* This post is a bit rambling – a bit of a “thinking out loud” post. I think these 2 posts get to my point a bit better and succinctly: The lost art of dialogue…? and The “offense” that doesn’t exist. Must my beliefs be covert operations? *
Some of my regular readers know that I have a passion for working with international students. Since the late 1990’s, we have had over 20 students live with us from the countries of Germany, Austria, France, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Saudi Arabia, India, Taiwan, Australia, and I may be forgetting one or two. These students have been from a variety of religious backgrounds, and also with varying levels of commitment to their religion. For example, we had a strict Muslim and a nominal Muslim. (The nominal Muslim was actually a Turkish-German. His family had moved from Turkey to Germany.) One student was an essential atheist as she was raised by parents from one of the former eastern European communist nations. Some, while not atheist, were just secular. Some of the Europeans were nominal Christian – perhaps they were baptized and confirmed Protestants or Catholics but their faith was not personal and did not influence their life. They’d been confirmed just because it was the traditional cultural thing to do.
Most of our students were open and interested, at least to a degree, in spiritual/Christian things. Many willingly attended church with us…including the nominal Muslim and the Taiwanese student who seemed to have a blend of traditional eastern religious beliefs. She had never heard of Jesus – I was flabbergasted! Yes, there are still people in the world with zero familiarity with Christianity. While the strict Muslim would not attend church with us, she was open to discussion. She had already lived with another Christian family, and willingly sat in on a Bible study they held every week in their home.
Most students were curious and wanted to know more about our beliefs. We were not forcing or pushing it on them. I always love it when they independently ask questions, and I can share my faith simply by responding to their questions.
A local Christian ministry to international students once shared tips on befriending Muslim students. He said you should not be afraid of the “Jesus bomb” – meaning Christians are somehow paranoid of mentioning Jesus to a Muslim. He said most of the Muslim students are open to dialogue on faith and appreciate the chance to better understand Christian beliefs.
I am getting to a round-a-bout point here: I find it much easier to share my faith with internationals than with Americans. The climate in so much of America seems politically correct – if that is the right way to word it.
Religion should be personal and private – keep it to yourself.
American people seem really sensitive. “Eek – you are trying to shove religion down my throat! Leave me alone” – even if you only bring up your faith in a slight, nonchalant, or mild-mannered way.
I once spoke with an American couple who had returned from several years of being “tent maker” missionaries in Turkey. They echoed something similar. They also found it “easier” to share their faith in Turkey than here in the USA. They said in Turkey, when they brought up their faith, it was generally not a problem. The attitude was “Christians proselytize. It is an important aspect of their faith” – so the Turks were not offended, and just accepted it as “what Christians do”, and were often open to dialogue.
I have friends who are missionaries in Brazil, and the Brazilian culture is one that is very open and curious to learning about varying religious beliefs. This is both a positive and negative for Christian mission work in this country. You definitely don’t have to face the “eek, you are shoving religion down my throat mentality.” But because the Brazilians are so open, syncretism (blending of beliefs) is a problem. False teaching is rampant. Discipling and grounding Christians in their beliefs is critical.
I don’t want to over-simplify things though! Certainly some Americans who have the “eek” mentality may have encountered aggressive Christians lacking tact who really were forcing their faith rather than sharing it.
Also, you can’t compare apples with oranges. Americans likely lack the natural curiosity I’ve encountered in so many international students simply because this country has a Christian past and Christianity is still common despite a growing secularization. We remain a culturally Christian nation for the most part, and it is natural to be less curious about what surrounds you. Christianity perhaps feels pervasive to some, and the sensitivity understandable. When an international student comes here, everything is new and different.
Yet, there does seem to be a hyper-sensitive cultural environment in the USA that religion should be personal and private – keep it to yourself. We seem to live in a soundbite culture where the ability to truly listen and have meaningful dialogue with others is decreasing.
I honestly do find it easier to have open discussion on religious issues with international people, and sometimes feel like a total failure at sharing my faith with Americans in America. Anyone else?
* Continuing thoughts here: The Lost art of Dialogue?