Lesson 2: Us or Them

Us and ThemAbout a dozen years ago, a friend who is a respected diplomat told me even though I might not agree with politicians on the other side of the aisle, I nevertheless should respect them for trying to work with us for the good of the country. Last week, he said he now thinks the nation is so deeply divided, we will be in a civil war in the near future. And he described it as a battle between good and evil.

I have heard right-wing political and religious figures talk this way in recent years. Hearing my thoughtful friend, who is known for carefully avoiding hyperbole, speak of civil war makes me think our divisions have become very threatening. It also leads me to reflect on what is happening.

Certainly, we find ourselves in a time when it is evident there is no one American culture. We have been taught that we are one people whose unique government protects the rights of each individual. Now, we are forced to recognize there are many different American cultures with what appear to be irreconcilable values. Freedom is being defined much more as protection of communal rights to live by standards other groups might regard as immoral or even dangerously evil .

This is probably how it has always been. When I entered the ministry, it soon became obvious people lived in many different worlds. We got away with it, because we seldom crossed paths. Modern technology has ended that isolation, but it has not promoted common human values that would help us live together. Instead, it has given some groups more power to impose their ways on others. This has promoted an “us or them” mentality that inherently implies the need to destroy the other. Political groups feel justified in striking out violently in what they think is self-defense.

This “us or them” mentality extends to church communities who feel sectarian traditions that give them their identity are being threatened. Violent language has replaced placid efforts to convert others to your way of thinking. Alliances are made with political groups to force others to conform to your positions.

The formidable task in this situation is to provide guidelines for peacemaking. At least in the present time, we are not called to build one new all-inclusive culture so much as to open the present ones to the parts of their traditions that entertain new ideas. That will include developing new ways to understand our relationship with one another. If “us or them” implies the need to eliminate the other, “us and them” makes room for living together.

Biblical Christianity, in contrast to much historical Christianity, saw itself opening up boundaries between cultures. You see this in its delight when noting that the first to confess Jesus was a Roman soldier, the first African to be baptized was a eunuch, and the first European was a businesswoman. That part of our tradition rejoiced in the role of women when it claimed that the first missionary was a Samaritan woman, the first person to set Jesus straight was a Syrophoenician woman, and the first recipient of a resurrection appearance was a rather controversial woman. This tradition is also reflected in the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council that set the guidelines for the relationship between Jews and gentiles. It did not ask the two groups to adapt all the practices of the other, but simply not to offend them when in their presence. I think this kind of Christianity at least offers a starting point toward peace.

Unlike, my friend, I am not ready to see us headed for an inevitable civil war, at least not in the classic understanding of war. I am more inclined to think we are already engaging in the kind of technological warfare that will be increasingly how we fight our battles. My hope is that, rather than picking sides, our churches will be peacemakers. In the next few weeks, I’ll look at parts of our tradition we might use to resolve our deep divisions.

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. John Myers says:

    The father of lies has never had stronger footing. Propaganda has never had a stronger voice or such devotees. Critical thought appears to be canceled. The giants of scientific thought of the past 100 years would be aghast at the politicization of same we witness today, possibly to a similar point Galileo witnessed in his time. Of course, this is made deadly dangerous when added to minds devoid of critical thought and exacerbated by narcissistic self importance. I agree the penultimate resolution may be a ‘civil’ war. When people are unwilling to talk to each other, bad things happen. When people eschew God and instead worship idols of this world, bad things happen…… the Bible tells me so.

    • Fritz Foltz says:

      John, I was amazed when I received far more responses to this lesson than any other for the last six months. Most of them even from other countries shared your concern for the dire state of our nation.

  2. Kerry says:

    Thanks for this, Fritz. The sky really is getting darker and darker, and I fear that the cyber civil war being fought may be like the journalistic civil war fought in the 1850s – a prelude to something more deadly. Still, I also think that faith communities need to rediscover biblical Christianity and step forth as peacemakers. I’m so looking forward to your future posts.

    • Fritz Foltz says:

      Kerry, as I reported to John I have received more replies to this lesson than any other for 6 months. Their overwhelming pessimism leads me to wonder if any kind of creative conversation is possible at this time. I am inclined o think our responsibility is simply to proclaim the Gospel message in a way that helps people look at Bible passages from an honest perspective.

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