In the 13th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives us a very familiar presentation of the nature of love. Most people who have been to a Christian wedding or seen one on TV will know that love is patient, kind; not envious, boastful or rude; does not insist on its own way; is not irritable, etc. ... . This is one of the most, if not the most, popular passage from Christian scripture.
It is ironic, however, that often when people get into discussions of faith in the public square, many of these characteristics of love are violated. People of faith (and especially Christians, I would argue) often defend and impose their faith in a way that goes against all that Paul tries to teach us about the nature of love.
How often has the public face of Christianity been boastful (proud) or rude? How often have Christians very publicly insisted on their own way? There are many people who have been hurt by Christians (and people of other faiths) acting contrary to Paul’s understanding of the nature of love and doing it in God’s name. Unfortunately, when our approach to discussing our faith with others is contrary to the nature of love, interfaith conversations break down. When I am too proud and insist on my way, I do not listen to the other whom I am trying to engage.
At the end of this 13th chapter Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly ... .” He does not say that we look out into the world through a glass dimly. He says that we see in a mirror dimly. In other words, we don’t even see or know ourselves perfectly. Our own perspective, our own beliefs are not perfect. So, how can we insist that others be or think just like us?
So, for all of you reading this article who might have been hurt by a Christian (myself included), who has been impatient, boastful, arrogant, rude or insisted on his or her own way, I am sorry. Sometimes I am a bit ashamed of my Christian identity, because of those who have given it such a bad reputation. Today, however, I boldly claim that identity as I say, I am sorry. And to all of my Christian brothers and sisters who might read this: if I have offended you, I am sorry.
I would urge us all, however, to practice humility and live into the spiritual practice of saying, “I don’t know,” “You may be right,” “I might be wrong” and, most importantly, “I am sorry.”
The Rev. Matt Willis-Goode is pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Byfield.