Pluralism allows you to share your convictions
Christianity is not the only game in town. Plenty of people believe in something else. That’s simply the way it is. We had all better get used to the fact that increasing numbers of people who claim different religious allegiances now call Canada home. Some Christian believers are deeply concerned that this hinders their ability to evangelize. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. The real problems lie elsewhere.
Certainly there are plenty of things that do make it hard for people of faith to encourage others to accept their beliefs. But the existence of other religions more prominent among us is not really the trouble. Diversity itself is not the key issue. In fact, opposition to public religious conversation more often comes from people with no faith loyalties to assert. It’s the secular mindset that’s more apt to be offended by evidence of religious commitment. People who have a declared faith expect religious devotion to have a governing influence in their lives. They expect it to matter.
These devotees of other religions expect your faith to matter to you as well, and won’t be the least bit surprised to hear you talk about it. Think about it: the Christian gospel is supposed to be good news, and good news simply begs to be told. Good news is like money in a young boy’s pocket. It wants to be spent. It has a mind of its own, a compulsive need to be put into circulation.
This makes sense. Think of all the other good news stories we happily share. We cheer wildly for good plays at sporting events; we’ll eagerly watch the replays on television and happily recount highlights around the water cooler for days. We love to celebrate accomplishments of all sorts with commendations, banquets, awards, speeches and parades. Think about fishermen: they are renowned for their ability to tell and retell stories about their good catch in excruciating detail. We like to tell good news stories. We’ll eagerly bend someone’s ear with news of the birth of a grandchild, or of the good sleep we enjoyed last night. Had a good meal at a restaurant? Chances are you will tell someone about it. Good news loves to be told.
So why do Canadian Christians find it so difficult to talk naturally about the good news that God is for real—that He is good, loving and endlessly creative in devising ways to restore our spiritual fortunes? Why are we so timid about such an important matter? Let me suggest three reasons why we are disinclined to share good tidings of great joy.
Because we don’t want to offend.
We are polite people who would rather bury our own beliefs than risk a situation that could turn out to be embarrassing. Our Canadian and Christian desire to be understanding and non-coercive too frequently trumps our eagerness to speak openly about faith matters. We are loath to put people on the spot by challenging their views with our own.
We cloak our risk-aversion in the language of tolerance, excusing ourselves from sharing our own convictions because, we say, everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. Well, if everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs, then so are we. If we live in a country that protects free speech and freedom of religion, then let’s not use “tolerance” to justify timidity. This is not to say that we should be in-your-face proselytizers who confuse loud proclamation with effective witness. Rather, it’s a call for discernment: speak up in ways that can be heard when opportunities arise. (And don’t be afraid to shut up when that would be more godly and helpful.)
Because we don’t like the company.
Christians can be embarrassing to be with, especially if you’re one of them. In fact, if you are one of them you’re well aware that there’s much to be embarrassed about. Welcome to the human condition. It’s true that words like “Christian” and “evangelical” carry a lot of baggage in contemporary Canada, much of which we’d rather not attach to ourselves. So, instead of challenging the stereotypes, we withdraw into silence. We defend our failure to be open about our faith by citing St. Francis of Assisi, who reportedly said: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” That’s helpful as far as it goes. But it supposes at least two things: first, that your actions are indeed pointing to the Jesus of the gospels; and, second, that words are indeed sometimes necessary. Don’t fall into the trap of neglecting your calling because some of your companions are discomfiting.
Because we lack proper confidence.
Here is the nub of the matter. Many people who affiliate with the Christian faith don’t really believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Saviour for all humanity. It’s one thing to tick a box delineating religious heritage on a census poll. It’s quite another to get excited about the idea that an all-powerful God actually cares about human individuals.
Talking openly about religious beliefs and saving faith strikes many men—even churchgoers—as too far-fetched a notion to discuss in polite company. And so we keep good news to ourselves. We decline to speak clearly for many reasons. We know our words will challenge the beliefs of others and lead to uncomfortable discussions. We doubt our ability to carry our own end of the conversation. We are keenly aware of how little we understand and how often we stumble in our own faith journey. We know we won’t be able to answer many objections. We fear our words will lead to arguments we cannot win and cause hurt feelings that we cannot mend.
In short, we give our own weaknesses and inadequacies more weight than our Saviour’s ability and desire to cleanse us forever. In so doing we limit the ability of God’s Holy Spirit to demonstrate His power through us. We withhold good news by our failure to appreciate that every person in the world longs for spiritual wholeness, that everyone is deeply flawed—that we all need a Saviour.
Don’t fall for excuses. Good news deserves telling. Find a good way to tell it.