by Randy Corn
Does the name Piotr Mledozeniec ring a bell? If you are anything like me, it doesn’t, but I would bet you have seen some of his work.
Mr. Mledozeniec is a Polish graphic designer who came up with a design for a traveling exhibit from a museum based in Jerusalem back in 2001. It incorporated a Muslim crescent, a Jewish Star of David, and a Christian cross. This eventually morphed into the bumper sticker we are all familiar with that proclaims a one-word worldview: Coexist.
Recently, I came across an editorial in The Daily Beast written by Michael Schulson about this ubiquitous bumper sticker. He rightly observes that this is the bumper sticker equivalent of Rodney King’s statement, “Can’t we all just get along?” made while Los Angeles burned. I assume that people with this bumper sticker mean well, but I wonder if they have seriously thought about what they are suggesting.
Isn’t it naïve to think there is a compromise to be found in any conflict, especially when you consider the blatant force some exercise? Shulson writes, “ISIS is marauding across the Middle East. China is squeezing Tibet in an anaconda grip of cultural homogenization. Buddhists are causing violence in Sri Lanka, far-right Islamophobic parties are on the rise in Scandinavia, and Muslims and Christians are slaughtering each other in the Central African Republic.” Perhaps the Coexist folks assume that religious-based conflicts are about things that don’t really matter. From a secularist perspective that might be true, but what about those of us who are seriously committed to certain core beliefs?
Some Christians do seem to relish the idea of minimizing what those core beliefs are, but there is an irreducible core to the Christian faith. An earlier generation called these the fundamentals. While I have not discussed this with a Muslim, I am sure the same is true of Islam. What is the sincere Christian (or the sincere Muslim for that matter), supposed to do when they are in direct conflict either with one another or with other forces that might ask them to deny the fundamentals of their faith?
One area where this conflict surfaces is in evangelism, or what might be more broadly called proselytism. The logic seems to be that if all religions are equally valid then what gives anyone the right to “impose” his faith on anyone else? To be sure, there have been some who would spread their belief at the point of a sword. Christianity is not exempt from this. The Inquisition and later the forced “conversion” of native populations in the New World is a dark page in the history of Christendom. It should be pointed out, though, that while forced conversion is an aberration to Christianity, it is a tenet of Islam. Among many other examples, Qur’an 8:39 states, “So fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief, i.e. non-Muslims) and all submit to the religion of Allah alone.” The philosophy of our bumper sticker would certainly condemn forced conversion, but what about the free exchange of ideas?
Evangelism, in the Christian sense, is not about imposing our faith on anyone; it is human persuasion working in tandem with the Holy Spirit’s conviction. To be sure, some Christians have been obnoxious about this, but the knowledgeable evangelical realizes he can’t argue someone into the Kingdom of God.
Are religious people simply supposed to keep their convictions to themselves? Is it offensive for a committed Christian to tell an unbeliever that he is praying for the lost man’s conversion? If advocating coexistence leads the Christian away from any concern for the Great Commission, then it must be rejected out of hand.
It may be that I am overstating the implication of a one-word slogan, but at the very least Coexist is an appeal to minimize differences and be silent about any distinctions.