If you live in the United States of America, odds are, you don’t know your enemies. This is true of the people you perceive to be your enemies and your actual enemies. So how can we take Jesus’ words about loving our enemies seriously? Let me expand a bit.
We Know People Like Us
Back in the early 2000s, I worked for Lutheran Hour Ministries in St. Louis. I coordinated their young adult ministry efforts while attending seminary. When I worked there, the big buzz involved a massive religious survey they conducted tying religious beliefs to the same demographic data that companies like McDonald’s use when determining where to put a new location.
The accuracy of the data was terrifying. Not just the data gathered in the religious survey, but in the demographic data companies use. At the time, this information linked to the segment of your zip code plus those four additional digits you sometimes see. It is like a zip code within a zip code.
With those nine numbers, all based on where you live, they could accurately predict the kind of car you drive, the magazines you read, the news you consume, and the TV shows you watch. They know your voting habits and political perspectives. They could even tell you which grocery store you went to and what food you were most likely to buy. Again, this is all connected to your address which means odds are high, your neighbors are just like you.
Moreover, because our personalities and perspectives shape the kinds of work we do, it is not uncommon for the people you work with to see the world the same way you do. So if your neighbors are like you and your coworkers are like you, where do you engage with people who are not like you? How do you love your “enemies” if you never cross paths with them?
The Political Divide
In the United States, this often expresses itself through political divisions. Democrats see Republicans and conservative media as the biggest threat to American Democracy. Republicans say the same thing about Democrats and liberal media. Both sides build convenient caricatures of the other side. Republicans are conspiracy-believing, gun-toting, gay-hating fascists. Democrats are God-hating, baby-killing, Constitution-despising Socialists. Since we rarely know someone on the other side, we lack evidence to reveal the fallacy of these caricatures. The other remains the enemy.
To make matters more complicated, in spaces where we do intersect with people not like us, ignoring disagreement now holds a certain level of cultural virtue. As a prime example of this, in December of 2016, as the US Senate honored then outgoing Vice President Joe Biden, then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the moment as an opportunity to praise Biden whose political career seemed complete.
As a part of his speech, McConnell took tempered jabs at President Obama for wanting to discuss the merit of policy. McConnell objected to the idea of someone telling him he is wrong. Calling Joe (Biden) came to mean cordially passing some kind of compromised legislation. They would not debate various perspectives and struggle to come to the best policy for the American people. Instead, it was about passing something that allowed both sides to claim victory. The head of the United States Senate, a gathering once deemed the greatest deliberative body in the world, celebrated a void of debate within the Senate.
Avoiding Discussion and Debate
It reminds me of a post I recently saw on several Facebook profiles.
I just saw a post I didn’t agree with.
I didn’t get offended.
I didn’t comment.
I didn’t feel the need to change their mind.
I still like the person.
I just kept scrolling and went on with my day.
While I can respect that Facebook is not the best platform for political debate if these conversations do not happen at home, in our neighborhoods, with our coworkers, or in deliberately bodies, where do they happen? How do we get to know our supposed enemies?
More importantly, how do we discover that our presumed enemies are not actually enemies? How will we recognize that those stirring division, are doing it for their own benefit at our collective expense? Because they are the people we really need to love and pray for.
Getting To Know Your Enemies
As a path forward, I propose another Facebook post I recently saw:
Become friends with people who aren’t your age.
Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours.
Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class.
This is how you see the world.
This is how you grow.
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.