I grew up in a neighborhood of St. Louis County that then included a large number of people from a non-Christian religion. At that point in my life, my best friends literally belonged to another faith. We sometimes talked about religion and I attended their house of worship with them on occasion. We were as straightforward in our religious discussions as sixth graders could be. I said something rather basic like, “We believe Jesus is the Son of God” and they told me something like “We don’t believe in him.” Somehow we managed to say these things to each other without hating each other, much less hitting each other. We’d sit on the stairwell and talk, and then we’d run off to the playground to play.
That wonderful experience has shaped the way that I understand inter-religious dialog. I believe the purpose of talking to each other is to understand each other, not to gloss over our religious differences or focus solely on what we have in common. I see no reason why we should have to do this in a spirit of animosity. We should recognize from the outset that religious claims bite both ways. If I assert “A is true” and you assert “A is not true,” you don’t get to add a “How dare you” to your reply. Your assertion is every bit as exclusive as mine. We can either choose to let these differences of belief divide our communities and tear us apart as a civil society, or we can choose to “think and let think.”
As a Christian, I have no need to compel others to submit to my beliefs. In my current position, in fact, I provide for the free exercise of religion for all, and I do it gladly. I believe the gospel is best served in an environment of religious freedom, and I do my best to maintain that environment. If a member of the military community I serve doesn’t invite me to share my faith with them by attending a chapel service or by opening the door to a religious conversation in some other manner, I’m not going to push myself on them. The National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces has a Code of Ethics that says I will not proselytize from other religious bodies, but that I am free to share my faith with those who are open to it.
So, if you were to ask directly, “should everyone be a Christian,” I could only respond with the truth I find in our scriptures:
[Jesus said,] I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And [King Herod] Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Christians generally believe that everyone on the face of the planet – regardless of their station in life, the culture into which they were born or the religion in which they were reared – should acknowledge Jesus as Lord and submit to him in a life of discipleship. You can take that as an interesting fact about Christians or an invitation to believe. Your choice.
I’ve been around long enough to know that a lot of people don’t accept Christian beliefs. I’m not particularly shocked by their decision and I’m not particularly offended by people who politely disagree with me. While I believe that the decision of what to do with Jesus is the most important one that anyone ever makes, you are free to make up your own mind on the matter. I hope we’ll still be friends either way.