Peace be with You – And with Me!
Photo by Brett Davis on Flickr.
My brain is on overload. Or is it my heart? The images from our nation’s capitol these past two weeks have been shocking, tragic, and dispiriting.
As painful as they have been, they are no surprise. They are a natural result of a nation divided by world views and ideologies, between white people and people of color, and a Church that is divided over the implications of the gospel.
An Unexpected Visit
My sister-in-law Nancy visited our house last week while she was waiting for one of her exchange students to complete an English exam. She and my wife Jan sat in the backyard on an unusually warm January day.
Because of the pandemic’s limitations, Nancy’s visit was the first opportunity Jan has had to ask a Christian and a Trump supporter how they felt about the attack on the nation’s Capitol.
The two spoke humbly and kindly to each other as their family is in the habit of doing (mine gets in your face), but when I visited them a couple of hours later, I could tell that they were both drained.
You see, my sister-in-law is a member of a church that believes Trump’s world view is an accurate depiction of reality, that systemic racism is a fabrication of the political left, and that reelection to the presidency was stolen from him. Her church friends also support a myriad of conspiracy theories, some of which I’ve never heard before, but all of which scare me to death.
When I attempted to ask her a few questions, Jan stepped in and said, “Nancy and I have talked enough for one day.”
I Am No Better
As I reflect on my sister-in-law’s visit, and how civilly two sisters from different ends of the political and theological spectrums were talking to each other, I realized how much I need to grow in my own spirit—how deeply depraved I am and in need of God’s forgiveness and salvation.
When our nation’s capitol was breeched on January 6, my natural inclination was to scream in anger and horror, if only inwardly. As I watched the throngs of white people desecrating a hallowed symbol of democracy, all sorts of damning words came to mind. You can fill in the blanks.
In my fear and pain over what “people like them” were and are doing to destroy our democracy, not to mention the Christian witness many of them profess to uphold, I wanted to smite them, which sounds a lot more pious than what I wanted to write.
And then I realized, if this is where I go in my fear and pain, I am no better than they are.
As Jan cautions me nearly daily, “You shouldn’t blame them, they are just doing what their pastors and politicians are teaching them to do.”
“Uncritically!” I respond, quickly each time. But I understand her point.
When Conflicts Turn Violent
Since the beginning of time, conflicts over politics and religion have turned violent. Who can forget the rallying cry of the Crusades, “It is God’s will!” And now, in the wake of so many white supremacists breaching our nation’s capitol, and with the abiding reality of dramatically polarized worldviews, I sometimes feel like taking up that battle cry myself!
And yet, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
So, in my sinful thoughts, I resonate with the Apostle Paul’s words to the Church in Rome, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
But here is the big picture. We live in a nation that is increasingly polarized by politics and religion. Sometimes I feel like we are regressing into the dark ages, caught in the middle of rationality and religious faith, or at least between rationality and religious-political authoritarianism.
And yet, we Presbyterians, because we are Reformed Christians, “have something unique to offer amidst the swirling clamor,” as my fellow presbytery executive Ken Moe wrote years ago. “We are the ones who affirm that rationality and faith belong together as partners in wholeness.”
Not “holiness,” of course, because we will never agree on what that looks like, but wholeness.
Our theology and polity help us in this regard. Regularly confessing our sin, individually and corporately, keeps us aware that abandoned to our own devices, we would be tempted to use any means to achieve our desired ends, as so many politicians are prone to do these days.
And our polity, the way we govern ourselves, seeks to assuage our mutual suspicions about one another, and orders our lives together in ways that protect the church and its members from our worst inclinations.
I believe these gifts—that shape us as Presbyterians—are uniquely needed at this moment in the public square and secular politics.
Our temptation, of course, is to resort too quickly to the ways of the world, to name-calling and to putting others in ideological boxes, especially when we feel threatened. So, if we want to be more like the Christ to whom we have pledged our allegiance, we need to slow down, take a deep breath, and ask for God’s intervention.
I think this was the holy magic of Martin Luther King’s strategy of non-violence. Where others only have the weapons of the world, we have the weapons of love, hope, justice, and faith. Whereas others have weapons that condemn and destroy, ours build up, at least over time. As my friend likes to say, “Love wins in the end.”
Bridging the Chasm
If I am ever to bridge the chasm between people like my sister-in-law and myself, I first need to see them as people who need grace just like I do. It requires people like me letting go of our conceit that we occupy the moral high ground, even the intellectual and theological high ground, so we might listen to their stories with humility. Only by doing so will we ever win their trust, much less deserve it.
A Common Objection
You may object, “But what if their motives are antithetical to everything you value—the Church’s witness to Christ, democracy, justice, all those?”
And I would say, “That is entirely possible, but treating people as fellow travelers made in the image of God seems to be the way of Jesus, especially when their values and actions cause me great sorrow.” Truthfully, I wish it were easier, or at least didn’t involve so much suffering, but that is the way of the cross.
On this eve of the inauguration of our nation’s 46th president, two days after celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., I pray for peace. I pray, beginning with me, that I would lay down the world’s weapons and pick up the weapons of God, which ultimately result in heaven breaking in upon this earth, this place where we are called, in Dr. King’s words, to be God’s “beloved community.”
So, I end where I began, peace be with you—and with me.
On the journey with you,