31 August 2018

Hating the opposition.

Talking politics is a minefield. I’m gonna dance through it today anyway.

Half the folks I know are progressive, and the other half conservative. Half Democrat, half Republican. School and work friends lean progressive, family and church friends t’other.

(Yes, even my fellow seminarians lean progressive. Not because I went to a liberal seminary or anything; I certainly didn’t. But because when you wanna get into ministry and help people, you find the progressives tend to be more helpful, and the conservatives more Darwinian. But that’s a whole other discussion.)

I grew up conservative—conservative parents, conservative churches, conservative friends. So that’s what I used to be. I’m far more moderate now. I often refer to myself as a “recovering conservative,” as those in the 12-step programs tend to describe themselves: I used to hew to the party lines pretty tightly, ’cause I was raised to think all true Christians thought and voted that way. But now I follow Jesus, and let him determine my political views.

To the dismay of both my leftist and rightist friends, many of whom are entirely sure Jesus thinks like they do, and think I’m wrong to believe otherwise. Progressive friends insist a real Christian oughta be as progressive as they; conservative friends suspect I’ve gone completely wrong, abandoned Jesus, and forfeited my soul. They can’t fathom the idea they might be wrong. Whereas I know I’m wrong. If I ever adopt the delusion I have God all figured out, that’s when I’ve gone completely wrong.

Anyway. Part of the reason my various friends struggle with me is because they hate the opposition.

It’s not dislike. It’s not a respectful disagreement. It’s hatred. They’re entirely sure the other side is evil. And to be fair, the other side definitely has a lot of evil people mixed in there. There are self-centered, exploitative, irresponsible, destructive sinners on both sides. Hard to say which side has more of them.

I know; both sides will insist, “It’s obviously the other side.” Partly because they’re willing to extend a lot of grace to the sinners on their own side; just look at all the pastors who blindly support certain politicians, candidates, and office-holders solely because they share a party. Partly because they extend no such grace to the other side, and assume the worst of every last one of them. Or believe the worst rumors they’ve heard about them.

In the end they justify loving their political friends and hating their political enemies, and presume the following teaching of Jesus doesn’t apply to their situation:

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said:‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

And yeah, this instruction applies to politics too. Arguably it’s primarily about politics. Because whom did first-century Jews consider an enemy? The devil? The neighbor down the street who was awful to them? Or the occupying Roman forces, or the stifling Roman puppet governments like the Herods and the Judean senate? More often it was their political adversaries, whom they were hoping Messiah would come and overthrow. What they didn’t realize is Messiah wants us to overthrow our enemies by turning them into friends.

Praying for the president.

I pray for the president.

I admit he’s a hard man to pray for. Feels like I complain to God about him more than anything. But it’s my duty as a Christian to pray for civic leaders.

1 Timothy 2.1-3 KWL
1 So first thing: I encourage you to make requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving
for all people, 2 for kings, and all who have high rank.
Thus we can live lives in peace and quiet, in all godliness and seriousness.
3 This is good and acceptable before our savior, God.

Paul had to throw in that last line—verse 3—for those Christians who don’t care to pray for any civic leaders, because God’s our only real king, the only one who really saves us. Plenty of isolationist Christians ignore verse 3 anyway, and show no respect to civic institutions; they’re full of power-hungry sinners you know. In so doing they also ignore verses 1-2, ’cause praying for “all people” includes those sinners, and verse 2 points ’em out in particular.

Back when Bill Clinton was president, I knew a lot of conservatives who’d dutifully pray for a president they despised… and whose prayers for the president were mighty sarcastic. Regular quotes of Psalm 109, for example.

Psalm 109.6-13 KWL
6 Place a wicked person over him, with Satan standing at his right.
7 May those judging him return an evil verdict, and his prayers be offensive.
8 May his days be few, and another ruler supervise him.
9 May his children become fatherless, and his woman a widow.
10 May his children wander, wander, begging, digging through trash.
11 May debt seize everything he owns, and strangers steal his labor.
12 May he never find love; his fatherless children never be given grace.
13 May his generation be the last one, and his family name be wiped out.

You know, evil hateful stuff. I admit I’d do it too, and I was half-kidding. But God personally ordered me to start praying for the president at that time, and he isn’t half-kidding about such things. He wanted me to stop thinking of the president as an enemy.

I tried weaseling around praying for the president in the George W. Bush era, by praying for the office rather than the guy. But there’s not a lot of distinction between any one person and that person’s office. We claim there is, but in positions of real power, the office continually evolves to fit the person. This is especially true of the presidency. You wanna pray for the office of the president; you can’t help but wind up praying for the person in that office.

So, I’m not permitted the loophole of hostile prayers, and I’m not permitted the loophole of praying around the guy. I had to pray for the man in the office. Even if I really don’t like the man in the office, and sometimes I really don’t. Particularly lately.

But I found when you’re praying for something or someone, you can’t help but become sympathetic. You certainly can’t hate them. And when I was praying for Bill Clinton, my Republican friends were growing greatly alarmed because I used to bash the guy right along with them. Now I was no fun anymore. I couldn’t participate in their sin.

(I didn’t straight-out tell them it was sin. I simply pointed out there was no logical justification for all their rage and anger. I let the Holy Spirit do all the convicting. It worked, ’cause they got super uncomfortable around me.)

Anyway. When I encounter such hate, I totally understand it. Can’t approve of it, but totally understand it. It’s an indication of civic idolatry. The fruit of the Spirit is love, not hate. Those who hate are seeking political power, rather than surrendering all their power to Jesus. Stands to reason they lack God’s fruit.

I know; their excuse is, “I hate sin. It’s okay to hate sin.” Yes it is. It’s perfectly fine to hate evil. But the problem is humans do a lousy job of distinguishing between evil and evildoers. We don’t get to hate the evildoers. We do it anyway, ’cause deep down we’re evil and are looking for an excuse. But Jesus doesn’t give us one.

We defeat evil with love. Not with more evil. We love the sinners and in so doing draw them to Jesus. We never treat them with anything other than love. It is so easy to be tempted to sin against sinners; it is so easy to forget we’re sinners too, and no better than the sinners we condemn. Idolaters easily forget this ’cause their justification comes from karma, not Jesus. It’s works, not grace.

So I gotta show grace… to Donald Trump of all people. Man is it hard to follow Jesus sometimes.