The day before Colonel Moammar Gadhafi was killed in Libya, I had a chat with a young man on an Ottawa street. This well-dressed fellow handed me a six-page, single-spaced "announcement" with the text of a 1989 missive by Minister Louis Farrakhan. Segueing from the current events in Libya, Brother Calvin—as he introduced himself to me—warned of a U.S. government-led war against black youth in general, and the Nation of Islam in particular.
The handout described a 1985 encounter involving Farrakhan being transported on a wheel—"or what you would call an unidentified flying object"—to another planet, where the Honourable Elijah Muhammad told him about the plot and mandated him to warn the world. Farrakhan held a press conference, travelled to Tripoli to warn Gadhafi, and urged his followers to warn others. I surmise this is what Brother Calvin was doing for me—"it is not wise for you to plan against Allah's (God's) servants, for by so doing you are actually planning against yourselves."
I was on my way to a meeting, and our exchange was brief. I told Calvin of my Christian belief that special revelation is complete in the inspired Scriptures. For me to believe that special revelation had been granted to Minister Farrakhan would require more evidence than merely him saying so. I also suggested that my understanding of the Christian gospel provided hope and focused me on how my sins might be forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ, rather than riling my rage against those who might look or act differently than me. After a few more pleasantries, we both went on our way.
I have found myself thinking of Brother Calvin as I have read the subsequent news reports from Libya. When I saw the pictures of Gadhafi's bloodied corpse on the front page of every major newspaper, I wondered what Calvin was thinking. Would this unfolding of history shake his faith? Would it simply further rile his anger against the west? Would he become more zealous in his evangelism? Would he move beyond peddling words to other forms of engagement?
Most people feel uncomfortable with the frames of these sorts of conversations. I don't "get" extra-terrestrial revelation. Brother Calvin did not "get" my confidence that the Scriptures are complete and history is best understood with the cross at its centre. A secular fundamentalist who believes that unaided reason provides the answer to everything undoubtedly would find both of our frames difficult to make sense of—just as theists would find his frame baffling.
But beyond the discomfort, for us to champion the freedom to share religious views, as Brother Calvin did with me, is not only the right thing to do, but also valuable for promoting civility and mutual understanding. There are, of course, uncomfortable occasions when religious views are articulated with less skill and civility than Calvin showed. But perhaps a bit more practice of articulating and listening to different perspectives, not expecting to agree but trying to understand, will help soften some of the rough edges.
Brother Calvin did not convince me to his faith perspective, but I think listening to him was not only an act of courtesy and civility, but also one of citizenship.