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.

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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

Research and Journalism 

Warning: This post is going to seem political in nature, but it’s not. I will use politics as my backdrop to illustrate a bigger idea. So it’s kinda like Friday Night Lights. The central characters may be a football coach and his players, but  football actually has very little to do with the show. 

One of the things that pissed me off the most about the 2016 Election is the fact that I actually got involved in it. 

You see, you have to understand that most of my mentors for a broad span of my life (1999-2012) taught me that being a Christian meant that I had to vote for republicans. So, shortly after coming to faith in Christ, they told me that George W. Bush was a Christian, and Christians needed to support Christian leaders. It’s important to note that I was never told anything about policy, character, or record/experience, which is what we should be focusing on. Just whether or not a candidate was prolife and anti-gay rights (Yeah, “biblical values” were also always only summed up in these two single issues.)  

So, as tends to be my M.O., when I escaped from such hypocritical bullshit, I threw the baby out with the bath water. I didn’t just give up republican politics, I gave up on ALL politics. It’s also important to note that, while I did abandon the notion that Republican = God’s Party, I had also never relinquished the idea that Democrat = Satan’s Team (I once even told an old friend, “As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a little bit liberal, you’re a whole lot sinful.”). Now that I think about it, it should’ve been  much easier to transition out of such thinking. If what they taught me about “God’s Party” was wrong, then shouldn’t it stand to reason that they also misinformed me about “Satan’s Team”? 

I was enjoying my politics-free life. Really enjoying it. Really, really enjoying it. Really! I don’t think words can express just how much I enjoyed it. I mean, I got to chuckle at my republican brethren every time they’d freak out, and everything. 

“No, dude, Kim Davis isn’t being persecuted for her faith, she’s just enduring the natural consequences of refusing to do her job, and forbidding the people of her office from doing their’s.” 

“Calm it down, Franky G! President Obama isn’t mocking God by projecting the image of the rainbow flag on the White House. It’s just a symbol of solidarity and unity. And it’s just weird that you would judge people for using a symbol that God used to say he wouldn’t judge people.” 

“No, Starbucks has not declared war on Christmas with their red cups. And calling yourself ‘Merry Christmas’ so that they’ll be forced to say it, just means you paid them to say it, which is odd, since you yourself don’t want to be forced to say ‘Happy Hoidays!’And your capitalistic contribution to their store suggests that their offense wasn’t so offensive as to curb your craving for a burnt caffeine fix.” 

I was just happier than a pig in poop. Well, okay. Maybe I didn’t enjoy it that much. But I at least got to enjoy the smug warm glow of someone freshly detached from expectation. 

Enter Election 2016, and the Gas Lighting tactics of Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump ran a campaign based on lies, bigotry, lies, xenophobia, lies, misogyny, lies, and, when necessary, more lies. Two of his main arguments were that America was not great because of all the undocumented Mexican immigrants hopping our border and bringing crime and drugs into the country, and Muslims using our “unrestrictive” immigration laws to act as Trojan Horses, and commit violence in the country. Those who know their history were reminded all too well that Hitler promised to make Germany great again by removing the “Jewish threat” to its economy, and that during WWII, America imprisoned upwards of 120,000 Japanese Americans, 62% of which were actually born and raised American citizens. Coupled with how Mr. Trump treated women (something that has been well documented even before his campaign), these things made me see this election, not as a political issue (mere republicans vs democrats), but a moral one. I asked myself how I would feel if they created a Christian Registry because of the antics of Westboro Baptist (treating the whole for the sins of the few). I picked my candidate, and the battle was on. 

Now, one of the main counter tactics of the President-elect was to gas light the media. Meaning that he would say something, they would report on it, and he would counter that they were lying about him. People in general were already suspicious of the mainstream media, where “If it bleeds, it leads.” (Russell Brand even said once, “Its not the news, it’s a list of carefully selected stories to continue to [control you].”) But Trump’s supporters went beyond mere suspicion, to accusation. Unless their source said it, or because the information they received made him look bad, the news media “had to be lying.” I heard “liberal media bias” more times than I care to remember. 

And that brings me to my big point. How can we know if what we are reading or watching in the media is true or not? Because I saw a version of this play out on my friend’s status the other day. 

This friend posted: I wonder if Trump would believe that it’s not the DNC but US intelligence agencies reporting that Russia hacked into DNC, if say, he attended his daily briefings. 

One of the comments that rolled in said, “Obama didn’t attend 90% of his while he was sitting president. Didn’t hear no one bitching then. Just sayin.” 

And I was just too curious. It’s one thing to say that President Obama didn’t attend some of his briefings, that’s just understandable. But 90%? So I asked, “Got some evidence to back such a bold claim?” 

