Other than nothing, what do a Jewish Planned Parenthood counselor from Brooklyn, a male hairdresser from San Francisco, a Texas ranch wife and a Jesus-following missionary have in common? Actually, we do share one thing. Four hours ago we were on a shuttle bus heading south from La Paz, Mexico to the airport in San José del Cabo, 2-1/2 hours away. I am the missionary in the group.
There were only five people on the small shuttle; and before we had even pulled out of the parking lot, four of us were talking about what for them had been their individual vacations, but which for me is pretty much my daily experience since I live in La Paz.
First we talked about snorkeling with whale sharks, kayaking and going on the whale watching trips. Then the conversation morphed to where we were all from. It then meandered into occupations and then, of course, to Donald Trump. A discussion about Donald Trump between a Texas ranch housewife and a male hairdresser from San Francisco is nothing short of a recipe for MAD (mutual assured destruction).
As far as life style goes, I was light years closer to the Texas rancher than I was to the other two; but as a follower of the Prince of Peace who has made us his ministers of reconciliation, my role became that of being the bridge builder, the peacemaker. Without negating truth, my role was to bring people together, and to keep myself from falling into the ugly stereotype of Christians held by millions of people and which seems to be increasing day by day. Jesus was gentle with people who didn’t understand and tended to reserve his fierce anger for the professional and fundamentalist leaders, the conservative religious right of his day, the kind of Christian many of us used to be before we decided to identify ourselves more closely with Jesus than with the current expression of Christianity.
My role was not to win an argument or to convince of truth – that is the job of the Holy Spirit. My job was to keep the conversation going, to show this small group of people that Jesus followers do not fit their stereotype of Christians. My job was to keep the door open for additional conversations in the future, probably not with me but hopefully with other Jesus followers who will build on today’s conversation and take these people one step closer to knowing truth. My role was to create a safe place for people to express their views; because until we have verbalized our current view, it is really hard to listen to and accept a new truth. At times Christians don’t listen particularly well and are very quick to judge and try to correct the views of others. This comes across as arrogant superiority.
What quickly became apparent is that these new friends are not my enemy. When they talked about the urgency of making condoms readily available to teens, they did so out of love for their own kids. Their assumption is that their kids are or will be sexually active, so the loving thing is to give them condoms. I expressed my admiration and respect for their love for their kids but also my concern that by assuming their children will become sexually active at too early of an age, they are actually promoting that which they fear. I told my friends that if we truly love and respect our kids, we will know them to be capable of self-control and of waiting till marriage. I think my new friends appreciated the high and trusting view I have of kids. What I have to accept is that their actions, as are mine, are love-based. They love their kids and sincerely want the best for them. As a Jesus follower I probably have a more developed understanding of the consequences of behavior than do my new friends, and I certainly have a differently developed sense of right and wrong; but my friends sincerely want the best for their kids.
When we talked about transgenderism, it was out of compassion for those lost souls who are confused to the point of intense suffering. When we talked about immigration issues, they talked about people they knew, not a formless evil horde with no face and no name. They are compassionate because they have taken the time to get to know the families others are simply willing to rip apart via heartless deportation.
We talked about abortion, transgenderism, homosexuality, immigration, racism, human trafficking – we covered it all. The discussion was, at times, very biologically graphic and the words were a bit earthy. Some people would have been offended at the choice of words. There were some physiological activities mentioned that I hadn’t heard about since my lost years in Key West. Honestly, I didn’t mind that the strong words were used around me because it indicated my friends’ level of comfort with me. There was none of the “Sorry, reverend. Pardon the French.” I was just one more of their group even though I chose not to be crude and graphic in my speech.
My takeaway from all of this? People who disagree with me can be really good and friendly people. They are not my enemy. I think they are lost, misguided and unintentionally causing immeasurable harm to the very people they most love and are just trying to help. My goal is not to defeat them. It is possible to have deep discussions and express disagreements without being ugly and mean. I learned that I really do love people who are at the extreme opposite of me on most issues. I also recognize that these new friends have much to teach me and that we who follow Jesus do not have a monopoly on love and compassion.
What do I hope comes of this conversation? I hope that my new friends realize that while American Christianity might appear to be their enemy, Jesus followers are not. I hope that this small group of people will continue to pursue truth and that they will find it. I hope that they will understand that there are Jesus-following people out there who will listen.