Archive for Sunday, July 29, 2012

Faith Forum: Is it better to have friends with similar or diverse religious beliefs?

July 29, 2012


The Rev. Jill Jarvis, Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, 1263 N. 1100 Road:

We’re drawn to people who share our ideas, who understand our stories and perspectives. It feels safe and comfortable, especially in a polarized and contentious world where we often have to bite our tongues (or not) listening to family and co-workers. But true friendship, based on mutual respect and trust, can endure among people who don’t share beliefs about the nature of ultimate reality.

A dear friend of long-standing has religious beliefs very different from mine. Decades ago, we began to question and challenge one another’s religious affiliation. We had endless frustrating discussions, along the lines of, “Seriously? How can someone as intelligent as you believe (or not believe) that?” It took a very long time for us to learn to really listen to one another, until we began to understand how and why our respective beliefs gave purpose and meaning to our lives.

This process has changed us both in ways neither of us could have changed ourselves. We not only appreciate one another’s faith, but we each have a deeper understanding of our own — what’s good and what bears rethinking. More importantly, we’ve gained the humility to stay open to new ideas rather than spending energy trying to defend and promote our own.

If you’re my friend, it matters to me that you be honest with yourself as well as others. It matters to me that you’ll be there when I’m feeling lonely or scared. It matters that you trust me to share your triumphs and your fears, and that we can laugh together. It matters to me that you can look beyond your own immediate circle, to care about mending the brokenness of an unfair world.

Does it matter to me whether you believe in a personal God(ess), Biblical inerrancy, reincarnation, hell, or intercessory prayer? Not at all. As your friend, I care only that your religious beliefs feed your soul and call you to a life of love and solidarity with those with whom you share this planet.

— Send email to Jill Jarvis at

The Rev. Gary O’Flannagan, pastor, Cornerstone Southern Baptist Church, 802 W. 22nd St.:

Friendship happens between people who share religious beliefs and people who don’t.

Friendship doesn’t require complete agreement in religion or politics or world views or personal interests. Even in Christianity there exists a variety of streams of beliefs and practices — that’s one reason why there are so many denominations. The trick is in how the friends deal with their differences. Are their differences points of contention or do they enrich the friendship, by showing that the each person accepts the other though they don’t share beliefs?

Matthew’s Gospel tells us Jesus taught his followers the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule. Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV): “Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

A successful friendship is based on concern and care for the other person, a successful friendship seeks a win-win situation. The people don’t need to always agree but to respect and care for the other as for themselves.

In New Testament this kind of love is called “agape” love. It’s a sacrificial love, that doesn’t focus on differences but on the value and worth of each person. Someone who modeled this kind of love perfectly is Jesus Christ. Jesus gave himself completely on the cross so that we could be restored to a right relationship with God, a relationship that is based on our faith and our friendship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus said in John 15:15 (NIV): “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

— Send email to Gary O’Flannagan at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.