Last month, the Defense Department revealed that Afghan-language Bibles sent to Bagram Air Base by a U.S. church were burned with the daily trash because they possibly could be used to convert Afghans.
The possession of such religious material violates something the military calls General Order No. 1. Out of respect of the local population, the order also prohibits sexual contact and the possession of alcohol.
Regarding proselytizing, General Order No. 1 contains wisdom the average pewsitter — Paul La’ Pew — wouldn’t likely understand. The purpose of the order is to prevent the kind of religious outreach that can jeopardize the lives of American troops among a volatile Muslim environment.
A CNN story quoted Lt. Col. Mark Wright saying it was a force protection issue. The concern was that “it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. government . . . was trying to convert Muslims.”
My first thought was, “Why didn’t they hum a few verses of Elvis Presley and mark, ‘Return to Sender’?”
Imagine the alarming reaction of the Muslim customs agents, however, who would have inspected the Bibles as they left the country. Talk about pouring gasoline on a fire.
Sharing your faith isn’t an easy gig. It requires an understanding of your audience. It requires empathy for their condition. Most of all, it requires you to abandon all assumptions that you know what’s best for someone else. The process of sharing faith requires a humility that acknowledges the possibility that the sharer also plays a part in receiving.
Having grown up as a Southern Baptist, I know something about the fervent sharing of faith. After all, I delivered plenty of Bibles to the unsuspecting neighbors who surrounded the church of my youth. Along with the gift, I fired the question: “If you were to die tonight, do you know if you’d be in heaven or hell?”
Can you imagine being asked this question by a pimply faced pastor before you’ve had your coffee? Not much humility there.
Sharing literature, such as a Bible, can be a true expression of faith. If done glibly and without humility, however, it becomes something we do to avoid understanding the hurt of people.
Don’t get me wrong. Military chaplains would be hurting without the generosity of those who have sent Bibles for the troops. If it’s done because it’s just easier than caring, however, then it falls on deaf ears.
The best we can say in sharing our faith was said in the Biblical story of “The Woman at the Well.”
Jesus found her drawing water from a well and confronted her about what was likely “serial adultery” in her having lived with five husbands.
The woman was amazed with how Jesus had abandoned the social customs of the day to share with her the most common of human experiences, thirst. In sharing his humanity, Jesus was able to show this woman that there might be a better way.
Jesus listened with his heart first, in a way that honored the speaker. He spoke only after there was connection of the heart. He knew people wouldn’t listen to his words until they believed he cared.
This woman believed Jesus cared so much about her that she ran into town with evangelistic fervor and begged her village, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”
And here’s the part that I’ve always liked. To paraphrase “Star Trek,” this is a verse that expresses my Prime Directive.
The Bible says: “And they went out to see for themselves.”
As we step out and share faith in genuine ways, people will not need pounds of religious literature to persuade them. They will see it for themselves.