Stephen Pacht’s story in Bits from the Branches got me thinking about what it means to be neutral. I don’t mean neutral like the color beige. I’m talking the kind of neutral that means you don’t take sides in a power struggle.
So who’s neutral? As you can see from Stephen’s story, even the Swiss aren’t “as neutral as Switzerland,” a phrase I used to hear a lot.*
Stephen wrote about standing up for freedom of speech in Geneva, where the government regulates what kind of literature people can hand out in public. And unless things have changed since the time this was written, no one gets a permit for handing out “religious” literature of any kind. Why? Because some religious literature can be incendiary, or at least handed out by groups that support acts of violence in the name of their religion. So for the sake of fairness, or at least the appearance of it, rather than deny some people permits for handing out literature about their beliefs, the permits are denied to all. Perhaps this seems like a decision to be “neutral,” but it’s actually not. In effect, it takes those who commit violence in the name of religion and makes them a reason to deny freedom of speech to all who want to hand out literature about their beliefs.
So what? Does this mean anything for those of us who live in a place where we still have freedom of speech? Here’s what I get from Stephen’s story (besides the desire to pray for God’s intervention). There is an illusion of neutrality that people hide behind when they want to avoid conflict. However, there is no such thing as being truly neutral when it comes to the gospel.
People might claim to be neutral. If you share your faith with them they might say, “That’s good for you, but I have my own religion.” They can be nice and polite and say what they feel is necessary to avoid conflict, but they can’t be neutral.
And when we love the Lord, we can’t cling to an illusion of neutrality in order to avoid conflict. And caring for the unsaved means we don’t want them to cling to that illusion either. After all, being neutral means you don’t take sides in a power struggle. We could wish there were no struggle, but the Bible tells us that we struggle against powers and principalities in the heavenly places. I’m not saying we should go diving into conflict over each and every controversy for the sake of our faith. I’m not saying we should tell all our unsaved friends they are delusional. I’m just saying that when it comes to the reality of spiritual warfare, no one is neutral. We either take sides, or get taken. How are we going to let that truth seep in to our walk with God, and our desire for others to know Him?
*Often referring to Switzerland’s not taking sides in WW2, though Switzerland had been declared “officially” neutral long before then.