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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

On the Fear of Ruining a Friendship

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So. Last week, a Christian "friend" decided she needed to confront me about the sin of living with my boyfriend. (And of course, the sin of having a non-Christian boyfriend in the first place.)

She's an American missionary, and I'd only met her a few times. You know I'm looking for Christians who can accept me. That's why I was calling her and asking to get together and stuff.

So we met up, and she said she wanted to talk with me. And she said she wants to "know where I'm coming from" with regards to living with my boyfriend and "what God says about that."

The first thing I said was it's not right to use language like "what God says about that" because different Christians would have different interpretations of it. And throughout the conversation, I didn't say much about my own beliefs or my own interpretation of the bible. Instead, I first told her I understand where she's coming from- I come from that sort of conservative Christian culture where we believe it's our responsibility to notify people of their sins, out of a genuine concern for their well-being. BUT actually it's not right, and it's not loving, to think that you know what's right for someone else's life, when you barely even know them.

And I was very direct about how I fear she'll think I'm not a real Christian, but I am a real Christian. "I love Jesus," I told her several times.

I'm not asking people to agree with me. I'm asking that people believe I am a Christian, and that my views on these topics are based on my love for God and my understanding of the bible. The reason I hold an opinion that disagrees with you is not because I've been "deceived by the world" or I "just want to follow my sinful desires."

You don't have to agree with my interpretation of the bible. I just want you to acknowledge that it is an interpretation of the bible.

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I remember years ago, at an evangelism training event, we were asked what are biggest fears were about doing evangelism. One of the most common answers was "what if I ruin the friendship?" We were so worried that we would come across as judging our friends. Or we would scare them too much if we mentioned hell. Or they would think all we wanted to do was convert them.

We worried so much, and we knew we had to build a foundation of trust first, so that our friends knew we really did care about them. We had to wait for just the right moment, just the right situation, before we could be honest.

I don't want to deny how hard that is. I know. Back then, when I was a "good Christian" and I was all about evangelism, I really did desire to help people. And it was so hard, it was just so hard, believing that I needed to get my friends to change. That I needed to warn them about hell. That there was a very real risk that I could damage the friendship, even though I was just trying to help.

This is perhaps the biggest reason that believing "all non-Christians automatically go to hell" screws up everything. It means we have to believe our non-Christian friends don't know what's good for them, and we need to find some kind of sneaky way to get them to listen to us. We need to build a friendship with the goal of building enough trust so that they might eventually believe what we have to say about God and hell.

And you may think, "oh that sounds terrible, building a friendship just so you can try to force your beliefs on someone, treating a person like a project." But don't misunderstand- don't imagine that the friendship isn't real. It is very real. Evangelical Christians really do love their non-Christian friends and want what's best for them. Because of their belief in hell, the only way they can express that love is through trying to get people to change their beliefs.

I've been there. I've been the "missional Christian" doing "friendship evangelism." And I've participated in the discussions about what we should do if, hypothetically, we had a gay friend, because I mean, obviously that's sin ("the bible is clear...") so we have to tell them they're sinning, but we don't want them to misunderstand and think we're judging or we hate them.

The fear is real. The love is real. The friendship is real. And it's awful how a belief in hell can drive good, loving people to, after much agonizing over it and truly striving to determine the right thing, do hateful things to others.

I'm so glad I no longer believe in that anti-gay bullshit. (And various other types of associated bullshit.) Now love just means love.

If you're so afraid to tell others about Christianity, maybe your version of Christianity actually isn't good news. Image source.

So let's get back to my missionary "friend". I know where she's coming from, and I understand why she feels she needs to tell me it's wrong to live with my boyfriend. And how she did it because she was concerned about me. And how she's afraid I'll think she's judging me, afraid this will ruin the friendship.

I get it.

But.

It did ruin the friendship.

I'm looking for people who can be real friends, who can understand me and support me. But now it's been revealed that she doesn't think I'm a real Christian- or maybe I am technically saved so I am a real Christian, but I've been deceived by the world or whatever.

And if she won't believe that about me- that I'm a Christian, that I love Jesus, that I love the bible- if she doesn't believe these things that are such a foundational part of my identity, then she doesn't really love me.

Wait, didn't I just say "the love is real"? How can I now say "she doesn't really love me"?

Sure, she has feelings of love, feelings of caring about me. Sure, she may genuinely desire good things for me. Within the context of her belief system, she is loving me the best way she knows.

But.

Her beliefs drive her to express that "love" by telling me I'm wrong about my own identity. And that I clearly don't know what's best for my own life. And that my sweetheart is going to hell. And that she'll pray for me, that "God will show you what he has for you" which sounds a lot like "God will show you I'm right and you're wrong."

And that's not love.

It's a tragedy, isn't it? Because of her belief in hell and the belief that "the bible clearly says" living with one's boyfriend is a horrible sin, she's essentially unable to express her love in a way that actually is loving.

And I understand the fear of ruining a friendship, but really, why should I keep calling her? Why would I try to find time to go meet up with her on my days off? She doesn't believe that I love God. How can she even understand who I am?

Yeah, I'm not gonna call her anymore.

Image source.

I'm not asking that other Christians agree with me. I just want them to believe I am a Christian, I love God, and I love the bible. And that my beliefs- the points that perhaps we disagree on- are the result of my studying the bible and doing my best to understand who God is and how God would want us to live. Not because I've been "deceived by the world." Not because I "followed my sinful desires."

I want you to believe that my beliefs are fully rooted in my love for God. I believe it about you and your beliefs. Will you believe it about me?

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Disclaimer: Actually, I do believe it is possible to hold conservative/evangelical Christian beliefs about hell and be loving toward one's non-Christian friends (and one's Christian friends who don't hold all the "correct" beliefs). It requires having the humility to admit you don't know everything and there are things you can learn from your friends, rather than them just needing to learn about God from you. And also, none of this "confronting people about their sin."

Do that, and you're able to love people who disagree with you. However, living by these principles is logically inconsistent with a belief that "all non-Christians automatically go to hell." So you can be loving, but you won't be logical.

3 comments:

  1. Random Former Methodist ReaderFebruary 10, 2015 at 11:06 AM

    "...the belief that "the bible clearly says" living with one's boyfriend is a horrible sin..."


    I've heard that claim so many times, but I've never been shown exactly where in the Bible this is actually forbidden.


    Of course, this is assuming that one looks at the Bible as a rulebook in the first place...

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  2. Yeah, she was like "but what about what the bible says about living with your boyfriend" and I was like "... umm they didn't even have dating back then... I'm pretty sure it doesn't say anything about that specifically."


    But the argument is that "everyone who is living together is having sex *gasp*" which is totally not true. Or, at least if you're living together EVERYONE WILL THINK you're having sex, so they will think you approve of that sin- therefore you're causing other Christians to stumble.

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  3. I know it'd be kinda weird in the context of "hey, we're both from America and you're here doing missionary work!" but maybe you could both agree not to talk about personal religious things with each other and just be friends outside of that particular topic? I say that because I have several friends who have completely different religious beliefs than me (some quite adamant about those beliefs if confronted) who simply don't talk religion with me. And we stay great friends. Like deep conversations at 3am while crying over something type friends. If you just say "hey, let's agree not to talk about my or your personal religion" and both friends agree to it, maybe that could work? I dunno.

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