But this wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew he wouldn’t answer. In the least, due to my other experiences, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect to be told to “just google it” or “look for it on Facebook” or that “it’s common knowledge.” So I looked it up myself. And this honestly pisses me off. Because in the world of reason and debate, when you make a claim, the burden of proof is on you, not your opponent. It’s your responsibility to back up your claim with evidence, not get your opponent to do it for you. When you make a claim, you need to show that you’re not just pulling that information out of your ass, or basing it on false information. For instance, if everyone I work with says that my blanket is blue, but I say it’s brown, it’s up to me to prove it, not them. “I used to have a blue blanket, but I replaced it with a brown one.”

Nevertheless, I looked it up on my own anyway. So I commented again, “Never Mind. I found what you were talking about. President-elect Trump tweeted that Obama only attended 42% of his security briefings. This was based on a false report spread by Steve Bannon and Breitbart…Fact Checkers at The Washington Post gave this claim 3 Pinocchios. In other words, the claim is one big liar, liar, pants on fire.”

To which another commenter stated, “Oh yes, and The Washington Post is such a wonderful source of unbiased truth!” (And note, once again, this person did not give any kind of evidence for this claim. It was just supposed to be taken at face value.) 

My answer to this person is the big idea that I want to share. And it is another point of contention for me. Because I’m really not that smart. Now I don’t mean that in a self degrading way, as in “I’m an idiot.” But rather that these are not ideas that I came up with all on my own. I didn’t wake up one day, and say, “You know what? I’m going to come up with certain rules for how to argue with someone…” These are just basics. Like Isaac Newton, I’m standing on the shoulders of Giants. Because, truth be told, when it comes to the more refined rules of logic and reason – the logical cube for instance –  I get lost. In fact, I find it easier to understand the fallacies than the actual rules. But the way in which people respond to certain arguments, suggests mental laziness. I ask, “Where did you get that information?” or “Can you give me some examples of what you mean?” And the answer is “Just google it, or look for it on Facebook.” In other words, “That’ll take too much of my time, why don’t you use your time to prove my claim? Or worse, it suggests that they don’t really have concrete evidence, and everything they’ve claimed is based on hearsay. Maybe even hoping that I’ll settle for a stalemate. 

And also, this goes beyond politics. You can use the following for any kind of information seeking. I just happen to be using it in a debate about politics. 

“You bring up a great question that’s worth considering. And I mean that. Because even though we live in the Information Age, where we have all the world’s information at our fingertips (literally), the internet is still full of misinformation. (The Internet said that Russell Brand died in a snowboarding accident, which really surprised him when he read it!!!) So how do we determine if a source is acting on bias or fact? 

1. Journalism 101: Report the facts, as they are, and allow the facts to make the case. It is fact that the  president-elect tweeted that President Obama only attended 42% of his security briefings. It is fact that this number was based on the story spread by Steve Bannon’s publication. It is a fact that multiple fact checking sources have proven this allegation to be false. 

So even if you disregard the Washington Post, there are still numerous credible sources that disapprove the claim. And literally all I did was google “Did Obama miss 90% of his security briefings?”. And what came up were Breitbart articles, New York Times articles, Boston Globe articles, NBC news articles, and the Washington Post article that I quoted directly in my original answer. 

2. Research 101: Use multiple, trusted, unbiased, and when necessary, opposing sources that provide evidence for or against your case. Evidence determines the verdict, not the other way around. 

In high school, I once wrote a paper advocating for prayer in the classroom. I looked high and low, but couldn’t find any evidence to support my claim. But instead of allowing that lack of evidence to change my argument, I forced the solution into my paper, because that’s the solution I wanted. So my research paper ended up being a 4-page Op-Ed with bible references to prayer. I was lucky I only got a C.

The president-elect’s tweet was based on a single source known for its alt-right bias, and fake or misleading stories. Just recently the Weather Channel debunked Breitbart’s claim that TWC disproved climate change, stating that Breitbart “cherry picked the information they wanted to hear.” (It’s always fun when the person you quoted tells you what they really said, and how you misrepresented their findings.) 

3. Just because a person leans a particular way, does not mean that they are biased toward that way. All of us lean a certain way. We all have beliefs that determine our values, ideologies, politics, etc. I daresay that it would be impossible to make even the simplest decision without them. But our leanings do not excuse us from truth

So for instance, I am a Democrat, and I value democratic values. However that does not mean that I get to deny how shady the DNC acted toward Bernie during the primaries. Or to put it in a different way, I don’t like Donald Trump. I lean away from him. But if he gets up tomorrow and states, “The sky is blue!”, I can’t say, “Well that’s a totally biased statement!”, because he would be stating the truth. 

