In our fallen world, we always sense an enemy—and sometimes we encounter multiple enemies. But what happens when the enemy is not in front of us? What happens when our true enemy is not obvious?
We create an enemy.
In the earliest days of our nation, our enemy was Britain. Study the thirteen colonies separately, and you discover they each had a different focus and temperament, but they came together to gain our independence from a shared foe.
During times of war, the enemy is obvious. The enemy is out there. Two world wars gave us common enemies like Germany and Japan. Then we had the enemy of communism seen in Russia and China. After 9/11, we rallied together against Islamic terrorists.
But the enemy “out there” doesn’t seem so obvious anymore. The real enemy is still out there, but it’s not as “in your face” nor in the news as it was in times past. In its place we make an enemy out of each other. We see the enemy in our neighbors and those who disagree with us politically. No longer can one of us be red and the other one be blue. Cultural fashion now says red and blue clash; it’s the political equivalent of wearing stripes and plaid together.
I’m not so naive to think America has known periods when we’ve gotten along. America has never been Walt Disney’s fantasy of main street America, but when we needed to, we found a way to work together. We found ways to cooperate—you bend a little, I bend a little—and we moved forward.
It seems those days are gone. Now, with no obvious enemy “out there,” we focus solely on our differences within the country—and we let these differences totally divide us. We’ve lost our ability to find a middle ground. If you’re wrong about this issue, you’re an idiot and wrong about everything else.
The New York Times recently reported how this division affects potential marriages. We don’t want our kids to make dumb mistakes like run with scissors, poke a skunk with a stick, or marry someone who might have a different political view than us.
Our human nature is itichin’ for a fight, so we go after the guy with a political sign in his yard—or the “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker. This past week we’ve seen several acts of violence. Democrats are blaming the Republicans for inciting people to mail bombs and attack a synagogue, and Republicans are blaming the Democrats for inciting that same violence. Whatever the issue, it’s their fault.
Are we too far gone to ever work together? I hope not, but consider this: When Abraham Lincoln entered the White House, he assembled a very strange cabinet. Five members of his cabinet were former adversaries and they didn’t particularly get along. He recruited cabinet members for whatever qualities he saw in them, even if they vehemently disagreed with him on some matters. Yet Lincoln faced the toughest term of any President, and he accomplished it with men who didn’t always see eye-to-eye with him.
America may be facing its greatest danger. This danger is not from an outside force or country; we have made enemies of our neighbors.
The New Testament writers used more ink addressing the dangers and fighting within the church than the attacks that came from without. There is a constant call for unity and for loving one another. We fight over non-essential matters—who gets to sing the Christmas solo, what style of music we prefer, whether worship is enhanced with the lights turned up or turned down—and pastors are forced out of office because of petty disagreements. Consequently, we have no time to address the real enemy out there: Satan’s attack on the home, the ever-changing moral landscape, injustices against those who can’t stand for themselves, and the ways the message of Christ is suppressed.
Consider what message the church could send the community—a church with both white collars and blue collars, whites and blacks, Republicans and Democrats all standing together because of their love for Christ. We could show the world that we can work with civility—even love—in spite of those areas where we disagree. We should still work to convince the other side to join our convictions, but we do so with grace and integrity.
Grace and civility need to start somewhere—and what better place than in the church of Jesus Christ?
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1).