The Enemy Within

Since September 11, 2001, we regularly hear about threats from “outsiders” who want to infiltrate and damage the nation. The biggest threat to a people is the rot that happens from the inside-out.

It seems to me that becoming a Master of the Twitter-verse takes a lot more time, effort, and energy than I am willing to devote. Or waste. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may not believe that, but I put less energy into it than you think.

Despite my lack of Twitter prowess, once in a blue moon I tweet something that strikes a chord with my dozen or so followers. Perhaps it hits a few people beyond that. A couple weekends ago was one of those occasions.

Pete Buttigieg is a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and Democrat candidate for president in 2020. South Carolina congressman James Clyburn essentially put an end to his and all other bids by endorsing Joe Biden. But as an extremely young candidate, Buttigieg surely has political ambitions for the future.

He tweeted a question that at one time served as the calling card for President Ronald Reagan. “Aren’t you better off than you were four years ago?” One of my followers replied that it is much more important to ask if our neighbor is better off than four years ago. I re-tweeted this, with some commentary.

By my rather humble standards, this got a lot of “likes” and retweets. Sadly, not nearly enough people buy into the neighborly philosophy. We forget the foundational ideals of loving our neighbor.

Since September 11, 2001, we have heard ongoing messages about how we need to fear enemies who are outside of this nation. We have lumped Muslims, secularists, immigrants, and generally anyone who does not look like or think like the stereotypical American into this “outsider” category.

Yet, we see a nation that seems more divided than ever and a church that feels powerless to speak into the void of leadership and humanity. Followers of Christ are picking sides, and churches struggle more and more to remain politically neutral, not to mention morally relevant.

This struggle is internal. Outsiders did not do this to us. We did it to ourselves.

The biggest threat to the United States may be the enemy in our own hearts, homes, schools, towns, and places of worship. This is certainly the biggest threat to the American church, and it is slowly eating away at the church’s ability to have a moral compass. Much less provide moral guidance.

If we look at the people of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament, we find out that the biggest threat to a nation or congregation never came from the outside. The internal rot in the hearts of communities causes the mayhem and weeping, if not the outright destruction.

One of the two greatest commandments cited by Jesus is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is this becoming a greater struggle for us? We have either forgotten the essence of this command or we have lost the internal will to follow it. Or maybe both. Or maybe we are just choosing to disregard it.

All of these options are bewildering and potentially devastating. I do not offer this assessment with any hint of righteousness. The self-proclaimed World’s Worst Pastor is as guilty as anyone, and some days are worse than others.

In the Age of Trump, of Progressivism, of protest, of counterprotest, and of rampant “Cancel Culture” that exist across all realms of politics, religion and culture—how can we recapture a commitment to love of neighbor over self?

While I have many opinions (never a shortage of those in our house), I will not venture into the world of systemic or political changes that need to happen. Those are better left for more qualified experts. I will offer a few suggestions, with more to come as we venture forward in this fresh chaos called 2020.

One place to begin is to stop identifying our neighbor with every aspect of everything that he or she supports in some way.

This is certainly a challenge in an era where we tend to decorate our houses, our cars, or ourselves in the garb of our political allegiances. I am not apologetic for saying that some of the devotion to Donald Trump seems disturbing and dangerous.

However, not every person who voted (or will vote) for Donald Trump supports every aspect of Trump’s policies or actions. In the same way, not every person who says Black Lives Matter supports rioting or violence. They do not support every person or every aspect of the movement. It is high time that we acknowledge this among our neighbors.

As an example, I am unapologetically a follower of Christ and believe in the vitality of discipleship in Christ as an essential aspect of humanity. This does not mean I support every idea, theory, concept, or theological position of others who call themselves Christian. It does not mean that I agree with every aspect of those who equate “true” Christianity with following—or opposing—Donald Trump.

When this election is over, we are going to have to find some pathway towards living together in the extreme divisiveness that of this present world. This gets much tougher if we focus on the extremes. If we can recognize the validity of humanity beyond the extremes in ideology, then we have a much greater opportunity to find pathways towards the future.

Forging such pathways is not going to be easy, no matter what political circumstances engulf us after November 3, 2020. To develop some level of understanding, empathy, and humanity, I turn to one thing that seems to bring us together for the common good: Service. Not to politicians or so-called “leaders,” but to others.

In my work and study, the one common denominator that creates empathy and understanding is a commitment to love our neighbor by serving our neighbor. This is unquestionably a command of Jesus Christ, and it is the one thing that seems to create understanding among the servants and the served.

No matter who the president or the pastor or the political commentator is, we cannot avoid the call of God to serve our neighbor above ourselves. By focusing on that call, we gain an empathetic understanding of the “other” that is noticeably absent in videos and news reports.

By serving together for a common good, we learn more about those that we serve and about one another. We learn about the struggles of those who do not look like us or live like us. Most important, we learn about the love of Christ that looks at others as equal to us.

When the Pharisee/lawyer is confronted with Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he replies with a question. “And who is my neighbor?”

It is really a smart-aleck question. He knows damn well who his neighbor is, but he is hoping that Christ will say something to get him off the hook. Jesus does the opposite by putting him ON the hook to love people the Pharisee was taught to despise.

No matter where we stand on November 4, the command to “Love your neighbor” is not going away. By recognizing that there is more to our neighbor than political or social opinions, maybe we can forge a pathway for Christ rather than violent political rhetoric and racial slurs.

Perhaps then we can spend more time serving others and less time on social media. We might be stunned at what we learn if we put down our phones and work together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, educate the children, and understand the other. It certainly seems that is what Jesus would call on us to do.

May we learn to go and do likewise—with all of our neighbors, in all corners of the globe.

One thought on “The Enemy Within

  1. Thank you for this blog and for your words to our church online last night. I have been struggling with political differences with people close to me, and these words will guide my thoughts and interactions through this political season. Thank you!

    Like

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