While stopped at a red light on my way home one day I noticed that the two cars immediately in front of me had the same “Coexist” bumper sticker. You’ve probably seen one like it. Each of the letters of is a symbol representing a major religious or spiritual ideology. For example, the “C” is a crescent moon symbolizing Islam, and the “X” is a Star of David symbolizing Judaism.
This was a particularly long traffic light, which gave me time to realize that I was mistaken. In actuality the bumper sticker on the car just ahead of me did not read “Coexist” but “Contradict.” Underneath that it read, “They can’t all be true-John 14:6.” Despite my early days of earnest scripture memorization I couldn’t recall this particular passage, but I had a hunch it was the verse in which Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I was right.
I’ll admit my eyes rolled back in my head over this display of Christian moral superiority. It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered something this. In the late 1990s a trend among Christians in my small southern Georgia town was to buy a ichthys or fish symbol that could be purchased at the local Christian book store and place it on your rear bumper. I’ll admit I sported one with “Jesus” written in the middle. The rise of the Christian symbol’s popularity naturally led to its parody, the “Darwin fish,” an ichthys modified to include small legs to symbolize evolution. That really ought to have been the end of this bumper sticker battle, but soon after the same Christian book store where I’d bought my original Jesus fish began selling a model of an even larger ichthys symbol with the word “Truth” inside that was in fact eating a small Darwin fish next to it. Even back then as a bright eyed evangelical teenager I thought this was beyond ridiculous. Why did Christians have to react to everything as if it were an attack on their faith?
Eventually the traffic light turned green, and as we began to move, I wondered what the driver of the “Contradict” sticker thought of the “Coexist” driver. Did that person feel a sense of moral superiority? Did they want to engage in dialogue? Then I considered the alternative scenario: what if the cars had been reversed? Would the “Coexist” driver want to engage the “Contradict” driver?
Generally bumper stickers aren’t great conversation starters. They are simple identities that we present to strangers, mostly the ones we encounter on the road and in parking lots. With both the “Coexist” and the “Contradict” examples, I see a common thread of hubris. With the former it’s easy to say, “Let’s all get along despite our differences” without any practical understanding of the hard work required for multifaith dialogue. With the latter it’s easy to say, “My truth is the only truth” and disregard everyone else without having to engage religious difference with an open mind and heart.
Given all that I’ve said about placing symbols on cars, you may be surprised to know that I have one myself. I’ve chosen to place the word “RESIST” on my car. Why did I do this? Since the Presidential election I have recommitted myself to the daily work of resisting all ways of thinking and being that are oppressive, even if I benefit from them. My resistance includes dismantling my own ways of thinking about faith and the faith of others, resisting easy answers to complex questions and my own sense of theological and moral superiority. I’m painfully aware that this commitment requires great effort on my part to resist my constant eye-rolling, which may be among the hardest tasks of all.
Perhaps my “RESIST” sticker will ignite new conversations across political and religious difference; maybe it will be a barrier to them in which case I may remove it. But for the time being it is a daily reminder for me to be a person who resists divisive ways of thinking and complacency in the face of injustice.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires intentional communities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good. She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press this fall. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.