Wow. Today the President of the United States tweeted that congresswomen who orginally came from–let me get this–“countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt, and inept anywhere in the world” can “go back and fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how [the government is to be run].” To be clear, three of these four women were born in the United States.
Well, today is a perfect day for this post.
Step One was “Stop the Memes“
Step two is “Don’t Demonize the Opposition.”
Now if you are a Trump supporter, and I know I don’t have so many of those reading my stuff but still, it’s fair for you to know that we who are not have read these tweets and feel sick to our stomachs. Those words sound racist to us. But I’m not here to argue with you or accuse you. I just want you to understand. I know you have plenty of things to point back.
If you are not a Trump supporter, today is not the day you want to hear “We need to see the opposition in a better light.” If we all thought that maybe there was some racism implied in Trump’s response to Charlottesville that there were “Many fine people on both sides,” today we’re damned sure. Today, we want to grab pitchforks and just storm the damned castle. Because enough of this!
This, of course, is exactly the moment when we need to hear “Love your enemies.”
I’m not going to spend any of this post defending the President or his racist tweets. I promise.
Jesus taught us to love our enemies. I can think of easier things he said to do, such as…every other thing he said to do.
One of the worst aspects of our current situation is how much we hate people on the other side. Strangers. People we’ve never met and never will meet. People we only know through their words and opinions and memes and caps.
To demonize someone means to project evil attributes on them for the purpose of causing others to hate and fear them.
I know. It’s tempting to say, “We don’t have to project anything. They’re already doing that.”
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
In World War II, the Allies fought the Axis. The United States fought the Japanese.
That’s what we told our country we were fighting.*
Countries have used propaganda since before they fought with guns and bombs, probably before they made iron swords and spears. It’s how war works. It’s evil, but effective.
Jesus turns all this on its head. That’s why we sometimes call it his “upside-down Kingdom.” We’re not to kill our enemies. We’re not to hate our enemies. We’re not to demonize our enemies. Jesus commands us to love our enemies.
In U.S. politics, both Democrats and Republicans, both conservatives and liberals, have recognized that the most effective and lasting way to solidify their respective bases is to vilify the opposition. It is no longer even a question but a matter of certainty (“It is known”) that the opposing political party is the enemy, the greatest threat to our country.
When we’re convinced that’s true, we have a moral duty to oppose them. Hating them, Democrats or Republicans, is being patriotic. In fact, stopping them becomes the truest act of patriotism.
We talk about “Why won’t they work together?” in regard to our congress. I really believe this is why. Having started down this road, it would now cost a politician too much in constituent support to help someone across the aisle, no matter what good they might be doing. Rarely, rarely, you will see bipartisan support for a bill, and those are only the absolute safest, softball-pitch-down-the-middle, every-US citizen-will-want-this bills.
I’m not much of a hazy, nostalgic, ” Back in the Olde Days” kind of guy (okay, I am about baseball), but I do believe that, up until the 1960s, there was more collegiality, more of a grudging mutual respect among political adversaries and an acknowledgement that governing required some form of cooperation. I’m not saying U.S. politics haven’t always been dirty to a certain degree, and yes, we survived McCarthyism, so we had a full round of demonizing the opposition. But the full commitment to “I hate him because he’s one of them,” “I hate her because I hate all of them,” that we have nailed down tight in these last two generations. It’s gotten many politicians elected. And we are reaping the whirlwind.
I want to be clear here that speaking against hate does not imply calling evil actions “good” or “okay” or even “agree-to-disagree.” I’m not agreeing to disagree about racism. But I know it will destroy my soul if I keep letting myself seethe with anger and then watch that putrefy into hatred. I don’t want to win any political battles and lose my soul.
What do we do?
First, let’s be clear, this will feel like a drop in the bucket. I have no illusions that suddenly choosing to speak respectfully to people who call names and make blanket accusations will result in mass repentance and kum-ba-ya-ing. I mean that on both sides; I’ve seen ample nastiness in both directions with the aggressors feeling fully justified.
But if I’m looking at what Jesus says to do, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5) I know how to respond. Probably not with “Oh, bless your heart, I will praaay for you!” which is kind of its own version of Christian ridicule. When I’m attacked, or my “side” or “cause” (or article) is attacked, I won’t answer in kind. In fact, I most likely won’t answer at all, unless I’m convinced the other person wants to engage in real discussion. If I do respond, I want it to be in respectful terms and to stay focused on the issue.
I know this sounds cliched, but I’m going to try–and therefore say it–anyway: I will pray for that person. I haven’t been good at this, but I’m convicted that I need to make the effort. God knows who might be impacted.
When I was in college, another member of our Christian fellowship clearly did not like me and demonstrated that with his behavior. Young as I was, I was still taking everything Jesus said seriously and not rationalizing loopholes (note: that was sarcasm), so I started answering his hostility with kindness and praying for him. God changed someone: me. I didn’t feel as angry at him. What had been forced words of kindness out of my mouth came more naturally. I even started to…like him. Then one day, he switched. Completely flipped from being obnoxious to being friendly. What happened? I never found out. Did God move in his heart? Or had I come across as arrogant at first and then my efforts to love my enemy made me more bearable to my enemy? All I know is that we became friends after that.
So God does know who will be impacted but I also know one person who will be. It is so easy to read people’s screeds and dismiss or despise them. Or both. I think, no, I believe God can do something powerful in my heart if I will choose to pray and in that manner respond with love toward my enemy. This isn’t an argument about what they deserve. Jesus made no distinction about “deserving” or “undeserving enemies.” This is solely a question of whether I’m willing to obey Jesus and see what happens.
If I’m praying and responding with civility, I will not demonize. I can’t love my enemy and demonize him or her at the same time.
Second, and lastly, I’m learning to seek individual discussions rather than group ones. Even when I’m succeeding at having a mutually respectful dialogue, quite often someone else will jump in with an attack because
troll’s gonna troll–I mean, beloved person created in the image of God’s gonna troll. I’m learning that this applies both to social media and public discussions in the real world. Too many people either feel a need to firebomb or believe that their “wisdom” (still often involving sound bites, name-calling, and sarcasm) will solve a disagreement. I don’t think I persuade many people through argument, if any, but I know I can convey respect and kindness if it’s one-on-one, and shut up when I reach my limit. With five or six guys or gals lobbing in hand grenades, all bets are off.
That’s what I got. We need to stop demonizing the opposition party–both sides, both directions–and stand for the truth while loving our enemies. I know politics is all about the end justifying the means but following Jesus never works that way.
Let me repeat that: In following Jesus, the end never justifies the means.
God loves those enemies of yours.
And here we are.
Help us, Jesus. We really need it.
*I use this because it’s such a blatant example. God, forgive us for making the Japanese out to be monsters.