Q When religious convictions of a service provider and client differ, which should prevail?
A Public expression of deeply held convictions is growing. While that is positive, it means more cases of conflict, as seen in court cases in the United States and Canada. A doctor who refuses to prescribe contraceptive pills because he considers them immoral, for example, constrains the right of his patient to have such pills. These are challenging issues. Each case needs detailed analysis, but Christians can use some principles to help discern justice:
- Religious freedom is a right, but other rights are equally important if every person is created in the image of God to be treated with dignity.
- A top priority is to find an accommodation that respects the rights of all parties if that is possible.
- Respect for the “other” has priority over asserting self.
- The Bible cautions against playing God in the lives of others. Those with power over the choices available to others have a duty to be sensitive to the power dynamics of employer/employee, professional/client, or buyer/seller exchanges.
As I think through these issues, I wonder about the relevance of another biblical teaching. The test of justice in the Bible is how a society treats those without power. There often is a tension between living out what our conscience says is right and making space for the less powerful to do the same. More discussion of guidelines to deal with such conflicts in a pluralistic society would be helpful.
—Kathy Vandergrift teaches public ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.
Q I never feel confident sharing my faith with my friends and neighbors because I don’t know what to say or even how to start the conversation. What baby steps can I take?
A Let living out the Great Commandment pave the way for carrying out the Great Commission! I cannot overemphasize the absolute necessity of this order. So love the Lord and love your neighbors. As long as you focus on loving them out of your love for Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will show you how to share your faith with them. Here are three baby steps: prayer, care, share.
First offer a prayer to the Lord: “Among my neighbors, colleagues, and friends, for whom should I pray? For whose salvation should I intercede? Show me the faces of these people.” You can be sure that the Holy Spirit will reveal them to you. Then begin praying for them daily, a simple prayer for their salvation.
Second, show care to your neighbors. You may already have a relationship with them in your social network. It’s also possible that the faces the Holy Spirit has revealed to you are those with whom you have very little relationship. Show genuine caring by building a relationship: invite them out for coffee; have them over for dinner; include them in your social activities. As your relationship deepens, you could comfortably ask them, “Is there anything I could pray about for you?” One of the best forms of care is listening as people confide in you their trials and worries. As you devote yourself to prayer, the Holy Spirit will naturally empower you to show care.
Third, be opento opportunities as the Holy Spirit opens doors for you to share what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for you. Let people know how he loves you and gives you purpose in life and empowers you to overcome your trials. Your prayer will lead you to the journey of care, which will open the door to share. Three baby steps.
—Victor Ko is a church planter with mosaicHouse in Edmonton, Alberta.
Q I am tormented by doubts and feel like a fraud. But my congregation perceives me as a spiritually vibrant young mother of three children, a loving wife, and a dedicated servant in the church. It’s exhausting.
A The way you describe your doubt shows that it has two distinct dimensions: (1) the character of your faith walk with God includes a great deal of doubt; and (2), this doubt torments you. The exhaustion comes from the second part.
In the last decade a great deal has been written about how we have different faith walks because the Lord wired us in different ways. Some of us are wired for more black-and-white certainty; others are wired for trickier faith/doubt combinations. Faith is complicated, and many of us resonate with the father in Mark 9: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Christian communities are richer places when there is room for different faith expressions to live side by side.
Psalm 131 gives us a wonderful invitation to release our confusions, doubts, and questions as we are held by the Father’s arms (though this psalm describes God as a mother). The doubt may not diminish, but the torment might. Philip Yancey points out that the peace of God that passes understanding (described by Paul in Philippians 4) is beyond understanding precisely because it is strong enough to coexist with—while not removing—our doubts.
A couple years ago our small group went through John Ortberg’s richly biblical and pastoral book Know Doubt together. I recommend it highly.
—Syd Hielema is a team leader for CRC Discipleship and Faith Formation Ministries. He is a member of Meadowlands Christian Reformed Church in Ancaster, Ontario.