there were probably a great many people there. And he’s got this chance to talk to all of them about the God of Israel and Jesus Christ.

And rather than tell them that they are wrong, he actually uses their belief as a stepping stone to talking about his belief. He doesn’t start by telling them they are wrong, rather he expands on what they already believe to introduce them to the gospel ofJesus.

When it comes to matters of faith, we can’t start by telling people they are wrong. What would have happened to Paul if, instead of using the example of the “Altar to the Unknown God” he had said “First of all, you’re all wrong, your gods are fake. Now listen to me while I tell you about a real God.” He probably would have been executed on the spot. Instead, they listened and some came to believe, including one who was an elder of the city.

There are many examples in the Bible of someone having an opportunity to speak to someone of a different faith but never do they start by telling someone they are wrong.

But again, in the Bible, as in our modern lives,  there are examples of the extremes, and those ARE called out, but within the same tradition. Peter at the Temple, for example. But even then, he doesn’t attack them, rather he leads them from their error with love.

My opinion is this:

We cannot, ever, share our position with people if we do not respect where they are. And yes, that includes Islam, the vast majority of believers who are peaceful and just living their lives.

HOWEVER, respect does not mean total acceptance. I can respect my friend’s fandom of the Cowboys without becoming a football fan. I can respect my friend liking Metallica without wanting my ears to be assaulted by what I consider terrible noise. I can, and do,  respect my friend’s atheism while continuing to believe in Christ.

AND, respecting people and their belief does not mean demanding respect in return. My Cowboy’s fan friend is free to be rude and angry with me for not being a fan of football. The Metallica fan is free to call me a hater and stop talking to me. My atheist friend is free to think I’m a fool. Respect does not mean you demand it in return. I will not disrespect them just because they disrespect me.

Finally, sharing your belief does not mean tearing apart THEIR belief so you can be ‘right’. I believe my belief in Christ is ‘right’, but when I talk to someone who is Muslim or Atheist, I’m not going to share my belief by destroying theirs. I’m not going to use phrases like “let me tell you where you’re wrong”. To respect another’s belief while sharing my own, I need to, as Paul did, find a way to talk about their faith without attacking it. That is the truest form of loving your neighbor, to be able to accept that you don’t have to be ‘right’.

COEXIST isn’t just a flashy bumper-sticker, it is the core of the message of Christ. Love God, love your neighbor as yourself. That love means respect in every and all forms, though not necessarily acceptance. Let us practice it every day.