By Rev. Fr. Michel Tchoumbou
I have a few lists of “dos” and “don’ts” in my mind. They are lessons learned from life. One of them is titled: ‘My guide on getting along with a born-again.’ I go back to it often to revise it depending on what I experience or observe. My mind keeps going back to my list because I am yet to recover from a recent encounter I had with a born-again. My list makes me think of my very good friend. I shall call her, Sylvia.
I remember spending hours talking about the Bible when I first met Sylvia. We argued most of the time and even raised our voices when doing so. As a young Theology student, I remember refusing to give in to her challenges. I also challenged her understanding of the Bible with all that I was learning from the seminary. Sylvia herself never gave up trying to prove me wrong as well. Each time I felt challenged, I also took time to look for challenging responses for her as well. She did exactly the same. So, more and more our conversations became passionate but tasteless, leading us both to anger and frustration most of the time.
One day, suddenly, we both decided there was no point arguing over the same issues. We agreed not to talk about the Bible in ways that will make us argue. The rule was that when someone begins a passionate argument the other person had to stay quiet.
That became my first rule of dealing with a fundamentalist or Pentecostal friend: “don’t argue”, you cannot win them over by arguing with them. They have ready-made provocative questions about your faith that will make you feel insecure. Sometimes they claim to know your faith better than you do, and talk to you based on false knowledge about your own faith. If you are not well informed about your faith or if you are not capable of finding out more about your faith, you might feel that they have answers that you do not have.
This brings me to the second rule: Learn your doctrine. That you do not know an answer to a question does not mean that there are no answers to it. Your faith is at its weakest when you are in doubt. Seek answers to your doubts; read the Catechism, use the Internet, ask a more enlightened person around you.
My third rule: Be charitable and kind. When St. Paul says that heated arguments alone might not help the Galatians in doubt, he gives them one advice: “Do not get tired of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). Witnessing our faith through visible and invisible works of charity is one of the greatest advantages we have as Catholics. Most of the times we do not have to use words as proofs to our faith; our actions centred on what Christ asks of us is the most eloquent of all arguments.
In recent years, my relationship with Sylvia has become more spiritual than verbal. We exchange messages from our different Sunday readings. We seek out each other when we need prayers. We share Christian inspirational verses and song. Yet deep inside, we each know our boundaries and we try to respect them. We have learnedto accept that we are different, even in some of the most basic things that make us Christians.
For example, sometime ago, Sylvia and I tried to undertake a common project that would benefit some disadvantaged children. It soon struck me that her idea of doing charity, influenced by her faith, was so different from mine. She saw our project as a “church-planting” project. It was going to be an opportunity to meet and invite disadvantaged children to what she called a “Bible-inspired-faith,” and subsequently to “her church.” I could not bring her to see otherwise. Whereas for me, I was simply trying, in my own little way, to do what Jesus asks of us in Matthew 25 – “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers…” Needless to say she soon continued without me.
To accept our differences and to carry each other with faith and charity is, most of the time, all we need to get along with certain colleagues, friends and family members with whom it is hard to communicate and share our faith otherwise.