Learn about other faiths (from the people who actually practice them)

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
IMG_5229 Mosque, Golconda Fort, Hyderabadphoto © 2008 Peter Gibbons | more info (via: Wylio)

One of the most rewarding ventures in my quest for “biblical womanhood” is that I’ve stuck up an email correspondence with an Orthodox Jewish woman from Israel.  Over the past few months, Ahava has offered valuable insights on everything from interpreting Proverbs 31 to celebrating Passover to practicing family purity.  I’m not sure how I would have gotten through April without her! 

Not long into our correspondence, it became clear to me that Ahava knew a heck of a lot more about Christianity than I knew about Judaism—from our holidays to our canon to our leaders and traditions. This inspired me to start studying up on Judaism in earnest, and I’ve learned quite a bit from books by Rabbi Wayne Dosick, Anita Diamant, and other Jewish writers—Orthodox to Reformed.  

In college I spent a lot of time learning about other religions, but my information came almost exclusively from other Christians presenting arguments against them. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I took the initiative to do a little reading on my own, starting first with Tich Nhat Hanh’s excellent bookLiving Buddha, Living Christ.  Then the blog opened up opportunities for me to correspond with atheists and agnostics, as well as Orthodox and Catholic Christians whose traditions were unfamiliar to me. 

As it turns out, I’d been given some misinformation regarding these faiths and the people who practice them—not downright lies, but exaggerations, caricatures. It would be a bit like a Muslim teaching a room full of other Muslims about Christianity and using Westboro Baptist Church as the only example. There’s just a lot more to the story. 

Some of my Christian friends don’t approve of my research into other faiths. They say I have no business listening to those who practice “false religions.”

It’s hard to explain to them how enriching this experience has been to my faith, to my relationships, and to my mind. Obviously, I haven’t converted to another faith as a result. If anything, my own faith has grown stronger as I’ve pushed past my fears, exposed myself to new ideas, and tested my faith in light of them.  And if we want to expose people of other faiths to the best version of the Gospel—the whole story, not just a caricature— don’t we owe them the same courtesy?

 A recent Pew forum study shows that evangelicals are far behind atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons when it comes to religious knowledge. We know a lot about our own faith, the study found, but little about the faith of others.

This has to change. 

A refusal to listen signals insecurity. (I know, because the louder I yell, the less sure I am of something.) And insecurity makes the gospel sound like something other than good news. 

All I know is I’ve never lost anything by shutting up and listening for a while


Your turn! Tell us about books you’ve read or conversations you’ve had that have broadened your exposure to other faiths.

(If I ever finish writing this book I’d like to read through the Quran. Anyone have suggestions for a  beginner’s commentary or guide?)

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