Today (February 25) marks the 22nd anniversary of the killing of 29 Muslims during prayer in their mosque in Hebron. Of course, I didn’t have to reach back 22 years to find an example of religious extremism. It seems to be in the news nearly every day. Acts of violence carried out in the name of religion are damaging to the very faith the perpetrators claim to be defending.
But in places of prosperity, comfort and relative safety, like the United States, the threat to the Christian faith is not either extreme violence done against us, or done in our name. It is something I’d like to call religious minimalism.
Religion minimalism is when we play down our faith to better fit in with the world around us. When we don’t say grace before a meal in a restaurant because we don’t want to stand out. When we allow every other commitment to take precedent over our faith commitments, because we don’t want to make someone else uncomfortable. Where religious extremists deliver the message that their faith is violent and crazy, religious minimalists deliver the message that practicing their faith isn’t really that important. And if we present the message that practicing faith isn’t important, how shocked should we be that others aren’t all that interested in trying it for themselves?
Paul, in Ephesians 6:20, describes himself as “an ambassador in chains.” To follow Christ and spread the good news, Paul is now restricted in what he can do. How often do we live in the opposite way? Rather than let our faith put limits on our behavior, we limit the practice of our faith to keep us free to do what we want, or at least do what doesn’t make waves.
If we want to carry Paul’s mantle and share the good news, we must embrace the restrictions, the awkwardness that comes with it. Whether it is saying your daughter has to come home from her sleepover in time for Sunday school, or declining to buy a fundraising raffle ticket, because your faith calls you to avoid gambling in all forms. We cannot always go with the flow: we must often swim upstream. How else will people see that there is a better direction to life than the one they are taking?