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Coexisting with Other Religions: Noble Goal, Hard to Achieve

You may have seen a “coexist” bumper sticker on some vehicles. We have one on one of ours.

The sticker uses the symbols of several religions to spell the word “coexist.” It thereby makes the statement that people who practice different religions need to learn to live together.

It makes the even deeper statement that we need to respect and appreciate each other as we practice our particular religion.

It’s a noble and worthy goal. Like most noble and worthy goals, it’s difficult to achieve.

Many reasons exist for that difficulty. For one thing, we only know what we know. Most of us who practice a religion practice the one we were raised in, so we believe what we’ve always been told and worship as we’ve always worshipped.

For another thing, we treasure our faith. It’s valuable to us, as it should be. However, it’s a short step from treasuring our faith to thinking that other faiths have no value. That short step is a step too far.

For still another thing, we think our religion is right. We may think ours is absolutely right and others are absolutely wrong. Or we may think that ours is more correct than others.

The truth is that few of us have ever practiced another religion than the one we follow now. We have the option of switching our allegiance to another religion, but chances are good that we never will.

It’s asking a lot for people who practice different religions to get along. After all, we have a hard time getting along within our own religions.

There are many denominations within my Christian tradition, and there are many subgroups within those denominations and many sub-subgroups within those subgroups. Such groupings exist for various historical and social reasons. But they do exist, and they’re not going to stop existing.

The bottom line is there have always been multiple religions. There always will be.

One reason for this is that we’re dealing with God, and God is a lot to deal with. It’s mighty presumptuous for any individual or group to think they have God figured out.

Now, I believe with all my heart that God most fully revealed God’s self to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

I am well aware that I was raised in the Baptist version of the Christian tradition. I am well aware that I was trained to be a Christian minister. Still, after all these years, I find following Jesus to be a most meaningful way to experience, worship and serve God.

The “t” in the “coexist” bumper sticker is a cross, which is my religion’s symbol. The cross implies humility, selflessness and service.

As a Christian, I want my perspectives, attitudes, words and actions to be carried out in light of the cross.

So, to my fellow Christians I say, believe what you believe. Hold the convictions you hold. Practice the practices that you practice. Always be growing in your faith and in your knowledge.

But be kind, gracious and loving about it.

We want everyone to know Jesus. But I doubt they’ll pay much attention to him if we’re jerks about it.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Ruffin’s blog, On the Jericho Road. It is used with permission.

Michael Ruffin

Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.