How do you think your religion is perceived by others who are not part of the faith?
A friend needed a few people to answer a 10-question survey for a community college religion course she is taking this fall. I figured, why not, I’ll give it a shot. I wondered what direction a “religion” survey would go.
Question 1: What does religion mean to you?
My response: Religion is a generic term for any belief in God or a higher power. It might be personal, or it might not be.
Question 2: Is there a difference between faith, religion and spirituality?
My answer: “Faith” is my personal belief in God, who is unseen, but who affects my life deeply. “Spirituality” is a hot-button term that means different things to different people. Spirituality includes the supernatural, which may or may not include God.
How am I doing so far? Would you agree?
I have no idea how other people answered these questions, nor does that concern me, because I’m not the one taking the religion class.
“Faith” is something my “religion” talks about often. “Spirituality” is one of those words I try to avoid, because I may try to connect spirituality to my faith, but you may connect spirituality with something else completely. Like the paranormal. Or astrology. Or a different religion. Or crystals. Or New Age thinking. Or palm reading. Or …
Question 9 is the one at the top of this column. Those of you who have a different faith, or no faith at all: How do you perceive Christianity, which is the “faith” I live by?
I tried to put myself in your shoes. Here’s what I came up with:
Many people equate Christianity with a judgmental Republican viewpoint, since some vocal Christians promote that. It’s hard, because the God of the Bible is not like that. Others see it as a list of do’s and don’t’s and are afraid they’ll have to give up fun things if they “convert.”
A judgmental Republican viewpoint. I actually wrote that.
I had a discussion earlier this week with another friend over the immigration issue. He’s a staunch supporter of President Trump, and vociferously defended his keep-the-illegal-immigrants-out policy that Trump advocates.
I responded that while I support most of Trump’s positions, I see immigrants as real people. Most illegal immigrants are fleeing for their lives, literally, I said, and the citizenship process is long and cumbersome. That’s the real issue, I argued. Let’s make it easier to become a U.S. citizen.
My friend didn’t buy that argument. He said for the first time ever, immigration laws are being enforced.
Both of us have a deep faith in Jesus Christ. How can we hold opposing views on such a vital issue?
Many of my more liberal friends also support immigrants, legal and illegal, going so far as to encourage sanctuary cities and support churches that are willing to host illegals to protect them from deportation.
Jesus did not take a stand on such issues. He was not a politician. The people of his day, like many people today, wish he was political. That’s why they shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday. Hosanna is a political term. The crowds were looking for a “savior” to overthrow the oppressive Roman government.
As soon as the crowds realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that – he had a different, much higher, purpose in mind – they abandoned him. And crucified him, almost immediately.
While Republican values generally are more in line with the Bible than Democratic values are, the lines are not that clear. There are exceptions, both ways.
Immigration, in my opinion, is one of them.
Neither side is willing to reason with the other on this, or any, issue.
So we get a judgmental Republican (or Democratic) viewpoint.
Question 4: What appeals to you about your religion?
It gives meaning to my life. The God of the Bible wants the best for me and for all humankind. No other religion’s leader can claim that.
This is why I struggle with politics. Trump said this week that the published death toll of nearly 3,000 from last year’s hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was not even close. He said Democrats were trying to make him look bad.
Trump cares only about his reputation. Puerto Ricans are pawns to him. “Nobody is singing his praises because we all saw what happened,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told The Associated Press.
GOP activists blame the media for distorting Trump’s record. But The AP is about as impartial as media get.
If you reject published reports and photos of the devastation, then there’s nothing anyone can say to you. Information has never been more widely disseminated. If we pick and choose what to “believe” (the drugstore tabloids don’t count, but that’s my opinion), then we are choosing our own reality, instead of trying to understand what’s truly going on in the world and responding accordingly.
Jesus did not have this attitude at all. Instead, he defended the outcast every time: the Samaritan woman at the well, lepers and other physically sick people, the prodigal’s son, a woman who gave her last penny in taxes, even a demon-possessed caveman. And many others.
I wish Americans thought and acted like that. Many do, often outside the political landscape.
Question 8: What benefits to society do you think your religion or religion in general presents?
When lived correctly, Christianity accepts all people. That doesn’t mean Christians agree with other faiths or viewpoints, but we “love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s a real thing. We promote family values, which overcomes drug abuse, teen sex/abortion, addictions, hate/anger, etc. – ie, looking for love in all the wrong places.
There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous. It’s easy to twist “truth” to fit our own agendas.
The church I attend has a three-point mission statement: Love God, love people, live surrendered. We spend the most time talking about the last point. What does surrendering to God and the Bible look like?
Each of us will answer that question differently. But each of us must surrender to God. Not my will, but yours be done, on Earth as it is in heaven, according to the Lord’s prayer.
That’s the key. Not the Republican way. Not the Democratic way.
The God of the Bible’s way.
That’s what faith means to me.