The contours of Faith
Let’s rest our faith on what we see, and
not be put off by what others can’t.
Faith is not always a reliable companion. This past April 19 marked the 20th anniversary of the fiery deaths of 76 Branch Davidian members at their
group site in Waco, Texas. The story of government agencies’ actions against David Koresh and his followers is
complicated and controversial. In spite of that the tragedy
of Waco is ultimately a case of bad, misguided and irrational faith in Koresh by his devotees. Their faith held
them to him even as group members set the fires that
eventually consumed their bodies.
So, faith and trust can be foolhardy, stubbornly so, even
fatally so. In the Waco case the FBI warned about tank attacks just before 6 a.m. on the 19th. Branch Davidians had
a full six hours to consider surrendering, but most chose
to stay to the bitter end. I have met surviving Davidians
who wish they could have been there that day to remain
inside while the fires raged.
That same blind faith led the followers of Jim Jones
to their death in Guyana’s jungle on November 18, 1978.
They should have seen trouble coming. Many members
knew very well of their pastor’s wild temper, his bisexual
adulteries, his paranoid theories and his wild grandiosity.
Jones even led members in a mock suicide drill while they
were in their San Francisco church. Some left, but most
kept their blind faith intact until they drank the poisonous
Kool-Aid on that November evening.
Although most religions do not involve immediate life
and death choices, all humans should keep their eyes wide
open as choices are made about where or in whom faith
and trust is placed.
What makes this problematic is that everyone thinks
their own religion or spirituality or philosophy is the best
place for faith and trust. Buddhists advise following the
path of Gautama (the Buddha), Hindus favour Krishna,
Muslims advocate for Allah, orthodox Jews stress Jehovah,
Torah and Talmud, Scientologists focus on L. Ron Hubbard, Witches promote ancient deities, Christians witness
to Jesus, and so on.
Since people of other faiths, or of no faith, are often just
as convinced of their perspective as Christians are, how
should those of us who are Jesus followers share our faith?
Let me mention three pivotal principles which have become
increasingly dominant in my interaction with others.
First, a positive presentation of Jesus is far more im-
portant and effective than a negative critique of another
person’s beliefs. Yes, there is a place for correction, but
only when necessary. I regret wasting various witness-
ing opportunities over the years by focusing on this or
that critique instead of concentrating on the tremendous
case for God, the Bible and Jesus Christ. One time I got
a Scientology member really angry by telling him about
the latest book against Hubbard. He stormed up the street
while I pondered the reality that I had not even shared
the basics of Jesus with him.
JaMeS BeVerLey is professor of Christian thought and
ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and author of the
new book Mormon Crisis: Anatomy of a Failing Religion
( www.mormoncrisis.com). Find more of these
columns at www.theEFC.ca/Religion Watch.