We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule.
Nearly every culture and every religion have some version of this rule.
Some, like the Bible, state it in positive terms: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Others state it in negative terms: “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”
Still others present it as a feeling or emotion: “Don’t wish on others what you don’t want to happen to you.”
It’s a universal understanding that we treat people in the way we want to be treated and we don’t treat people in ways we don’t want to be treated.
But Jesus takes it a step further by assuming that people won’t always follow the Golden Rule.
He assumes that there will be times in our lives that people will do exactly the opposite.
They will intentionally hurt us, seek to do things to us that we can safely assume they don’t want done to them, wish harm upon us and speak to us with malice, and act in ways that do not fit within the parameters of the Golden Rule.
So Jesus says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Christians are called to follow the Golden Rule even if everyone else is breaking it. We are supposed to be different, stand out and reflect Christ to the world around us.
I responded to various examples of disruptive, disrespectful and disturbing behavior of the current election cycle in my previous column, “Not OK! Our Leaders Teach Bad Lessons to Our Kids.”
The responses I received ranged from support, encouragement and agreement to nothing short of hate, disgust and anger.
The feedback that most broke my heart were the ones that started with “I agree with you but,” and ended up saying something along the lines of, “The only reason they acted that way is because they were baited.”
In other words, the attitudes, actions and behaviors I said were not OK, actually were OK because someone else did it first.
This view is like the not-so-golden rule of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” which Jesus transcended.
“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” (Matthew 5:38-42).
In my original article, I asked repeatedly, “What are we teaching our children?” Based on the many responses I received, these appear to be the things we are passing on to the next generation:
1. If someone hurts you, you have every right to hurt them back. After all, they deserve it. An eye for an eye.
2. If you disagree with someone about anything for any reason, you can express that disagreement in any way you want. After all, there is freedom of speech.
3. If someone is being hurt, disrespected, treated abusively, bullied or made fun of, the best thing to do is to find out what they did to deserve it first before stepping in to defend them or stop the behavior. A tooth for a tooth.
If we are teaching our children that behaviors of aggression and bullying are allowable in certain circumstances, then why are we surprised when they grow up, and violence and anger become the language of choice?
Based on Jesus’ instructions, what should be we be teaching our children?
If someone hits us, we can’t hit them back. If someone insults us, we don’t insult them back. If someone steals from us, we don’t steal back. If every manner of evil is done to us, it is still not OK for us to do the same to them.
Christ has given his church an ethic of love to live by. He models for us a walk that puts others first and relentlessly pursues peace.
If we are teaching our children anything other than that, we need to take a step back and really examine Christ’s words.
Christina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. A longer version of this article first appeared on her website, Refocus Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @EmbreeChristina.
A church planter with Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky, she is a graduate of Wesley Seminary with a Master of Arts degree in ministry focusing on family, youth and children’s ministry.