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Friday, February 27, 2015

Respecting the Other

When I attended Vanderbilt Divinity School, we'd often hold a series of events, such as worship services, in honor of Black History Month. One year a worship service featured a choir from a local African-American church, and during the service, the choir leader spoke about the love of Jesus and how accepting Jesus as one's Lord and Savior can grant one a peace that surpasses all understanding. This was a bit more evangelical than many Divinity School professors and students were comfortable with, but when I glanced over at one of our more theologically liberal students, she had a smile on her face, her eyes were closed, and she was swaying with the music. And I almost threw up. Why? Because I'm fairly certain that if the choir leader had been a white evangelical, she would've walked out. In fact, she probably wouldn't have shown up in the first place.

As I alluded to in a recent post ("The Root Causes of Terrorism"), learning how to respect the beliefs and practices of others is necessary if we're to live in a world relatively free of violence and civil strife. However, respecting the other shouldn't be confused with political correctness. I've witnessed many mainline Christians feign respect for the beliefs of minority religious groups (e.g., a belief in angels and the efficacy of prayer) and then turn around and make fun of the beliefs of Mormons, evangelicals, and conservative Catholics (e.g., a belief in angels and the efficacy of prayer), evidently believing (incorrectly) that members of minority religious groups are incapable of noting such hypocrisy. Respecting what others believe doesn't mean never disagreeing with what they believe. Rather, it means affirming those beliefs that we share, while at the same time criticizing those with which we disagree with without making fun of those who hold them. In other words, it’s one thing to be critical of beliefs one disagrees with, but it is quite another to make fun of those who holds them.

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