At two recent meals with some dear Christian friends it was driven home to me just how many intelligent, engaged, and well-meaning believers there are who actively attend church and are very involved in their parish communities and all the rest of it, and yet are significantly under informed about some of the most important religious and cultural issues of our day.
One of the issues we discussed was the unrest in the Middle East, the scourge of ISIS, and other acts of terrorism committed by certain Moslems around the world. My friend suggested that the real problem that we in the modern, civilized world are facing in all of this is not Islam per se but rather fundamentalism. I think in an effort to be open-minded and charitable he was trying to draw a distinction between Moslems of the ISIS variety and those of, say, the CAIR variety. And at the same time I think he was proposing that Christian, Buddhist, or any other type of fundamentalism could be just as dangerous. But as our conversation progressed it became apparent to me that this person just did not know much about Islam and its history as it was warlike and imperialistic from the outset with Mohammed himself leading battles, authorizing raids, and so on. And recently some scholars have noted that, based on verifiable UN statistics and polls, most Moslems throughout the world are not moderate in any western sense, as they affirm that it is okay for husbands to beat their wives, parents to engage in honor killings of their children, and more. When I mentioned some of this my friend was genuinely surprised, and so I believe that he had never heard this before or considered studying the religion and its cultural and history.
With another friend I discussed homosexuality and the church. I was very much surprised that on such a hot-button and devise issue - both in the Church and the world - he was woefully uniformed about the major issues surrounding homosexual behavior, such as health concerns related to it, whether people are born with those inclinations (and whether that even matters), how problematic its underlying gnostic anthropological assumptions are for Christians and for anyone for that matter, and more. He was not even aware of what the Church really objects to in the whole debate (homosexual acts not “homosexuals”) and why (because that behavior is contrary to nature). That the findings of science usually affirm what the Church teaches in moral matters (e.g. abortion) seemed totally lost on my friend.
Both discussions were refreshing and eye-opening. The former because we were able to have a decent conversation without condemning each other or arguing, and the latter because I thought these people - both very intelligent, engaged, and active Christians - whether they agreed with me or not on these issues - would be much more familiar with the subject at hand and all of its nuances and related issues. But they were not, at least not in my opinion.
This is something that pastors should keep in mind. We sometimes think that our people know a lot more than they really do on a given subject and are much more informed about spiritual and moral matters than they really are. But not necessarily. Don't assume that the people in the pews understand even basic Christian doctrines or language, even if they've sat in pews their whole lives. I have met many people in continuing Anglican parishes whom I would basically describe as ethical Unitarians... not orthodox, Trinitarian Christians! It is important for us to know this, and to know them well and to be patient teachers and shepherds to them in spiritual matters… teaching, teaching again, and reteaching.