I have just decided, in my own way, I am one of those dreaded people who proselytize about their faith.
I was interviewing for a position a few weeks ago that would have had me working with about one hundred congregations in an administrative role. Because of the diversity of the congregations the panel wanted to know how I would handle working with congregations that spanned the theological spectrum from liberal and progressive to conservative and traditional. I am sure that my reputation is that I am somewhere between liberal and crazy and they wanted to know if I would be able to work equally well with those whose faith is somewhere to the right of mine.
Having worked in a chaplain role in the past I immediately depended on that experience for my answer. I described how good chaplains don’t come to a hospital room armed with their own particular faith perspective, but first listen for the faith, beliefs, and spiritual values of the patient. The goal is not to impose one’s faith perspective, but to employ the faith and values of the patient on the way toward healing, comfort, courage, and acceptance.
I finished my answer and then quickly contradicted myself by adding, “Of course, I actually do come in with a particular theological agenda. I enter a room with a theology of presence. If God is the one who is present to us in all of our diversity, then I to seek to be present to others no matter their faith perspective or spiritual orientation.”
As an ordained Presbyterian minister I am a representative of the Reformed Faith, a particular slice of the theological pie that is marked by our own specific beliefs that have been carved out over the last five hundred years. I am trained to come with a picture of Jesus and my Reformed theology tucked under my arm as a pastor.
But our culture rebels against this.
Given the diversity of our communities we have learned to be careful not to impose our own agenda and beliefs on others–especially in positions or public settings where diversity is the assumption rather than the exception. The PC thing these days is complete tolerance and a position of neutrality when it comes to politics and religion with the public.
But I have discovered that rather than backing off my own agenda I have simply allowed my agenda to morph into something new. Rather than assuming a mantle of neutrality I am just as biased as ever. I am a proselytizer for Presence. I walk into a patient’s room or a community meeting not with the expectation that I have to delicately dance between competing views, but with an agenda that the Sacred One will be felt and experienced.
Really, I am no different from those who make it a point to make sure that Jesus is introduced in every encounter. The only difference is that I believe that I don’t have to force Jesus on the unsuspecting; Jesus is already there. The Sacred Presence is already written into the narratives, stories and values of those with whom I meet. All I do is highlight the moment and leave it at that.
I am glad that added my little comment at the end of my answer during the interview. I have never been quite comfortable with the PC notions of complete tolerance, neutrality and agenda-less facilitation. I am too tied to my belief in the presence of the Sacred to ever think that I will ever be completely free of a religious agenda. I guess it’s time that I admit that I too am a religious proselytizer.
So, be warned. I may not beat people over the head with Jesus, but I do come armed with a theology of Presence.