In an article entitled “Is It O.K. to Fire a Muslim Driver for Refusing to Carry Wine?” (19 July 2017), New York Times writer Kwame Anthony Appiah explored the ethics of this question. In particular, the question of how to balance the rights of religious belief in a secular society?
Appiah at the end of his article suggests to his readers, “When we’re dealing with religious differences, we don’t have to bend over backward; but we do have to bend.” He is urging his readers to be sensitive to the beliefs of others.
Whenever there are differences in belief or culture, all too often people objectify or vilify one another. They assume the worst and engage in direct confrontation. This raises the question for the follower of Christ how should we respond when our belief is at odds with culture?
At our night gathering a few weeks ago, we looked at arguably one of the most offensive passages in Scripture. The passage is Deuteronomy 21: 10-14 and provides instructions on what to do with a woman who is a spoil of war that you find attractive. On first reading it seems barbaric and archaic. That is until you understand the world into which it is written.
In the ancient culture of the time, a woman who was a spoil of war was an object. She would have no rights whatsoever. She was your property, you could use her, sell her, or discard her as you would any object you own. After all, she is just merchandise.
Yet, what this passage does ,is it gives different instructions to those who have taken her. In doing so there is allowance for her to grieve, allowance for her to become part of the people of Israel, and if the one who has conquered her does not want to keep her, he is instructed to send her off with rights and her dignity. In its time it is alerting those who read this passage to the reality that this woman is a person, not an object. In its time, it was a radical leap forward in the way people thought. Those who lived out this passage lived in a counter cultural way and in doing so invited those in their world to reconsider the way they lived and the choices they made.
What were the people of God to do? Offer an alternative to the status quo by living differently. In this passage, God gently pushed culture ahead. Was there more that could be done to protect the rights of women and spoils of war? Yes. But it started with a small step where the lives of the people of God lived in a better way.
There is no easy solution to the question of how does a follower of God react when there is a conflict of belief. At the very least, can we start with living in a way which reflects a better way to live and refuses, as in Deuteronomy 21, to treat anyone simply as an object.