For years now I have been seeing this awful bumper sticker going around. Have you? I’m certain you’ve seen at least one version of it somewhere. Let me just go on the record (from a Christian perspective) that this cannot possibly be more wrong… but it may not be why you’re thinking.
I’m a word aficionado (a.k.a. snob). And the reason I am opposed to the bumper sticker in question may be different than your reason. It’s really about definition. The New Oxford American Dictionary says this (among other things) of the word coexist: “(of nations or peoples) exist in mutual tolerance despite different ideologies or interests: the task of diplomacy was to help different states to coexist.” This notion is ungodly, unbiblical, and not at all in keeping with the spirit of Jesus! But, once again… this may shake out differently than you might be thinking.
Coexistence is not good enough. Nowhere does the Bible command us to “tolerate our neighbor” or does Jesus ask us to “tolerate someone else the way that I have tolerated you.” Yet buried – not very deeply – within the idea of coexistence is the thought that I am putting up with your insolent, incorrect, and frankly, ignorant opinion (in this case, about religion). That is simply not the spirit of Jesus.
So, first, what am I not saying? I am not saying that we have to subscribe to all religions as equal. Anyone who has given any study to world religions knows that this is a mathematical impossibility. Though there have been many times I have wished it did, the Bible doesn’t teach that either. Neither am I saying that there is not a certain exclusivity housed in Christianity. I am saying (again) that how we talk about that matters. Unfortunately exclusivity almost always carries a spirit of joy that “I’m in and you’re out.” This is not the spirit of Jesus. At what points the gospel does separate us from others, it ought to break our hearts for them. Not condescending. Not disingenuous.
What I am saying is that the biblical view of existing with others who may not share our religious opinion has always been about one simple word that carries a lifetime of complexity… love. So it is not enough to merely coexist. Tolerating someone else is not deep enough for what we who believe are called to do. Our mission is to love. Whether or not someone ever shares or even understands our viewpoint… our command is to love.
Finally, while an everyone-gets-in-at-the-end spirituality makes heaven sound blissfully appealing (and while I even wish it worked this way), the Bible very simply does not teach this. Therefore, it is the job of those of us who believe to put up with the wrong opinions and spiritual philosophies of lesser-minded individuals until Jesus comes to rescue us from their insolence. Wrong. The strongest position we can take is to love someone, not in spite of their spiritual persuasion (or because of it); but because they have already, before the foundation of the world, been loved by God. How can I do any less?