The owner of the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia recently asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Saunders to leave her establishment because she found her political views and her association with Donald Trump offensive. Her decision to deny her service has once again divided the country between those who accuse her of intolerance and bigotry and those who applaud her for standing up to a bully who works for a bully. Some commentators have pointed out that Donald Trump’s vulgar tone and demeaning comments towards his political enemies has unleashed a similar backlash. Now, Maxine Waters is on record fanning this new confrontational phase of our political disagreements, encouraging everyone to publically harass all members of the Trump administration, denying them public accommodations whenever the opportunity arises.
This will not end well.
Meanwhile, as if on cue, my pastor preached a sermon for this particular moment and blasted me between the eyes with a particularly stark and uncomfortable passage from the Sermon on the Mount...
“You have heard it said,’Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in Heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Jesus Christ, Matthew 5: 43-47
With this statement, our Lord and savior introduced the only truly revolutionary idea in the history of the world...love your enemies. He makes no exceptions, offers no categories of enemies which might be exempt. He doesn’t even deny that enemies exist. He just commands us to love them. It’s disturbing to hear because it condemns us...all of us. We are no good at this. We much prefer revenge and hatred.
Then my pastor made a couple of statements which I will try to accurately paraphrase...
“This is a large church with a wide range of political opinions. I know many of us who voted for Hillary Clinton, and many others of us who voted for Donald Trump. And, by saying that I know what thought just popped into many of your minds...’How can you be a Christian and vote for _________?? If that’s you...stop it. Don’t go there. One of the highest goals of discipleship is preventing hatred from growing in the human heart...”
Tribalism is the degeneration of human organization which reduces every encounter down to us vs. them. This leads to the concept that the friend of my enemy must become my enemy. Eventually, when life is lived in this way, we no longer are able to see our enemies as human beings. Once that happens, the door is wide open to every kind of cruelty.
In 2018, we find ourselves in a scary place. For me, it no longer matters who started it. Which side is more responsible for the growing hatred and animosity seems very much beside the point. After all, the audience on that hillside in Galilee all those years ago were people living under the brutal occupation of Roman soldiers. They all knew who the aggressors were, and still...Jesus implored them to abandon their hatred, and choose love. That’s an astounding request and must have seemed impossible to Jesus’ audience, no less impossible to us. But, if we are to survive this place in our history...it’s our only hope.