I was stunned the other day when I wandered into the bookstore of a nearby conservative religious college bookstore coffee shop and found shelves of books warning about the dangerous threat of Calvinism.
Surrounded as we are everywhere by books that attack the religious beliefs of others, maybe I should not have been surprised. Books denouncing the heresies and menace of Islam, Judaism, Mormonism and Catholicism abound. I have gotten used to seeing them and passing them by, unwilling to take my time to read their passionate justifications for adding another group to my enemies list. Nor have I been moved to mount a platform and attack the attackers.
No business of mine.
But the attacks on Calvinism struck a personal chord. How, I wondered, could the church doctrines of my religious ancestors and those of many of the founders of our country be so dangerous?
If you attack somebody else’s religion, I shrug my shoulders and move on, hoping that you have not done any real harm. But attack mine and we are enemies.
What would Jesus think? What would Jesus do?
Maybe he would evangelize, which is what one of the young students in the bookstore set out to do while I was visiting the bookstore on his campus. He approached me in a friendly and respectful manner. He asked me about my church connections. I told him I was reluctant to tell him, given the hostility toward Calvinism apparent from the many books for sale in the store.
Respectfully, he said that he could not believe that God could limit salvation to only a predetermined “elect” as he believed the Calvinists teach. In a moving conversation, he described his own conversion experience, the positive changes that had come about in his life, and God’s plan for him to serve in the ministry.
I responded, “If all these things are part of God’s plan for you, hasn’t God selected you in advance? Isn’t that close to the part of Calvinism that your books attack?”
We continued our discussion for a while. He told me of his plans to start a new congregation and build it over time. He said he had been taught to deal courteously with mistaken religious views of others and would do so with mine — and as we said goodbye, he promised to pray for me, praying, I supposed, for me to give up my wrongheaded religious views.
Why am I sharing this experience with you now?
Now, when our country has made its decision about leadership for the next four years. Now, when some discussion of our options and opportunities might be more helpful and timely.
Why, at this critical time in American political life, am I writing about religion?
Here is why. Our politics is too much like religion.
In our political life, we have broken ourselves down into sects and tribes. Our political groups and parties adopt the same kind of dogmas, doctrines and intolerances that characterize the worst features of some religious groups.
In politics this year, we saw the results. Candidates and political parties not only asserted that their opponents were wrong. They treated those on the other side as dangerous heretics — prospects, it might seem, for burning at the stake.
With this election is over, somehow we have to put aside unnecessary doctrinal differences and find practical approaches to the common challenges face together.
Healthy disagreements are a positive part of American government and politics as long as we remember something. We Americans are all in the same boat. And, as long as we are in this world, whether we are going to heaven or hell, we are traveling all together.