Co-existence and the Common Good

by Rick Love

Whenever I speak at churches about Christian-Muslim relations, I find that people usually respond in one of two ways: people want to convert Muslims, or they fear them. For many evangelicals, our relationship with Muslims can be summarized as one of two polar opposites: conversion or conflict. It is either world evangelization or the clash of civilizations. But are those really the only options?

Recently I have noticed a lot of bumper stickers promoting “co-existence," like this one:

coexist.jpg

As a "recovering evangelical," I know how most evangelicals feel about co-existence – it is compromise. We need to win people to Christ, not co-exist! But what if people don’t want to follow Christ? Then what do we do?

It seems to me that co-existing with different races, religions, and ideologies challenges us to pursue peace.

Jesus said that peacemakers will be called “children of God” (Matthew 5:9). And how should God’s children respond to diversity? A 21st century adaptation of this verse might read like this: “Blessed are those who help a divided and different world co-exist, for they shall be called the children of God.”

And in case you haven’t noticed, we are in the midst of a radical demographic shift in our country. The colors and creeds of our neighborhoods are changing. Pluralism is on the rise. The United States is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse countries in the world. We live in an increasingly multi-cultural world. So co-existence is not compromise. It is a necessity!

But I must admit that co-existing still falls short of Jesus’s strong emphasis on loving one’s neighbor. Instead of mere co-existence, we need to work toward the common good. Seeking the common good is another way of talking about loving my neighbor, doing justice, and pursuing peace. Seeking the common good pursues human flourishing for all. It describes how personal faith intersects with public life. 

God commands us to seek the common good of everyone.

“Seek the welfare (shalom) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare (shalom) you will have welfare (shalom)” (Jeremiah 29:7).

“You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

“Always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

During a time of Q&A at a recent Love Your Neighbor Dinner, a man named Ahmad asked, “Do all Christians around the world really believe that love of God and neighbor is that important?”

I thought for sure Ahmad’s question was merely theological. He wanted to make nice, to talk about important-sounding topics that never impact real lives.

But he pursued me, and so we ate dinner together. “Rick,” he said, “I asked that question for practical reasons. My family has been warmly welcomed in our neighborhood. Our neighbors treat us well. But what bothers me is that one of our neighbors is a known for being a dedicated Christian, yet he is the least friendly of all our neighbors. That’s why I asked the question. My Christian neighbor does not love us. The non-believing neighbors make us feel more welcome.”

Wow! A supposedly devout Christian was the worst neighbor on the block. How sad, but how typical of far too many Christians!

I want all people to follow Christ. So I appreciate the evangelical emphasis on wanting to convert people (although God is the one who converts people – a great topic for another blog). But I am grieved by a fearful and hostile mentality that assumes conflict, rejects co-existence, and doesn’t even consider seeking the common good.

I think Jesus would like us to take His teaching more seriously. Can we get beyond the conversion-conflict categories and model co-existence and the common good? Can we get to know the people around us - without our only agenda being to convert them? Can we actually reach out to and love our literal neighbor -  the one who lives in a house 20 feet away? Can we serve the poor to model who Jesus is - without expectation of anyone even ever noticing? I bet we will even find that this kind of lifestyle will lead to good will, which will open hearts to the good news.