A week or so ago, in the wake of the marriage amendment bill being passed, my good friend Rowan (that’s him) made a post on facebook. Without really laying his cards on the table, he acknowledged what an emotional journey the debate had been for both sides. To the ‘winners’ he said,
For those who are now able to marry, congratulations! Marriage is a beautiful thing and I pray that you honor the vows that you make and can experience love in a deeper and stronger way, that you always stray from use of power and control in your relationship and that you continue to call and inspire others to a deeper love, faithfulness and commitment. I pray that you would remember what it felt like to be excluded and that you would stand up for equality as you have in this debate, not only for sexual preference, but also amongst races, ethnicities and socioeconomic status.
To the ‘defeated’, he wrote,
For those who are struggling to accept these changes and who feel like their beliefs have been mocked or their own marriage has been degraded, I pray that this loss will not become bitterness or resentment, but that you will be able to have the strength to forgive the mockers, and to let go of the names that you have been called. I pray that you will stand with the same passion against poverty and oppression and that you will call for social and environmental justice with the same vibrant and unswerving commitment.
I was challenged by the way Rowan invited each group to turn their attention and energy to something that is undoubtedly evil, and to fight against it with ‘the same vibrant and unswerving commitment’. Except we won’t, I realised. And why not? This got me thinking.
The sexuality debate is contentious. I know faithful, sincere Christians who are on either side of the issue, and an ever increasing bunch in the middle. I also know complete idiots on each side. We might be tempted to doubt that Christians who believe differently to us aren’t the real deal. But I think they might be.
And yet, the argument over poverty and oppression is more straightforward. In fact its not much of an argument at all. I don’t know anyone who is ‘Pro-poverty’. Nor do I know anyone who is for bonded child labour, or the sex slave trade. These people may exist, but not in my world.
So why are we able to muster such energy and vigour for something that could be described as a ‘line-call’ (Oh so you’re one of those fence sitters then are you Malcs?), and yet we are embarrassingly apathetic on what is a no-brainer?
In this moment, we reveal that we need enemies. We need someone to oppose us in order to be motivated. We are not as strongly for things as we are against things. It means we are inherently antagonistic, looking for a fight, because a ‘fight’ makes us feel alive. It gives us strength. When someone disagrees with us, it gives us someone to ridicule, a perspective we can build our own against. Its like resistance training I guess. We thrive on opposition.
Conversely, there are no supporters of child poverty in my world. Consequently there is no battle to fight. Tragically, this leaves me with no will to do anything at all, about something we all know is corrupt, unnecessary and (probably) solvable.
When you think a little deeper about this, it actually means we are at the mercy of the people who disagree with us in order to determine what we will care about, and what we will fight for. If we only find strength when there is opposition, then we are no longer making decisions for ourselves, we are letting the very people we hate decide what we are going to stand up for. Which is at best ironic.
This brings me to Jesus, who seemed to reorientate the whole idea of ‘enemies’. In fact, he did so much damage to the concept as to potentially cripple it for good. We Christians, are to love our enemies. A logical argument might go, ‘But if I love them, they won’t be my enemy any longer’. To which Jesus would probably reply, ‘Exactly’.
It seems to me that Jesus is inviting us out of world where we are ‘over and against’ things; a ‘don’t do that, put that down’ theology. And into a world where we are profoundly and passionately for things, like justice, compassion, dignity, wholeness and grace. It seems to me that Jesus would like us to grow out of our need for enemies to show us what is right, because if we can’t, we will forever be hating someone who bears the image of God, someone Jesus is eventually going to ask us to love.
Can we surrender our love of having enemies and develop a love for enemies? Can we surrender our need of enemies, and find a new way to define ourselves? Rather than by the people who are against but by a God who is for us? Can we find a way of standing for the ways of Jesus and the world God has for us, without needing someone to hate or oppose along the way? Can our motivation be love and only love?
At this moment, my answer is a sad ‘no’. But it is also a quietly hopeful, ‘but I want it to be.’