4. I fear that certain Trump supporters claim bias, simply because the source is a liberal, and not because they’ve actually observed bias in that source. Or worse, that bias has been redefined to mean “they report more bad stuff about my guy, than their’s.” For instance, Politico fact checked every claim made by Trump and Clinton from the moment they each began their campaign up until a week before the election. Certain folks cried foul, because Trump had something like 230 fact-checked statements, while Clinton only had 150. “Why the disproportionate number of checks?” They demanded. Simple answer: Trump made more claims. It’s hard to fact check a claim that doesn’t exist. What matters in the end is not the number of claims checked, but whether they were true or not. 

The Washington Post may have a staff full of liberals. But they are under journalistic obligstion – an ethical obligation – to report the facts as they are. Just because they write a story that points out the skeletons in Trump’s closet, does not mean they are biased against him, or lying. It just means you’ve gotta do some more research.”

  

Are You Not Entertained?

The more I read the Gospels, the historical accounts about Jesus in the New Testament, the more I see just how masterful he was at teaching people. Very often Jesus’ points were constructed in such a way that his listeners, no matter who they were, left without a question as to what he was talking about. Well, except for those pesky parables that were designed to stump his listeners. Those who got him, got his message. Those who did not get him, continued to see a mere rabble-rouser.

At one point, he actually pokes fun at his opponents, and compares them to spoil sport kids playing games in the street. “We played a dancing game, but it was the wrong tune. We played a funeral game, but it wasn’t quite gloomy enough.” His point was that his opponents were never satisfied, unless they got to call the shots.

To put his words in a more modern context, here’s how I would say it: “To what shall I compare the American Church? You’re like kids playing Street Preacher. When we emphasized grace, you said we needed more truth. But when we did emphasize truth, you said it we had no right, since we had previously put such an emphasis on grace.”

The 2016 election exposed a line of hypocrisy in the Evangelical Right. They don’t desire people to believe the truth – that which describes reality correctly, such as the sky is blue, and the grass is green. Instead, they want people to believe the truth that they have deemed important.

There was public outrage against “Pussy Gate” (The leaked tape of Mr. Trump and Billy Bush on the bus). I don’t know about you, but the response I heard most often from evangelicals was, “You didn’t have this reaction when it came to Fifty Shades, or Beyoncé or whatever fill-in-the-blank sexy thing you can think of, so you have no right to complain now.” The very same people who lament that “this world” doesn’t care for truth, the very same who threaten people’s salvation because of a perceived lack of absolute/objective truth, became whole hearted relativists in 2016. (More like they brought their relativism into the light, for all to see.)

Sexual assault (“I just grab ’em, I don’t even ask, I just do it.”) became “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys.” “Baby Christian” became a license to dismiss the conscience and morality,  and embrace irreverency and outright immorality and indecency.

When Jesus compared the religious elite of his day to mere children playing a game, the point was that they always had to change the rules to make their game fit, and ensure that they would win. It’s no different with the American Evangelical Right. They accuse the culture of embracing relative truth – that which is true for me, but not for you – and not having a moral compass. But then a whole wave of people wakes up, and starts to show a moral compass and that truth does actually matter, and the accusation became, “you embraced it too late.”

Always needing to up the stakes.

It makes me think of the scene in Gladiator, where maximus looks around the arena after killing his opponent, and balks, “Are you not entertained? Is this not what you came here for? Are you not entertained?” Maximus was booed for killing his competition too quickly. Evangelical leaders booed the culture for not standing up against their version of wrong. It wasn’t enough! They had to change the rules.

So it’s not just a general sense of right and wrong, it’s gotta be biblical truth that people must embrace. (Which I’m always curious about: what exactly makes biblical truth different, or more truthful than non-biblical/extra biblical truth? Is it more truthful than regular truth?) You can’t get mad at a presidential candidate for advocating a sex crime (and so much more), you have to be mad about every example in which sex was used in a non-procreative way. It has to be their idea, not the culture’s. They had to be the ones to call out sexual immorality, not the culture. Because what? that might give people the impression that truth really is universal, and wrong means wrong, even when a non-Christian states that it is? (I wonder what modern evangelicals would’ve thought about the Nuremberg trials – where other countries put German officers and leaders on trial for war crimes.)

It became increasingly clear: for evangelicals, it wasn’t enough for people to say Trump was lying, or that he was a moral disaster. Since they didn’t stand up for truth that one time, whatever that one time is, this time doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter that this may have been the circumstances that “woke people up,” and showed them that there are things that absolutely should be labeled as wrong or evil, “You are speaking ill of God’s candidate!” If we couldn’t embrace the man, we needed to at least embrace the Party. (Never mind the fact that the Party embraced and endorsed the man!)

So to those evangelicals – the ones who aren’t satisfied – I ask this: when will it be enough? How much truth do we have to embrace, before you believe that we embrace the truth? How much needs to labeled wrong by those outside the faith, before you start to heed the warning, and calling it wrong yourselves?

Are you not entertained? Is this not what you desired? Are you still not yet entertained?