Social distancing is a major problem these days. We seem more polarized, more ready to place the other in the dark camp on the opposite side of an issue, political viewpoint AND religious belief. Just last week I saw a simple encounter in the grocery store parking lot escalate to an altercation where strangers were yelling at each other and demonstrating with hand gestures. I don’t think they were the least embarrassed by their behavior. They probably even felt justified.

While not all people resort to this level of immaturity in our interactions with others, it seems to be happening more. And I think it has infected our inter-religious engagement as well. At least it seems there is a religious layer to some of the difficult conflicts we are witnessing in the world. Why do some people of faith act out in aggressive ways? Here is my take. I think fear governs much of our thinking and behavior when confronting the growing presence of those different than us. When we allow fear to infect our attitudes and behavior we are not far from acting out like the people I saw in the parking lot last week. It would be wrong to overstate the case. There ARE many good examples of people of faith being governed by love for God and neighbor, in both word and deed. But the majority simply are disengaged from the other, don’t have friends from the “other camp” and may harbor a measure of suspicion about the goals or intentions of the other community.

My passion is engaging Muslims, as an evangelical Christian. This is perhaps one of the more misinterpreted relationships in recent memory. It would be incorrect for me to say I’ve never paused at the thought of entering a mosque, or traveling to a Muslim majority context. But my fears have disappeared under the constant show of hospitality and friendships with Muslims. It would also be wrong to say I’ve come to this new place of engaging Muslims, with great joy, all by myself. Jesus has placed a love for Muslims in my heart that has grown stronger over time. The story of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman, a religious enemy to his tribe, features big in my own transformation. The parable of the Good Samaritan has also dealt a blow to my own reticence.

I guess this is where John’s word to the early Christian community speaks to us today. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” 1 John 4:18. And this is my first rule, or code of ethics, for engaging the other. Let’s not allow the reverse to be our governing principle. Perfect fear will cast out love. By the way, I took this photo in the Macro plaza in Barcelona several years ago.

Next Point: #2. Listen before You Speak