You’ve all seen the blue and white COEXIST bumper stickers. Different religious symbols are used to depict each letter of the word.
I’ve seen them too.
And I’ve wondered. It’s not that I’ve heard a lot of discussion about them, but the little I’ve caught was bathed in disapproval.
I was confused.
‘COEXISTING’ seems like an innocent enough request. Why the hate? Why the negativity? Why the dissention?
I looked up the definition of COEXIST. According to Dictionary.com, COEXIST means “to exist separately or independently but peaceably, often while remaining rivals or adversaries”.
No problem yet. I’m a Christian. I don’t subscribe to Buddhism, Islam, or any other religion for that matter, but no one was asking me to convert. According to the definition, the sticker suggests to exist freely as an individual alongside other people existing freely as individuals. People who I may or may not agree with.
Call me naïve, but I just didn’t see the issue. So I looked up the origin of the sticker. Perhaps there was a more sinister meaning behind the symbolism.
Piotr Mlodozeniec, a Polish graphic designer, designed the first COEXIST image. He used it to enter an art contest hosted by a museum in Israel to promote religious tolerance. It was originally designed with only three symbols, but has further developed with four additional symbols added.
Hmmm….concern is creeping in. Tolerance doesn’t just mean to tolerate, but to condone or accept. I’m starting to squirm.
To continue my investigation, I read much debate on both sides of the ‘sticker’.
Proponents argue it promotes love, kindness, and peace. Some Christians believe this is exactly the type of message Jesus wants us delivering.
Opponents feel it’s unrealistic, destructive, and divisive. Christians on this side of the argument contend promoting the COEXIST sticker suggests ALL paths lead to God, thereby promoting abandonment of moral and spiritual values. I certainly have no intentions of abandoning my values!
Now I’m really starting to question my initial apathy to this message.
The truth is, down deep, it scares me. I want to feel justified hating it. I want to vehemently speak against the symbolism, aggressively arguing on behalf of my Christian beliefs. I want my precious cross off that sticker so the other symbols don’t detract from its sanctity and significance. The message sent with these symbols together completely unnerves me.
But my heart struggles with these reactions. I want my response to bring not only truth, but love and light.
The bible tells us we are to live separate from unbelievers and that the world will hate us because of our belief in Jesus Christ, yet we are called to show love to our enemy and bring glory to God’s Kingdom through evangelism. Knowing these truths, how can I behave in a way that doesn’t undermine or compromise the very core of the belief system I am called to share?
“Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’” 2 Corinthians 6:17
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44
“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” Mark 16:15
When I’m stuck, at a perplexing crossroad, I find it helpful to simply reflect on what I know to be true:
- I must be confident enough to express MY opinions and beliefs respectfully. And to hear yours.
- I should not succumb to pressure from negative, intimidating people or movements. Or positive, misguided ones.
- I must be realistic. While I choose to promote peace, not everyone else feels the same or has my best interests at heart. It’s prudent to be guarded and protect myself when necessary, but having an adversary who rejects peace doesn’t excuse me from first trying.
- I cannot operate out of fear. I find many aspects of the non-Christian religions represented on the COEXIST bumper sticker frightening and deplorable, but recognizing they exist is essential. Knowledge is power and builds the courage needed to defend against evil and stand up for my convictions.
- I know that learning what others believe does not cheapen or weaken my faith. It actually equips me to understand, care, and witness more effectively.
- I am willing and eager to unabashedly share my faith.
- I can speak truth in love, and my first choice is to love.
- I acknowledge that regardless of good intentions, there will be those who twist and mar goodness for their own selfish agenda or benefit.
- I can be in the world but separate from it. I need to follow Jesus’ lead!
- I DO NOT WANT a COEXIST bumper sticker on my vehicle. And I’m okay with saying this. It doesn’t make me a bad Christian. I can personally subscribe to the lofty goals which God has set out before me without marketing for other religions or jumping on a bandwagon riddled with controversy.
I was concerned my ‘what I know to be true list’ would appear wishy-washy; inconclusive. Perhaps too harsh? Too soft? But further thought (and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this!) reminds me I don’t have to be boxed in to an answer or a label to be on the right track. While the bumper sticker isn’t for me, I appreciate any prompt to think, evaluate my position, dig deep, and grow. And to show love.
Clearly I don’t have all the answers, but I’m wholly committed to the journey – learning, loving, and staying true to myself and God.
The question isn’t whether we all agree or disagree, but whether we are committed to the same journey.