Growing up, and into adulthood, I was contantly admonished by the church to not make friends in the world. Oh, sure, I could “have” non-Chrsitian friends, but 1) they couldn’t be my closest friends 2) I couldn’t go to them for advice 3) being friends with them was mainly a witnessing tool.
So, for years, I held myself back from my non-Christian friends. It always felt wrong to do so. I can’t explain it exactly but in the midst of having to put on the happy happy for church friends, it felt even more wrong to do it with my non-Christian friends. Maybe deep inside I knew the teachings of both Evangelicals and Calvinists were false, not their theological teachings (though for some of their beliefs…but I will digress too far if I start) but in their teaching that THEIR beliefs are what will make people happy, fulfill their lives, heal their marriage, save their children, in short, as I’ve said before, coming to Jesus is “country music played backwards.”
That is the lie I lived. Coming to Jesus didn’t change my life at all. My “Christian” parents, constantly extolled by the church to me, still abused me. Praying to God didn’t work. I begged God to have my parents stop abusing me, but God “ignored” the prayer of a hurt and increasingly damaged tiny girl. Then I followed all the rules again, married a “godly” man from a “godly” family whose Christian roots run deep…and we all know how that turned out.
As it stands right now, my friends at work are the people I speak with most. I’m with them between 20 and 30 hours a week. Slowly I’m getting to know them. And I just don’t feel comfortable being their friend for “witnessing purposes.” I am not secret about my abusive marriage at work. I am not secret about the pressure from the church to stay in that abusive marriage. They know. And, as I’ve said many many times, and I don’t understand why Christians don’t believe me, my testimony is more likely to produce an atheist than a believer.
The typical witnessing trope goes something like this. We become friends with non-believers, we live our lives before them, they become enthralled by our amazing faith and everything that it does for us, they ask questions, they ask Jesus into their hearts.
This used to make sense. I mean, most of these stories didn’t seem to involve deceiving people into thinking our lives were perfect.
Now, though, it makes no sense. The world is a cold cruel place, both to Christians and others. Everyone’s life is hard (except psychopaths, they seem to get off pretty easy). What if, in the course of time, I become good friends with the Mormon girl at work, then she finds out my primary purpose for friendship is conversion. I mean, we can call it “friendship evangelism” all we want, but that’s not very friendly.
Why can’t we just be friends with them? Why must it always be “opening doors to evangelizing” them? Im not saying don’t answer their questions. I’m just saying it looks insincere if we are only their friend to get them “into heaven.”
The other thing I’ve learned in beginning to make friends with these folks is that their lives are no worse or better, they themselves are no worse or better than Christians. We say we believe that, but we don’t actually believe that. At least if you really listen to sermons and Christian teaching.
My friend with the same sex partner really isn’t as evil and terrifying as Franklin Graham and James Dobson would like you to believe. My friend who is cohabiting with his fiancée loves her more than my “Christian” husband could ever love anyone but himself. He’s not using her, he cherishes her and cares for her deeply. Their relationship has not been deeply damaged because they had sex before marriage. As surely as my marriage was not in any way, shape, or form helped by remaining pure before it.
In short, I am learning why my pastor in my youth warned me so seriously that being a friend with “worldlings” would lead to trouble. In my friends I have learned that what I’ve been suspecting about religion for the past two years is true, it doesn’t truly make a difference. People can rattle off a list of beliefs, but most people are actually lying about it. The wide gate to destruction isn’t just out in the world.
The whole world, inside and outside the church, is an awful place. Why not just give ourselves, no strings attached? No church invitations on Easter and Christmas. Just love. The real thing. It’s what both people inside and outside the church need.