Many Christians want to know, is it okay to be friends with people of other faiths? The answer is YES! For International Friendship Day (July 30), let’s see why interfaith friendships can be so important.
The Importance of Interfaith Friendships
My parents taught me the importance of interfaith friendships when I was young. I remember visiting with our friends from Sri Lanka, and marveling at the Buddha statues in their home. When a Jewish friend who was a struggling single mother needed help, we invited her to move into our home until she could get back on her feet. We enjoyed learning from her Jewish customs and holidays as she taught her two small children. When a Thai foreign exchange student who lived with members of our church expressed that he missed going to a Buddhist temple, my dad drove him two hours from Richmond, Virginia to Washington, DC so he could practice his faith.
The Importance of No-Faith Friendships
I carried these lessons with me into my adulthood. I still value friendships with people of other faiths and no faith. One of my best friends is an atheist. She is more like Jesus than many Christians I know. Far from the bogeyman that Christians often make atheists out to be, she has shown me what it means to be moral and ethical without the spurs of eternal reward or punishment. Being open to people of other faiths should also mean developing friendships with those to whom religion is irrelevant.
Warnings About Interfaith Friendships
When I hear Christians warn believers against the compromise of interfaith friendships, it makes me sad because I think about all the blessings they are missing. Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll says:
Compromise never works. We always get burned. Even though we rationalize around our weak decisions and tell ourselves that wicked associations really won’t harm us (“they’ll get better, our good will rub off their bad!”), we get soiled in the process.
If you put on a pair of clean white gloves on a rainy day and then go out into the backyard to the flowerbed and pick up a glob of mud, trust me, the mud will never get “glovey.”
The gloves will definitely get muddy. Every time.
In all my years on earth, I have never seen glovey mud. Not once.
In simple terms, that’s what 1 Corinthians 15:33 is saying: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (NASB).
My question for Swindoll is this: How fragile do you think the Christian faith is, that it can’t handle being around other influences? We shouldn’t be afraid of interfaith friendships, constantly concerned that somehow, they will make us dirty. Instead, we should recognize that mud is what unites us. If conservatives believe we’re all made of dirt, then mud represents relationships with all sorts of people. Interfaith friendships are as fun as mud pies and as harmless as the playground.
Jesus and Interfaith Friendships
Jesus valued interfaith friendships. He engaged in interreligious dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well. Once, a pagan Roman centurion came to ask Jesus to heal his servant.
And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.”
The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me, and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”
When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will take their places at the banquet with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
Some may argue that because this Roman centurion had given money for a synagogue to be built in Capernaum, it’s reasonable to conclude that he was among the category of pagans that Jewish people called God-fearers. These were people who admired Judaism but never officially converted. He may have been a God-fearer, but because he was a Roman soldier, we also know that he worshipped Caesar as a God. So, he may have admired Judaism, but this does not negate the fact that he was a pagan whose faith Jesus admired, even if Jesus didn’t agree with every point.
Is it OK to be Friends with People of Other Faiths?
Yes, it’s possible to admire someone’s religion that isn’t yours. Jesus wasn’t saying he agreed with the theology of the Greco-Roman pantheon or the Roman imperial cult. But he did admire the man’s strong belief. Even if you disagree with parts of someone’s religion, you can find what’s virtuous and celebrate that. Every religion has something good that you can appreciate. You don’t have to give up your own faith to value someone else’s. Is it OK to be Friends with People of Other Faiths? Of course! And, who knows—you might even find Christ in someone else’s religion!
Keep an eye out for the sequel to this article, “Jesus and Melchizedek: Christ in Another Religion”