Different? Threatening?

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I read an article recently by a writer on the Patheos website. The website is sort of a clearinghouse for religious writing of all kinds by prominent and more or less respectable writers. One caught my eye as it was about the idea of persecution. These articles are interesting to me because they quite often lament either (a) the fact that Christians are being horribly persecuted for their beliefs or (b) Christians are complaining about being persecuted and need to stop. This one feel into the first category. The writer, who refers to himself as relevant and reformed, was lamenting the loss of American Christianity around the middle of the twentieth century or the 1950s. In his mind, this was a version where Christians are the dominant political and religious force in the culture. He continued talking about the lack of morals and godly direction and the same general themes you most likely expect from someone seeing what they saw as the loss of their ideas in the public marketplace. As I read the article and came to the bottom, I scrolled through the comments sections. Most of the comments were simply criticisms on the writer’s supposed right to decide what everybody should believe when not everyone believed in the same things. The commentors referred to the author’s ideas as authoritarian, alarmist self-pity, and attempting to impose his version of reality on the rest of the world. Sometimes the author responded, sometimes he chose not to. 

Two words did catch my eye and put a bit of a bug in my brain: different and threatened. As human beings, we generally feel threatened by what is different. Things which are different tend to trigger an animal response of fight or flight within most of us and we either run away from things that are different or we fight to subdue the different things and force them to be like us or run away themselves. Author and philosopher Umberto Eco writes, “Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth. So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one.”[1] What I think Eco is saying is, we need to know our way of doing things is the right way, at least in our own eyes if nothing else. We have to have a standard to measure ourselves by and usually that standard is one passed down to us with some modification for the passage of time. Anyone who is different or thinks differently is threatening and those who threaten us are our enemies. 

So, what do we do with enemies? Fight? Banish them? Look down on them? Treat them with scorn and derision? 

We love them, make them part of the group. 

From the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter five,

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.


You have heard that it was 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 his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 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? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

From this teaching of Jesus, we see the call to be perfect, or better said be mature in your understanding of how to live. This maturity is wrapped up in begin reconciled to those we are at odds with—not agreeing with everything they say—but being in fellowship with them. It calls us to pray for those who disagree with us, are different from us, do not share our ideas. And it calls us to do the hard work of building and maintaining relationships with those whom we disagree with. Some will only disagree with us a little, others much more but none are to be treated as enemies and none are to be offered anything but love and acceptance. People will never walk the Jesus Way if they don’t see it and they can’t see it if we isolate ourselves from the world in a little bubble with those who only see what and how we see. The doors of our assembly need to be open to all. The hearts of our people need to be open to all. And the minds of our people need to be open to hear all, even those we disagree with.

[1] Eco, Umberto. Inventing the Enemy and Other Occasional Writngs. New York: First Mariner Books/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing, 2013. p.2