- - Tuesday, April 2, 2024

When I consider the contentious mishmash of competing worldviews that represents America in 2024, I’m reminded of the late Tim Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. A few years ago, Dr. Keller and I were in Washington, D.C., for a dinner conversation comprised of five evangelical leaders and five leaders from the gay-rights movement.

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The purpose of the meeting was simply to open dialogue between two groups with deep philosophical differences.

At the end of the evening, it was suggested that the members of each group share a word of advice with those on the other side of the ideological divide. I’ll never forget Dr. Keller’s wise words during that exchange.

“In a place like New York City,” he said, “the only way to exist is to Coexist.”

He went on to explain that in the dizzyingly diverse environs of Manhattan, people from widely contrasting backgrounds and perspectives were very intentional about not “poking the eye” of those with whom they disagreed. Muslims didn’t go out of their way to antagonize Christians. Jewish people didn’t feel the need to loudly proclaim their differences with Muslims.

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No atheist in their right mind would visit a Jewish or Muslim grocery and demand food that was not kosher or halal, only to scream “discrimination!” afterwards.

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This type of coexistence is a two-way street. Unfortunately, we’ve seen cases such as those of Barronelle Stutzman in Washington and Jack  Phillips in Colorado, in which business owners have been hit with discrimination lawsuits after declining to offer creative and artistic services that violated their religious convictions.

As Dr. Keller and his fellow Manhattanites could attest, there is a better way forward. I have a friend who, ironically, leads a well-known Christian legal organization. A few years ago, he hired a professional photographer to take family portraits. When the photographer arrived, he recognized my friend as a Christian leader and said, “I’m sorry, but now that I know who you are, I cannot in good conscience take photos for your family.”

My friend didn’t threaten a lawsuit or publicly shame the photographer; he simply said, “OK, I understand” and proceeded to find a different photographer. Neither one of the parties was required to abandon their deep convictions, and everyone was able to move on.

That’s coexistence.

It’s not about abandoning your deeply held beliefs in order to keep the peace. It’s about not demonizing those whose own convictions are different from yours. “Coexist” is not a liberal or conservative term. As our nation lurches toward another contentious election, we need to remember this.

Can we coexist with our fellow Americans in 2024? Can we love them, even if our ideologies are oceans apart? Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook with this question. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

What if you’re a card-carrying member of the NRA and your next-door neighbor is a pacifist who wants to see guns removed from society? What if you’re an evangelical Christian who lives across the street from a family of Muslim immigrants? What if you’re pro-life and your coworkers are pro-choice? And what if you embrace a traditional sexual ethic but your niece wants you to address her as your nephew?

These are the types of questions that confront us every day across the diverse, multicultural, postmodern landscape of the United States. In our families. At the office. With our friends and neighbors. On Instagram.

Are we ready to relearn the art of coexistence? Will we treat our neighbors with respect and dignity even if they voted for the “other guy”? As Congress engages in all-out battle over legislation that will impact our future, can we look beyond the insults and invective to see the inherent dignity of the faces on the other side of the aisle?

We can, and we must. We can stand up for our beliefs without giving in to the impulse to poke our opponents in the eye. We can be “convinced and kind,” as pastor Eric Geiger puts it. “It is easy to be convinced and not be kind, and it is easy to be kind and not be convinced,” he writes. “But to be both convinced and kind takes maturity.”

America is becoming more diverse with each day, and we need that kind of maturity. We can all have a seat at the table, but in order to enjoy that privilege, we need to behave once we’re there.

As the apostle Paul reminded the persecuted church in Rome, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:17-18).

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and host of its daily radio broadcast, heard by more than 6 million listeners a week on nearly 2,000 radio stations across the U.S.  He also hosts the podcast ReFocus with Jim Daly.

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