Thursday, June 5, 2014

Us vs Them

Despite all the statistics regarding church decline, the vast majority of Americans still profess some sort of Christian faith. So why do we seem to hate each other so? Why do we act as though anyone who disagrees with us is our enemy. And even if that were true, didn't Jesus tell us to love our enemies, too?

Today's reading from Ephesians says this. "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." So how was it we decided this didn't apply to some neighbors? (Both conservatives and liberals seem equally good at demonizing their neighbors on the other side.)

I read a column recently that suggested American politics has become dysfunctional in part because the Cold War ended. Without a common enemy, we turned our animosities toward one another. The September 11 terrorist attacks briefly united us around a common threat, but Al Qaeda turned out not to be terrifying enough to keep us united.

Now I don't know if I want to lay all the blame for our toxic partisanship on the Cold War's demise, but it does make a certain sense. We humans seem to have an innate fear of "the other," of those who are different from us. And once we label that other an enemy, demonizing them and seeing them as sub-human, un-American, or dangerous makes it much easier to hate them. No need to discuss or consider the viewpoints of such folks.

Yet Christian faith is about becoming one with the other through Christ. Elsewhere in Ephesians it says, "For (Christ) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." This is referring to a Jew versus Gentile divide and hostility, but that was simply the primary dividing line the early church faced. We have our own.

The scariest part about hostility between groups is that we start to think things would be better without "them," whoever we mean by "them." We decide that we don't want them in our denomination, our neighborhood, our government, etc. Our world would be so much better if they simply ceased to be. At that point, no matter how "right" our views may be, we've ceased to be a true church, a true community,  a true society. You might even say we've ceased to be truly human because we've defined human as "like us" rather than as the beloved children God sees when looking at every single one of us, and every single one of them.

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