Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker. It consists of seven symbols: the crescent and star of Islam, a peace symbol, a male/female symbol, a Magen David (Star of David), an I with a pentagram as its dot, a yin/yang, and a Roman cross. Combined they are supposed to spell out the word “coexist.” (There is a version where e=mc2 for science replaces the gay rights male/female, but the one described is the most common. The original only used the crescent, Star of David, and the cross, with letters for the o, e, i, and s.) It represents a fact of life, as well as a wish for peaceful coexistence between all religions and beliefs. Originally it was a plea for peace between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, but has been modified to include other beliefs.
To coexist means to exist in the same vicinity at the same time. Thus this bumper sticker represents a fact of life. As people, we all coexist, regardless of our belief systems. We live together, whether peaceably or not. The secondary meaning is to live together in peace. This is the ideal expressed by this collection of symbols. And it is a good ideal. In fact (although some might not represent it well) it is a Christian ideal.
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Cor 5:9-13)
Paul recognized that we must live together. In another place (Rom 12:18) he wrote, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” His ideal was that the Christian should be able to coexist, under either definition, with others.
Admittedly, some (perhaps many) who call themselves Christians have gotten away from that ideal. We see hate crimes against Muslims, gays, abortionists, military veterans, and many others, sometimes in the name of Christ. Certainly some of these other groups commit crimes against Christians as well, but that is no reason to act hatefully against them. As long as Christians bring themselves down to the level of hatred we are not going to win souls for Christ. Nobody, including other Christians, wants to associate with hateful people.
One problem, though, does occasionally raise its head among the ones advocating coexistence. That is the idea that one cannot coexist without disagreeing. One can differ without being intolerant. One can identify homosexual acts as sin without being homophobic. Coexistence, under any valid definition, does not mean that we must accept others as they are without question or qualm. Tolerance does not demand that either side of an issue give up or give in. There are certain points on which a Muslim and a Christian necessarily cannot agree; the fundamental doctrines about the person of Jesus cannot be reconciled. That does not mean, however, that a Muslim and a Christian cannot live together peaceably, and even be friends. The doctrines of both religions even demand that.
Yes we can—we must—coexist. We can “agree to disagree” as long as we do so in love. Even if, as one cynic put it, the cross is who the bumper sticker is directed against, those who live under the cross must follow Paul’s admonition, and not separate ourselves from those outside the church, because that is the only way we may possibly show others the validity of our faith.
(For the record, this article was written before the announcement of the “suspension” of Phil Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” because he expressed his biblical beliefs in a totally separate venue.)