Embracing Our Enemies

“You’re blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”             Matthew 5:9 (The Message)

“As the morning casts off the darkness, Lord, help us to cast aside any feelings of ill will we might harbor against those who have hurt us. Soften our hearts to work toward their conversion and ours. Amen.”                                             (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

Making Peace is Frickin Hard!

Peacemaking is not the easiest of tasks. It involves taking two sides (maybe more) who are estranged, and making it so reconciliation can take place. It is not, as Miroslov Volf points out in his book Exclusion and Embrace, merely moving the oppressed out from under their oppressor, and exacting justice on those oppressors. This, he warns, very often leads to the oppressed becoming oppressors themselves, which means that oppression has been allowed to continue, just in a different name. Such “peacemaking” is better understood as retaliation. “They did it to us, so we will do it to them.” This is also called warfare. 

Volf, being Croatian, does not write about reconciliation and peacemaking from inside a bubble, as I would. I can point to history books, and documentaries, all while living comfortably in my little rural town in North Carolina. Volf saw his country torn apart by civil war. He saw two sides gather in the name of God, and pillage, rape, and kill each other with genocidal viger. The things I saw on tv as a teenager, happened in his backyard, so to speak. So whenever he speaks about reconciling enemies, he doesn’t mean two sides that just don’t get along,  he means enemies. 

Enemies Are Relative

Of course, if we’re talking about peacemaking and embracing our enemies, it’s helpful to know who our enemies are. I’d also venture that it’s helpful to know if they are an actual enemy, or nothing more than a perceived enemy. For instance, in my younger, more brash days, any Christian who didn’t share my specific beliefs — within an undefined perameter, mind you — I considered a heretic! (Sorry, Rob Bell.) To borrow from On Distant Shores by Five Iron Frenzy, “And off of the blocks, I was headstrong and proud. At the front of the line of the card carrying high brows. With both eyes fastened tight, yet unscarred from the fight. Running at full tilt, my sword pulled from its hilt…Casting first stones, killing my own.” 

But  if experience is any kind of teacher, I’ve come to find that “enemy” is a relative term. (Once again, if that enemy is an actual enemy.) We don’t get to choose our enemies. Nor do we know if and when we’ve met one. But they are relative nonetheless. For some, an enemy is someone who simply makes life a little more challenging. These enemies don’t pose a threat to anyone; however, they are just harder to love than most. And frustratingly, folks who have these types of enemies, are the ones who just love to quote Jesus at people. “Well Brother, I hate that that’s happening, but Jesus said to love and pray for our enemies.” (Yeah, easy for you, buddy. The only thing you’re dealing with is hiding your frustration. Meanwhile, I was just abused by my pastor.) I remember posting a status about this once, and a missionary buddy of mine commented, “Yeah, while some people are dealing with bruised egos, I walk passed corrupt local police who are dressed like soldiers, complete with automatic weapons. Loving them is not simple.” 

Thankfully, there are people throughout history who have endured far more than said bruised egos. Volf, as I mentioned above, if not personally, saw it in his countrymen. Likewise, there is Corrie ten Boom, who was a Holocaust survivor. She once said, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.” And lest it be said that that was easy for her to say post concentration camp, she once told a story of meeting one of the officers responsible for her daily nightmares, years later, and with much internal struggle, still managed to forgive. 

Why Say All This?

What’s the point? Well isn’t it obvious?!? Particularly in the United States, we are living in a time of absolute lunacy. Forgiveness is a foreign language, and at this point, may even be banned as a threat to the country! But forgive we must! Especially if you claim the Name of the Divine Interupter, who forgave and gave his life for the very people who unjustly arrested and murdered him. On a Roman cross no less! 

We are living in a time when all one has to do is say one criticism of their opponent, and that opponent flies off the comment section handle, and projects every form of vitriol they can conjur. Conservatives are more guilty of this than liberals these days; but liberals, you’re guilty all the same. 

The Big Idea of Forgiveness

Whether we are conservative or liberal, climate deniers or protectors, Christian or Muslim, we are all human. We are interdependent of one another. Conservatives don’t have all the answers. Liberals don’t have all the answers. Christians (being one myself I can say with utmost certainty) don’t have all the answers. And Muslims are tired of being blamed for every little bump in the night. 

Conservatives, you don’t get to call every opponent a liberal snowflake just because they challenged your thinking. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work with liberals to make this world better. 

Liberals, you don’t get to write off all conservatives as brainless morons because they deny climate change. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work together. 

There really are bigger, badder, more wicked threats out there than bruised egos. And while we’re busy calling each other names on social media (yes, I do it too!), those threats are rolling on. People’s rights are being stolen for no other reason than their sexual orientation, or that their skin color is different than their lawmakers’ (here’s looking at you North Carolina General Assembly!) 

There is a scene in the Outlander Series where Jamie Fraser, who earlier on had been brutalized by his enemy Black Jack Randall, and as he (Jamie) is helping his own daughter forgive her enemy, he comes to his own realization, Black Jack is only a man. Yes, he did terrible, terrible things. But he was only a mortal man. Not only that, but forgiveness is not a one time event, but rather many events over time. 

