When Patrick arrived in Ireland as a Christian missionary he had a decision to make about how to do his work. This was the early 400s. The Roman Emperor Constantine had “converted” to Christianity 100 years earlier, and the cross was now used, not as the suffering symbol of a Galilean carpenter, but as a crusading tool of conquest.
It was the custom of Christian missionaries – then and for the next 1500 years – not to introduce others to Jesus, but to make them citizens of the Empire. A culture was “Christianized” not when it conformed to the words and ways of Jesus, but when it submitted to the rule of the Roman Caesar or the conquering king. The local culture was eradicated, replaced by that of the conquerors, and Christianity was used as an instrument in that process.
But rather than imposing an imperial faith on the Irish people, Patrick met them where they were and let faith erupt naturally. He did not overpower, he obliged. He did not impose, he invited. He did not attack, he adapted. He came in humility and simplicity, attempting to foster faith, not force it.
We still have much to learn from old Patrick, for his way of sharing faith could heal today’s world. Vulnerability. Service. Humility. Meeting people where they are. Treating neighbors with dignity and respect. Honoring the lives and stories of those we encounter – plain civility – may be the only way to keep a society from devouring itself.
When we live with a no-compromise, never give-an-inch, militant attitude, and meet every person outside our circle with distrust, it creates a divisive, violent, negative, attack-based culture with an atmosphere of hateful rhetoric and suspicion. It destroys a community.
So we who are living today have a choice put before us: We will take the path of suspicion, violence, stubbornness, divisiveness, and imposition and we will witness the end of the world as we know it. Or we will we imitate Patrick by taking the way of peace, love for our neighbors, welcome and inclusion. Living this way will end of the world as we know it as well – but it might be the kind of end that gives rebirth to the world.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author.