Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hate, Reconciliation, and Prayer

I was driving home from work just now, and a man in a truck beside me motioned for me to roll down my window.

I foolishly obliged.

"You can't be a Christian and support Obama" he said, before yelling "I hope you like Muslims!" and driving off.

Now, had this happened out at a public place that wasn't on the road I would have hopefully been able to at least confront him on this charge. But instead there was simply no time to react before he was gone. React towards him that is. I certainly reacted alright. My initial response was anger. Not the kind of anger that makes me want to hit someone or something (although that seems to fit within my emotional range unfortunately), just anger. Oh the things I could have said if I had just been given the chance- I would show him!

To be sure- What he said straddled so many kinds of bigotry, ignorance, and hatred that it deserved to be called out for what it was- Pure and utter Shite. It was certainly not the kind of thing that Christ would say- and therefore not the kind of thing a Christian should say. And that is when it hit me- this guy was saying this presumably as a Christian.

One thing that riles my feathers mare than just about anything else is when one Christian questions the faith and orthodoxy of another without any real contact with that person. Whether it is Mark Driscoll calling Tony Campolo a wolf in sheep's clothing while distorting his words, or Catholic Bishops refusing to give John Kerry communion, or even those of us on the left who want to cast people like Pat Buchanan or Jerry Falwell out into hell. This was precisely what this man was doing, and in return what I had begun to do to this man.

The Bible does tell us that there are some wrong teachings out there (Although when it comes to heresy, I am reluctant to declare anyone who can confess the creeds a heretic- and I am also persuaded by Greg Boyd's notion that wrong doctrine is less of a heresy than acting unloving towards your neighbor). But it also provides some pretty clear examples of how to approach those with different ideas, beliefs or actions than we might agree with, and none of them consist of declaring heresy out of the gates and stripping others of their identity in Christ of our own judgment. It does point us to be reconciled if we can. Whether it is one-on-one, or in a small group, or as a church. The goal is embrace and reconciliation, not exclusion.

In those places where we are unable to do so- and this is where my encounter this afternoon comes in- I believe the peacemaking gesture is simply to pray for God to bless them with his presence and love. Now what I don't mean is to pray that God would provide that person with all of the insight that he has given myself, so they may truly see the light and agree with me. No- that isn't prayer conforming to the will of God, that is conforming holy prayer to my earthly will. And that is simply out of the question. Loving our enemies means hard work. It means doing the things that are contrary to our human instincts. And this means refraining from selfish prayer.

So, there I was, finishing my ride home, angry as can be. And then - peace. The phrase "Jesus Loves Him" began repeating in my head. Over and over and over until I surrendered the anger I had been focusing on him. This does not diminish my anger at what was behind the statements themselves, but it does take the focus off of my neighbor and put it on sin itself.

I have no way of truly knowing the status of this guy's faith. Perhaps his is as nominal as the next guy, perhaps he is committed to a life of prayer. All I can do is speculate from my own distorted viewpoint. But if there is the chance of one mustard seed, or a kernel of faith laying beneath the surface of those hateful words- then I am in no place to question him, and can only pray "God Bless you."

I have no idea how I may react the next time something like that happens, but I do pray that it will be with the heart of Jesus at the fore of my thought.