The “Other”

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything.

As a matter of fact, I haven’t posted anything since the U.S. Election.

And no, it’s not because I needed a safe space to cry or feel feelings.

I’ve been grieving, yes. But not about the election.

What saddens me is as I read the news from country to country the common thread that I see occurring is division– a slow, polarizing of peoples, races, ideas and countries that are splitting once unified groups of people into “us” and “them”; or, “We who are right” and “The others who are wrong”.

This isn’t new news. People have been reporting on it, writing about it and blogging their opinion on it for years. And it’s because I feel that everyone is talking about it that it’s hard for me to sit here and blog about my two cents.

I’ll be honest, the thing I struggle with most and the reason that kept me from creating this blog for so long is the thought that somewhere, anywhere, there are lots of other people saying the same thing that I want to say and they are saying it better than I ever could. So, why should I bother? It’s a feeling of being an inadequate, ineffective voice that is simply creating noise that no one really cares about that I think has kept me back from doing so many things in my life. I had this post nearly finished back in November. I had quotes and references, stories and examples. But the more I read from other people the more I became discouraged with the mediocrity of what I had written.

So I gave up.

Then towards the end of December a friend of Luis who lives in the States came to visit us for about a week and a half. I was a little nervous about his visit because, from everything Luis had told me, he was very conservative in his views and beliefs and I felt there was a very good chance that we would have extremely different viewpoints about a lot of issues.

On the outset, I was right.

In a lot of ways, Luis’ friend and I couldn’t have been more different. And for me, those were the first things that caught my attention. For one example, it was probably the second night of his visit he mentioned that he voted for Trump and for a lot of people I know, that would have been the end of the conversation right there.

And yet, in-between and under the things that divided us, there were many things that unified us. We both were born in the United States and were US citizens. We were both white men in our 30’s. We both spoke English as our native language. We had both traveled to several countries and found that our ideas about life and the World had changed as a result of our travels. And, perhaps most importantly, we both confessed a faith and utter dependance on Christ as revealed in Scripture as the basis for our spiritual beliefs.

What I began to find over the days of his visit and the numerous conversations we had till one in the morning (or later) was that each time we discovered something that divided us, we, both of us, had a choice; either to focus on those polarizing ideas and beliefs or instead, to take the time to understand the how and the why behind those ideas and beliefs. And it was in those ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ that I found commonality.

In this experience I learned firsthand that if we allow labels and lines to define our relationships with people (gay – straight, Republican – democrat, pro-life – pro-choice, Christian – Muslim, black – white, the list goes on and on and on…) then all that we’ll be left with is a small bubble of people that fit into all the same labels and lines that we do. And everyone else, the “others”… well, it’s a lot easier to dehumanize the “others” because they aren’t you. They aren’t right, they’re wrong. They aren’t a help, they’re a threat. And when the “other” is a threat to “us” then “doing away with them” suddenly seems like the right, the safe, the moral thing to do; instead of the tragedy of destroying a living, breathing soul created in the image of God that it really is.

So I’m thankful for those who don’t think like me and act like me. The world doesn’t need more people like me. The world needs more people who are willing to look at someone across the divide of politics, religion, race, economics, nationality, faith, and orientation and find the commonality; to see themselves in another’s eyes.

May you look beyond what divides us to what unifies us.

May you continually hope that what unifies us will bring understanding.

May you live in the peace that understanding will bring love.

May you love in a way that closes the divide until the “other” is “us”.

One Party, One Candidate, One Hope

So this is a post I have been putting off writing because, to be honest, I don’t want to write it. It would be easier to ignore what I’m seeing, ignore what’s been bothering me and just say: well, it’s someone else’s problem, someone else can speak out about it. And that would be easy, since I am in China and didn’t register to vote as an absentee ballot. But for better or worse, I’m going to say it.

My issue is with so many people in the US who are extremely vocal politically because of their faith.

Now, lets be clear at the very beginning. I am not saying that voting is right or wrong. I’m not arguing for or against democracy.

I am saying that Christians cannot and should not vote based on their religious beliefs.

Now, chances are, most people have checked out and stopped reading after that previous sentence. Because in the US most American Christians have interwoven their faith and their national identity into one solid, inseparable core belief. So a critic on one is viewed as an attack on everything held sacred.

The problem is, this is essentially an AMERICAN PHENOMENON! I have lived in quite a few countries and in NONE of them does there exist this idea that a person’s religious beliefs should determine the political condition of the nation; that’s including the UK which has a Church of England that was created by Henry the VIII and which Queen Elizabeth is still head of. Even in that case, the majority of British people I know would not vote for a political candidate based one whether or not he or she is a Christian, or which church the candidate goes to, or if their rights as a christian will change if this candidate or the other wins an election. My point is, in most countries, the population votes based on economic and political reasons. Whereas in America there always seems to be a surge of religious rhetoric that becomes intermingled into political language.