Whoever your enemy is, no matter what they’ve done, they are only mortal. Life is worth far more than spending it hunkered down in bitter hatred because someone doesn’t agree with you. 

Forgive as if humanity depended on it. 

More to come on this very difficult subject later.

An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

Dear Mr. Graham, 

I’ve watched you over the years. 

As a kid, I was first introduced to you through an interview in which you shared your life story. You shared how you cursed your father’s name and faith, and ran from God, but God saved you nonetheless. I remember the funny story you told about that one time you chopped down a tree with a machine gun. 

I watched when you stepped into your father’s role, and took over his evangelistic mission to the world. From the outside looking in, you seemed like a genuinely tenderhearted, compassionate person.

I have commended you for your work with Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child, by which you bring simple Christmas gifts to children throughout the world living in poverty and pain. 

A friend of mine, whose mother was tragically killed in a car accident when he was a teenager, once told me how you and your wife essentially adopted he and his brothers, so that his father would not have to raise them all on his own. 

I was impressed by how, in television interviews, you could take any question, and turn it back to the Gospel. I mean, it’s something you’re infamous for. “Mr. Graham, do you think children should have seat belts on school busses?” “That’s a great question. I’m not really sure what the answer is. But it reminds me of a day, 2000 years ago, when Jesus told his disciples to come to him like little children…”

Which is why I find your endorsement of Donald Trump, the message of your 2016 American tour, and your recent comments about the Election on Facebook, so frustratingly odd. It’s not surprising to me that you would endorse conservative politicians over liberal ones. Being that you lean right yourself, I would have been more shocked if you had endorsed a liberal. That is neither here nor there. 

But you toured this country, making a stop in all 50 states, and preached a warning to American Christians to beware of those “godless liberals, and their atheistic progressive agenda.” Once again, I wasn’t surprised by your message. It’s one that you have become known for in recent years. 

I was very shocked by your endorsement of Donald Trump, though. It’s one thing to endorse a conservative over a liberal. That’s just politics. It’s another matter altogether when the man that you’re endorsing openly ran his campaign on racism and xenophobia. 

Mr. Trump blamed undocumented Mexican immigrants for America’s economic woes, when in fact research done by The Pew Research Center shows that they only make up 52% of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country, and that that percentage has decreased during the Obama administration. I realize that 52% is a high number, but by only focusing on Mexican immigrants (and calling them criminals, rapists, and drug dealers) Mr. Trump overlooks the data that a large portion of those 11 million people came to the US with a legal work visa, and overstayed their welcome. Moreover, this research shows that these folks are less likely to commit crime, and can’t participate in our social serives, because that would run the risk of being sent back home, wherever that is! 

Mr. Trump called for a registration of all Muslims living in the US because a certain radicalized few committed acts of terrorism in the name of Islam. Would you support a Christian Registry, if ISIL called themselves a Christian group, or if those acts of terror were committed in the name of Jesus? I doubt that you would. 

Mr. Trump’s history of misogyny and sexism has been well documented, even before his campaign and the leaked tape with Billy Bush. And time does not allow me to go into his history of litigation, numerous failed business ventures, constant lies, and overall human indecency. 

But you, together with James Dobson and other leading evangelical voices, brushed all that aside, and uncharacteristically excused it, claiming that Mr. Trump was a “baby Christian.” His words and actions, and peoples’ consciences – Christians’ consciences – didn’t matter to you nearly as much as his political platform. It is as if the prospect of conservative judges on the Supreme Court, and a President that said marriage is one man, one woman, blinded you! Or worse, made strength of character obsolete. 

This thought was only amplified by your recent comments in The Charlotte Observer. It wasn’t the Russians who intervened in this year’s election, it was God. At least you admitted that you can’t substantiate your claim, and that it’s just something you believe. 

But surely you understand that if God intervened in this election, and answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people praying for this country, it stands to reason that he did the same in 2008 and 2012 with President Obama. And surely you understand that when Paul told Timothy to pray for governing officials, and when he told the Romans that all government was set in place by God, that he was referring to Roman Emperors, who were actually violently persecuting the Church. Such is the mystery of a sovereign God acting in his providence. 

Or have you forgotten the message of the Gospel upon which you and your father built your legacy? The same Gospel that calls the unrighteous to repent of their unrighteousness, calls the righteous to repent of their damnable good works. In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned the religious that merely obeying the Law was deceptive, because it gave the appearance of faith, when their hearts were far from him! “Depart from me, I never knew you!”? Being a prodigal son, I would hope that this concept is not lost on you, or that you have not now become the elder brother refusing to come to the celebration. 

Though I do enjoy making fun of you, I do not condemn you. Nor do I wish you ill will. But I do condemn your one-sided Gospel, which has allowed you to demonize liberals, and idolize conservatives. 

Do good in this world; if necessary, involve the government. And if you believe in a God in Heaven, well, can you think of a more qualified helper?!? The First Century Church didn’t have a political voice, and yet they made certain laws and social practices obsolete! I envision the same for the Church in America. 

Peace be with you!

Keith Holmes