While in the religion section of Barnes and Noble recently, I found two books that struck me as indicative of America at this juncture.
One was titled “Why the Christian Right Is Wrong,” and the other was “God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.”
I felt like both covers were screaming at me, with both books not only expressing their views, but also expressing their views at the cost of the other. And these weren’t the only ones – there were so many more.
We buy books like this from whatever camp we find ourselves in because it’s so much easier (and fun) to surround ourselves with people who think exactly as we do, right?
And this is where the wars of words begin: red state vs. blue state. Fox News vs. MSNBC. Pro life vs. Planned Parenthood.
And religious types are the worst. We love a good game of us vs. them. The “them” side isn’t as enlightened or as smart or as representative of the true faith like we are.
We stake the claim of the divide with no possibility of middle ground. And once we see what side of issues folks fall on, we defriend in real life (and on Facebook).
But what happens when you meet someone who is a “them” but who is smart, kind and respectful instead of a monster perceived to have five heads?
Such happened to me recently and it really surprised me.
I met a new colleague. Though we both profess the Christian faith, we’re an unlikely match. But now I call him my friend.
He likes to go on mission trips for the sake of evangelism. I don’t feel this is the best use of my resources.
He likes telling me about his prayers using specific Scriptures. I am not one to be showy about how I pray for people.
He chooses to live in part of the country where Christian churches are the norm. I prefer to be surrounded by diversity.
But as I’ve gotten to know this colleague, I’ve seen his heart. I’ve watched him give and give of his resources to others.
I’ve received comfort from his beautiful prayers for me. I’ve found nuggets of common ground in our theological conversations.
Slowly, he’s become in my eyes less like “them” and more like someone I would include in the “us.” This has shocked me.
But, this is what I know: We’re both children of the same heavenly parent. We’re both bearers of divine light (even if I still think my choices are the best ones for me). And he’s challenging me to see God beyond the walls of my own bias.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite Anne Lamott quotes. “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
This is why the us-vs.-them wars never work and can’t be our normal practice if we want to live in peaceful corners of plant earth. God is always in the business of surprises.
This does not mean that there isn’t a time and place for speaking truth to power and movements for justice, but it does mean that our best energy can’t be used up in fortifying ourselves for battle with whomever we’ve classified as “them.”
We’ve got more important work to do. Feeding the hungry, seeing the unseen, uplifting the lonely. Work we can do together.
Elizabeth Evans Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister and a freelance writer. She regularly blogs at Preacher on the Plaza, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @elizabethhagan.
Elizabeth Hagan is senior minister of The Palisades Community Church in Washington, D.C. Other hats she wears are as a preacher, author and executive director of Our Courageous Kids, a foundation dedicated to orphan care.