I write this as the news from across the pond sinks in about their government shut-down. Whilst the reasons behind the shut-down are complex, one thing is certainly true: in a political system designed to require compromise (a 2/3rds majority, in the case of their budget), compromise is ever further from senators’ grasps.
We seem to be living in an ever polarising world. I too am guilty of this. Since Brexit I have hardened my heart towards people whom I know to hold rightwing views – I hold them responsible for what I believe are the fallacies that encouraged millions of people to vote for a back-door to ditching regulation and human rights.
Yet I find myself constantly reminded that I am – we are – called not to judge others, but to love them. Love is hard. But as Jesus said: “Love your enemies […] If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”
Not only does Jesus call us to love them, but he calls us to actively work with and for them!
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. […] If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. –
Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 5
The brief context for this is that Roman soldiers often demanded – and had a legal right to demand – that a Jewish citizen carry their possessions for them for a mile, to give them a rest. Why on earth would Jesus encourage that – and suggest going another mile? Well, there’s a power dynamic at play here. By going the extra mile for them, you would be not only jeopardising their job (it would cause them to break the law!) but also showing up and making them look greedy.
Subversion is fantastic.
But on the way, whilst you journey with them, you might begin to understand the stress they’re under, you might find out that they’re exhausted, tired, fed up with their commanders demands – and be glad you’re helping to carry their backpack, in some small way.
You might also wince at their imperialist views, views Jewish intelligence, or find it hard to hear about how they treat their women, or your God.
You might find that despite all this, they’re hilarious. That they have an unerring devotion to their partner, and to their children. That actually, they’re really not very secure – which might explain some of their views – and that they just want to know love, peace and grace.
Fortunately for them, you follow Jesus, and that’s what he talks about all the time. If there’s one thing you know a lot about, it’s how to experience love, peace and grace.
Let’s bring ourselves back to the here and now. My point is this: if we take the time to get to know those whom we oppose, dislike… maybe even despise, then we might find enough in common with them to learn to love them. And that love might lead to a friendship – or at the very least some kind of relational experience – which can lead to the exchange of ideas and values – the greatest of which is love.
Too often we shout at others from the sidelines. Wether it’s the “idiots” who voted for Brexit, the “bigots” who oppose aspects of who we are, the “ignorant” atheists who want to destroy our belief systems, the “power hungry” politicians, the “selfish” bankers. Each and everyone of them, just like us, have their own belief systems – often given to them from a young age – and insecurities – gathered over a lifetime.
I’m saddened to see the way that the world treats those who aren’t part of the “enlightened liberal” crowd that I and most of my friends and acquaintances find ourselves.
The vitriol given to religious people who are “behind the times” is one that has stuck out to me recently. Yes, their views are abhorrent. Yes, their attitudes are based on an understanding of the Bible that we think we’ve moved on from. But what we shouldn’t do is use that to allow them to continue to be an ‘enemy’. Especially for those of us who, like me, share with them a faith – whether we like that or not!
As Jesus said, “love your enemies”.
That means drawing on the peace, grace and love that we have found in our own walk with God, and using it to help us to treat others with love and respect, even when they don’t deserve it. I am fully aware that I say this as a straight, white, wealthy man – unburdened by the hurt that a lot of religious conservatism has caused – but equally I don’t think that the experience of the love, grace and peace of God was meant only for someone like me! And I believe it is that which empowers us to do and be more than we would have imagined.
Just like the teaching of the soldier and the extra mile, we might find ourselves with someone we wouldn’t normally cross paths with – and they (or even we) might become all the richer for journeying with them.
The likes of Steve Chalke, Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo… and other prominent Evangelical names, have in recent years all talked about how they were brought up with the view that homosexuality is wrong. They’ve all since changed their minds – and in one case in their eighth decade! Why? because they have met people, they have seen the suffering caused by their views, and they have changed their views accordingly.
Sometimes, all it takes is walking the extra mile.