A Question of Grace for Nonbelievers

A nonbeliever friend recently posed a question to me. He recounted an experience that he and his wife had at a family dinner during a recent holiday season, and asked what my response would have been to the situation.

Most of the people present were either nonbelievers or what I will call “Nominal Christians.” They attend church occasionally, mostly as a social activity, but one individual was a devout Christian and asked if she could say Grace at the table.

The hosts’ response was affirmative, and the rest of the people sat in embarrassed or enduring silence while the Grace was intoned.

I offered the opinion that if that had happened at our house, I would have politely declined, and suggested that the requester could say a silent prayer at the table if she felt the need. My friend was horrified, saying that I was being intolerant, and would probably offend and alienate the person. I replied that such devoutly religious people always seem to feel that it is okay to impose their religious beliefs on me, even if it offends me. I felt that the guest, knowing that the rest of the people present were nonreligious, was being presumptuous and impolite in making the request and deserved to be offended.

When I put the question to my wife, she had a different response. She said that, as hostess, she would probably have allowed it to avoid an awkward situation that would detract from the occasion. But she added that it would depend on when the request was made. If it were made privately before dinner started, she would do as I would have done, suggesting that the person say a private prayer. But if the request were made at the table in front of everyone, she would allow it to avoid unpleasantness, and the other people at the table would just have to “suck it up.” (Endure it quietly without comment)

She went on to say that devoutly religious people feel it is their duty to engage in displays of their religiosity…to “spread the gospel.” Therefore, she could not be blamed for her impolite behavior.

So it was the religion that caused the problem, not the person. As a believer in her faith, she was duty-bound to be impolite! Carried to an extreme, that could result in all sorts of rude, antisocial or even criminal behavior because God commands it. I suppose people who torch abortion clinics or murder doctors who perform abortions would understand that concept.

But we are not talking about hate crimes here. Just…Grace.

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