Theology

How To Love Your Hostage Neighbor

You may have seen the viral video of a group of Christians singing worship songs on an airplane. While some people are criticizing those who were offended, the Jewish side of me raises an eyebrow at the whole thing. That’s because I know how it would have affected me if I were on that plane prior to my conversion.

Honestly, I’d have been quite pissed. I’d have shared Representative Ilhan Omar’s opinion that it was a display of Christian privilege. And you know what? She’s right that if a group of Muslims worshiped in their way, on an airplane of all places, the backlash would have been immediate and severe. That’s not saying anything negative about Christianity; that’s just a fact. 

To make things more complicated, this event differs from street preachers standing on a corner sharing a message, because people are free to walk away if they don’t want to hear it. But on an airplane, passengers are basically hostage with nowhere else to go.

So my one question about this is…is this the most loving way to present the gospel?

Why I’m Uncomfortable

I still clearly remember the era of my childhood when displays of Christianity in public spaces made me uncomfortable. Most were subtle, like cross jewelry or retreat shirts. Others edged closer to the line between separation of church and state, like the coach at my public high school who prayed with students before a game. As one of the few Jewish students, displays like the latter seemed to tell me that I didn’t belong. They enforced my status as an outsider. 

By the time I entered high school, I was hiding an interest in saints and felt a strange fascination with Jesus Christ. That secret existed in tension with my fear that every Christian I knew didn’t want me around. Already, I became aware of the gaping chasm between the person of Christ and many of his followers. Jesus would welcome me, but many Christians – like the neighbor who called me a Christ killer – did not. If I hadn’t felt this way, I might have converted much sooner.

So when I see videos like the one above, I’m uncomfortable for a few reasons. On one hand, I want the whole world to know Christ. I want to share the hope and redemption of the gospel with every living soul – not because I believe my chosen faith is superior, but because it is true. On the other hand, singing Christian songs in a space where the audience is literally held hostage does not seem like the most loving way to communicate that message.

In my Jew-ish opinion, while the lyrics themselves may be about God, the attention isn’t going directly to him, but to the person holding the guitar. If I’m sharing the gospel, I want to do so in a way that gives my full attention to the individual I’m speaking with. I want to get to know them and what they believe and engage in a conversation of equals rather than commandeer the stage. 

A Matter of Perspective

If anything, my biggest concern is how the worshipers could wander the aisles like that – isn’t that a violation of airplane safety? But I digress. The mere act of singing is not intrinsically harmful, and if Christians are going to behave strangely in public, this isn’t the worst way to do it.

When it comes down to it, I’m sure that the plane worshipers weren’t trying to be exclusive, even if their music came off as tone-deaf (not referring to pitch) to some passengers. I see it in the same vein as wishing people “Merry Christmas”; it’s typically a well-intentioned greeting, nothing more. The worshipers probably thought they were offering a gift: especially when being 30,000 feet in the air is for many a nerve-wracking experience.

What if it were my church on board that wanted to sing? I may have asked if this was the most effective way to proclaim the truth and beauty of the gospel. Annoyed ears won’t listen or care about the heart behind it. The gospel message is offensive enough on its own; our presentation of it shouldn’t be.

Photo by Mic Narra on Unsplash

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