Honestly, not only do I see this as wrong, but I see it as damaging to the role of the Church in society.

A great article posted on got answers.org says:

The church’s unique, God-given purpose does not lie in political activism. Nowhere in Scripture do we have the directive to spend our energy, our time, or our money in governmental affairs. Our mission lies not in changing the nation through political reform, but in changing hearts through the Word of God. When believers think the growth and influence of Christ can somehow be allied with government policy, they corrupt the mission of the church. Our Christian mandate is to spread the gospel of Christ and to preach against the sins of our time. Only as the hearts of individuals in a culture are changed by Christ will the culture begin to reflect that change.

First, from a Biblical standpoint, lets start by saying that the Bible speaks absolutely nothing about the democratic process or a bipartisan voting system. And while it can be made to say many, many things that we want it to say, we find over and over in scripture that God has the final say in who becomes the leader of a nation. The prophet Daniel says that God “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings”. And Jesus himself told Pilate that he would not have the authority to rule had God not given it to him. And in Romans we are told that we should be “subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God“.

It’s a hard thing for many Christians to accept that God has chosen and placed each President in the White House. Especially if it isn’t the person they voted for. Have Christians really come to a place where they believe that THEY have the power of God? The power to set up kings and take down kings? Just because the United States has democratic political structure can we say that God is no longer in charge of who is elected? Have Christians decided that they have usurped that power from God?

Second, from a social standpoint, the US is a unique country because of the beliefs of the men who founded and have governed the country over the years. Now, I can’t (and won’t) speak to their personal beliefs as to whether or not they were all followers of Christ but the language used in political documents over the history of the US have intentionally created a national identity wrapped in a Christian belief system… or perhaps, a christian belief system wrapped in a national identity.

But my point is that Christ teaches that Christians have ONE identity. ONE Savior. ONE hope. ONE kingdom! ONE King!

My heart has been breaking as I’ve been seeing that the most vicious attacks and horrible things being said about both candidates and the supporters of one candidate or the other have been coming from people who call themselves Christian.

There are so many people who are skeptical of the Church and who have trouble coming to understand a Christ who is represented by Christians so filled with hate, prejudice, pride and mean spirits.

Are Christians helping the World to see Christ by posting political slams against the candidate they hate?

Christians argue that their “rights” are at stake. That if one candidate or the other becomes president that Christian liberties will be taken away and the moral fibre of the country will be eroded away to nothing. Christian’s are “fighting back”. Fighting for their rights. Fighting for their freedoms…

But dear christians, many horrible, tragic things are happening to Christians around the world, including the country I’m living in. Christians are being beaten, tortured and killed  yet still through it all they pray, not for the persecution to stop, but that others would come to see Christ through their suffering. In an article about the persecution of the Church here in China, Emily Fuentes said:

“Christianity is growing fastest where the persecution is the most severe. The persecutors are intrigued by why people would continue to support this belief. There is kind of the appeal of something that is taboo.”

And of course, there’s fear. We fear change, fear getting taxed too much, fear inflation, fear war, terrorism, poverty… the list goes on and on…

But of all people, Christians should be the ones who have the least to fear. Scripture tells us over and over not to be afraid and not to fear. We are told that our lives are in Christ and in Him do all things live and move and have their being. Now, I understand, fear is natural. An uncertain future is a scary thing. I have no idea where I’ll be living or even what country I’ll be in a year from now. I don’t even know if I’ll be alive. When it comes to the future we have NO guarantees! None! Voting for one candidate over another will not guarantee you anything! Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. So why should we put our faith in a human candidate to give us a future we may never see? And can can anyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ, in good conscious destroy relationships, use angry words to humiliate and tear others down out of fear?

So Christian, if you have economic reasons for voting for a candidate, then vote based on your economic sensibilities, if you disagree with a candidate’s statement about his treatment of women or his attitude against racial minorities then vote for the other one. If you disagree with the policies and reforms of one candidate, then vote for the other.

But please, don’t bring the name of Christ into this political battle. Don’t step into that booth claiming that you are voting for the candidate that Jesus would vote for. Don’t attack a supporter of a different candidate using your beliefs as a weapon. Don’t claim that your faith in Christ compels you to put your faith in a political candidate.

In his book, Jesus For President (which I highly recommend), Shane Claiborne said:

When the church takes affairs of the state more seriously than they do Jesus, Pax Romana becomes its gospel and the president becomes the Son of God.