My made-up title is Director of Faith and Community. But boil it down and I’m a chaplain—a chaplain that works in a secular company with many different people and just as many different beliefs.
I’m also a Christian. I was raised as a Christian and abruptly dismissed my faith at the earliest opportunity. I didn’t do this in a militant way, just in a neglectful, this-doesn’t-really-matter to me way. And then faith was reawakened in me, and I began really to believe Christ when He claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. I wasn’t brainwashed and I didn’t become a devout Christian to please people—my parents don’t even share the same faith with one another and my friends were (and still are) all over the board, so it wasn’t some approval thing. It wasn’t for power, for my faith informed me to form a life of giving up power, and my vocational choices from that point on moved me further from high-earning jobs and flashy career and into a strange work-world deemed vocational ministry. In short, I regained faith through doing some research and reading a lot, but more so my conversion/re-conversion boiled down to an internal experience that I couldn’t push away—no matter how hard I tried, come what may.
So to recap, I am a Christian (definitely) chaplain (sort of) serving with people who are all sorts of things. Naturally, a question I used to get asked a lot—not so much these days—was what if someone who is Hindu or Muslim or Atheist or some other what-have-you comes to you for help/advice/spiritual guidance?
First, let me say this question has been asked numerous times but in only two ways. The first way is when someone has a general interest out of concern for someone else or for themselves, and it warms my heart every time it is asked in this fashion. When someone loves another, even a hypothetical other, is perhaps the most wondrous of things here on earth. The second way this question is asked is to mask an inner disdain that an employer would offer faith benefits to employees at all, and so it is asked as a sort of trap to prove said employer has it all wrong and that the chaplain is a selfish faith tyrant bent on controlling the masses with his own vile beliefs. This way saddens me because it sees not the benefit to some, but the threat to self, and acts out of a fear the person himself cannot even begin to explain. That, or it is just plain pride.
What is cool is that the answer is the same to both interrogators: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). Or, if you prefer, we could go with the Buddhist version: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udana-Varga 5:18). Or how about the way of the Hindu: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you” (Mahabharata 5:1517). Most world religions (and un-religions like Atheism) have a pretty basic rule in place that one person should respect another person—to give them dignity, worth, and value.
And so that is what I would do if someone of another faith came my way—which, mind you, happens often.
But here is what I won’t do—I won’t lie to them. I won’t become a Buddhist when a Buddhist is in the room, or bash the existence of the God I worship when my naturalist friends are present. To my knowledge, most people desire others to be upfront with them. There is something intrinsically beautiful about genuineness and vulnerability, when someone is willing to share who they are at the core, rough edges and all. And even if that may be different than the person across from them, at least the starting point for conversation, for growth, and for relationship is a true starting point and not an ever-shifting line.
So I welcome people to share their beliefs or unbeliefs with me, and I respect those views where respectable. (Where is it unrespectable, bigot? I can already hear the naysayer spit. It is “unrespectable” when it is not genuine and vulnerable. The “Christian” who self-righteously judges everyone else but hasn’t cracked open his Bible in months. The “Atheist” who proudly bashes the notion of an intelligent designer based on the one article she read posted on a friend’s Facebook wall. I deem these—and others like them—to be examples not of honest belief, but a kind of belief forgery with the aim of gaining power, prestige, or soothing a lacking identity. I would still treat this person with kindness, but I would question at every turn their motives and claims.)
So what would I do with a person of different beliefs than my own? The same thing most of us do with people who believe differently than us every single day: speak with them, engage with them, find common ground with them, and, where possible, love them as I love myself.
Which means I don’t ridicule the beliefs of others. Nor do I attempt to coerce them to my own beliefs. Will I share the deep convictions I have with them? Of course. These are the things I hold most sacred and the best things I have–again with the treating others as I want to be treated. By sharing my faith, I am offering someone the very best, most sacred part of me. But that doesn’t in any way mean I demand them to accept, to agree with, to like, or even to listen to these intimacies. We can talk sports and weather instead, if they are so inclined.
And I extend them the same courtesy: to share their own deep-held convictions with me. I will listen and will appreciate their positions, but that doesn’t mean that I will agree with or like everything they have to say. If by holding a belief it means we have to love and to wholeheartedly agree with and to adopt every other belief, well, that would be an undoing of the initial belief as well as complete madness.
To summarize, when someone with a different belief than my own comes to me, I will allow them to be completely who they are while retaining my right to be completely who I am. In this manner, we may walk down the road together as far as it allows, and where a divergence must occur—due to worldview—hopefully we can shake hands, wish each other well, and both depart better having been offered the best of the other.