I recently was talking with a Christian I know. Now before I tell you the rest, I want you to know that this is a wonderful person, someone with a thousand fabulous traits, someone I’ve learned from and hopefully will continue to learn from.
Anyways, we were having a conversation and the topic of Islam came up. The person told me that they wouldn’t trust a Muslim… and went on to say that they wouldn’t trust anyone who isn’t a believer. Now I really doubt this would play out in their life in such a cut and dry way, as I know them to be kind and friendly. In any case, I pushed back a bit and then we moved on. What they didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t mention after that exchange, was that I had upcoming plans to drive down to center city Philadelphia and meet up with a non-christian friend I had only ever ‘met’ online. Now in this case it wasn’t the kind of thing where I or my husband had real hesitations about the situation. Other than the drive into the city itself, I had a positive sense about the whole thing… but on some level it was still a trust thing. So when the idea of not trusting someone who doesn’t share my faith came up, it really got me thinking.
I don’t often hear it said quite so blatantly as I did that day, but the concept of ‘outsiders aren’t to be trusted’ is found in many (most? all?) communities. This can run along ethnic or religious or even political lines. The less genuine exposure and relationship we have with outsiders, the more suspicious we are inclined to be. We are quicker to believe the worst, to presume bad motives, and to let their extremes become the norms we assume about them. And the more sure we are about their badness, the less we feel inclined to become friends with them. If I think I know all I need to know about you because you belong to that group, then everyone will lose- and we’ve all been losing a lot I’d say.
So coming from a Christian perspective, I have a particular belief that my community is called to love. Love- a vague and packed and sometimes manipulated word. So to unpack it a bit, I’m gonna call on the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Now there are a couple of things to note here:
First, is that this is a letter to specific people. I think we often read the epistles and feel inclined to read them like a list of rules that apply in the same way, everywhere, all the time… when in fact they were written in a specific context, to be applied in that context, and now we have the privilege of figuring out how they are to be applied in our context.
Second, some of these qualities can have legitimate tension with each other- most notably that sometimes protecting means not trusting. Wisdom and discernment need to be used in knowing how to love people. When there is deception or abuse we shouldn’t assume a blanket command to simply ‘trust’, because in that case trust is probably not loving.
Third, the overarching theme in this chapter is that love. is. IT.
We can do freaking miracles or be martyrs, but if we don’t love, we have missed the boat.
All that said, when we follow that very human tendency to not trust others just because they aren’t ‘one of us’, I believe we are falling short of love. For Christians, we are falling short of our calling. Frankly, we are hurtful to others when our reaction is to view them with suspicion.
You know what else?- we seriously miss out. Really. It is a great joy in life to get to know people who are different from me… and to find out how much alike we may actually be. When we become friends with other people we find we can learn from them and we can simply enjoy each other.
Trust doesn’t always look like meeting up with new people in the city. Often trust starts with listening to someone’s story with an open mind and heart. Sometimes it means believing that they mean what they say. Sometimes trust means sharing YOUR experience and heart. Sometime it means you stop walking on eggshells or stop filtering yourself so much. Sometimes it means a hug or a shared meal. Sometime it means not allowing yourself to get defensive. Sometimes it means working through conflict or misunderstanding and hoping that the person is gonna stick with you.
And sometimes trust means you end up betrayed. Sometimes people, both in and out of our group, trash our trust. We are people after all, and sometimes people do really shitty things. Love goes in eyes wide open to this fact of life.
But ultimately, our communities and the rest of the world will be better if we learn to be more open to ‘other people’- if we learn to WANT to hope, to trust, to persevere. For Christians especially (and I mainly say that because I am in that community and I think we are to challenge our own group first) we really have to learn to value people enough to put some faith in them. We need to live in to who God has freed us up to be. To settle for less is for us and those around us to miss out.