The first time I saw a coexist bumper sticker was when I was a freshman in college. Growing up in a small town in the Bible Belt, I’d never seen one before because there wasn’t (and still isn’t) exactly a lot of spiritual or religious diversity there.
I hope I live my life and write with enough honesty and transparency that people would know that I agree with the message of this sticker. I do have an issue with it, but my issue is vastly different than Alan’s.
On Sunday, Alan said his issue with this sticker is that he thinks it makes all religions seem equally true and correct. And while that’s a valid perspective and I’m not trying to belittle that perspective, it’s not how I see it. My initial reaction was that this was a weird takeaway. I’ve never once thought that to be what the bumper sticker was getting at; I’ve always thought it simply meant that all people, regardless of what they believe, were human and deserving of respect. Then I thought that maybe that’s because I’ve had the luxury of being secure in my faith.
Then I realized that’s wildly untrue. I question and analyze my beliefs and the depth of my faith. I took religion classes in college, including one that was taught by a professor who was clearly a critic and a nonbeliever and other classes taught by professors who didn’t believe fully in Christ or at all. I had textbooks on Christ and the early church that were written by or that contained writings by people and scholars who didn’t believe in God. I had these classes with a wide range of people, including Atheists and aspiring ministers. And we always looked at things from scholarly perspectives, but some schools of thought were very skeptical of Christianity as a faith. So I took classes that seemed like “Christian” classes in the course descriptions, but it was an environment that could easily create frustration or doubt, and for me, it sometimes did.
I also took a class on Eastern religions, which was one of my favorite classes. I kept a book from that class that contains texts from Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism as well as other religions. I loved reading these texts because I found them interesting, but I also found early on that they strengthened my faith as a Christian.
I’ll give you an example, and this is actually when I realized this was happening. We were studying Hinduism. Hinduism is kind of an umbrella term for any religion or doctrine apart from Christianity that existed in India when the British invaded. So while Hinduism does include may gods because of this, Hindus are not usually polytheistic because they often worship only one of the many gods. Someone may worship a god who he or she believes created the universe or a god so intimate that it inhabits something people ingest and enters the bloodstream. I distinctly remember thinking how lucky I am as a Christian that I don’t have to choose because my God is everything. He created the universe, and He knows me so well that He knows the number of hairs on my head. He sent His Son to die for everyone, but He also has a personal relationship with me. He’s a mighty lion, and He’s the gentle lamb.
So I’ve looked at my beliefs and my religion in numerous ways and have spent a lot of time thinking about what I believe and what the Bible says about it. But if you’d shown me a coexist bumper sticker even at my lowest, most confused or doubtful moment, I wouldn’t have thought that every religion was correct.
And although I don’t believe all religions are correct, I do believe it’s okay in terms of existence for people to have other beliefs and faith than me. No that it’ll get them into heaven, but that it doesn’t make them less deserving of the right to believe what they do or any less deserving of God’s love or mine.
My issue with the coexist bumper sticker is that coexisting is the bare minimum of what we should do because God calls us to do so much more – to love.
The coexist bumper sticker does a good job of leveling the playing field for people, not necessarily religions. We are all here. We all exist on the same Earth at the same time, and therefore, we must learn to exist together because we’re already here together. No one is better, and no one is lesser.
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” -Romans 3:23, NLT
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” -John 3:16-17, NRSV
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28, NIV
Yes, the blood of Jesus saves all equally and registers every recipient of His salvation in heaven. But beyond that, especially when looking at the previous verses, it’s clear that God naturally sees all of us with the same amount of love in His eyes.
So if we as Christians are to be like Christ, aren’t we then also called to do the same?
“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into this world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” -1 John 4:9-11, NRSV
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” -Romans 12:9-10, NLT
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” -John 13:34-35, NLT
To coexist is the least we can do – to exist in the same time and place peacefully. This should not be a generally difficult or monumental challenge.
Jesus tells us to go even further. He tells us to love others. Not to just put up with them or to accept them, but to love them. Genuinely. Unconditionally. As they are.
Please understand, I get how hard it can be to love people who see things differently than you. And I’ve yet to find a scripture, in the Bible or any other religious book, that says it should or will be easy to love such people. Jesus’s love is uncommon, so our love should be uncommon, and nothing uncommon can be done by us mere humans without overcoming obstacles. But isn’t love the most worthy objective of all?
By Carrie Prevette