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Archive for Saturday, May 19, 2007

Is it impolite to ask new acquaintances about their faith?

May 19, 2007

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Question honestly in order to learn

The Rev. Gary Teske, pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H.:

I don't see that it is any more impolite to ask a new acquaintance about his or her faith than it is to ask someone about his or her family, job, hobbies or other aspects of that person's life, as long as you are honestly asking for the sake of listening to and learning about the faith of the new acquaintance and not just setting the person up to hear about your faith.

My experience is that when a new acquaintance asks me about my faith, quite often the real agenda is to raise the subject so they can tell me all about their faith, and on occasion, point out what is wrong with my faith. I think it is rude to ask a question that is not sincerely seeking information from a new acquaintance, but is rather a ploy to allow for you to give uninvited information to the person, or, in other words, to proselytize.

If you are genuinely interested in the faith of a new acquaintance, go ahead and ask, but then also be prepared to listen. If you really just want to tell the person about your own faith, just be honest and take the risk of being offensive and tell them what you believe.

Otherwise, wait for the new acquaintance to ask about your faith, or hobbies, or politics and hope that it is an honest question and he or she is going to listen to you.

- Send e-mail to Gary Teske at gteske@tlclawrence.org.

Sharing beliefs is part of Jesus' teaching

The Rev. Tom Brady, senior pastor, First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt. and 867 Highway 40:

Faith is a very personal subject for many people. Some people keep their beliefs to themselves as a private matter. These persons might be offended if a new acquaintance probed too deep early on in the relationship.

However, Jesus taught his disciples to go out into the world to share their beliefs and to talk to others about what they believe. In the church, we call this discipleship and evangelism. The "early church" began as a movement in which people would share their experiences in faith, make new acquaintances and encourage other people to become believers.

There is a great story in Chapter 8 of the Book of Acts about how Philip meets a complete stranger, helps him to understand the Scriptures, proclaims the good news of Jesus and leads this stranger to baptism. The stranger that Philip met "went on his way rejoicing." Great things happen when we are willing to talk to other people about our faith and their faith.

Personally, I find it interesting to talk to people of faith from other denominations and other beliefs outside Christianity. There is so much that we can learn from those who have a faith different than our own. If we approach these conversations with courtesy, respect of differences and the willingness to listen, there will be a great opportunity for personal growth from both sides.

- Send e-mail to Tom Brady at tom@fumclawrence.org.

Comments

DaveR 7 years, 8 months ago

A question for the Rev. Brady:

What was the most significant thing you have learned from a member of another faith, and how did that change your life, or bring you closer to your God?

Sigmund 7 years, 8 months ago

It's not impolite to ask if you won't be offended by "None of your damn business."

Newell_Post 7 years, 8 months ago

I used to live in the hard-core Bible-belt, and it was a very common question..... at work. Yuck. Of course, what they wanted to hear is which Baptist church you tithed to: Southern? Primitive? Full-gospel? The Lutheran minister above would have been regarded with suspicion, but the Methodist only with slight pity. A Presbyterian was sketchy and a Congregationalist was beyond the pale. Anti-Semitism was the order of the day.

If you want to volunteer something about your own religion that might be interesting or meaningful to others, that is borderline. But to interrogate a new acquaintance about his or her religion is the height of incivility. "Don't do it" is the best rule. Certainly don't do it unless you are open minded enough to accept and embrace any reply.

greenatheist 7 years, 8 months ago

Yes, of COURSE it's impolite to ask someone about their faith. Rev. Teske's beliefs aside, sharing things about your family or job rarely if ever will trigger a negative reaction, unless you admit that your father is Osama bin Laden or that you work for the mafia, perhaps. Unlike family and job, which most people share as a bonding connection, faith is usually something that divides people. Maybe in the heart of the Bible Belt, there's a good chance that the answer you get will be some Christian denomination. But in the rest of the world, there are many faiths (and non-faiths) which are so perceived by others as negative - Muslim, atheist, Scientologist come to mind, although Catholic and Jew have also been subject to criticism, not to mention Hindu, Rastafarian, Voodoo, Wiccan, and any host of others - that it overshadows the perception of the person. It's quite awkward at best to put someone on the spot to admit something like that about themselves if they don't feel you're safe to share that with. Would Rev. Brady be impressed and admiring for a Hare Krishna to witness to him at the airport? These two ministers seem to be a bit myopic when it comes to putting themselves in other's shoes.

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