I am very, very glad the election is over–not only because President Obama was re-elected, but also because I was very, very tired of all the negative campaign ads, and the pitting of various interest groups against another. So, I was somewhat surprised and disappointed in this piece I read in the NY Times today:
This quote in particularly bothered me: “A Bedouin proverb says, ‘Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.'” The point the author wanted to make by using this statement is that Americans need to come together now against a common “enemy”–something that we fear, something that threatens us all, on both sides of the political divide.
I know what the author is saying, and I understand his point: if we can find a larger “enemy” [“an asteroid hurtling toward the earth” is the author’s chosen metaphor] to unite against, we can work together for the common good. However, as a Christian who takes seriously Christ’s call to stand with the oppressed and the outcast, the language of “enemy” makes me nervous, because I know all too well that those in power use “enemy” language all the time to polarize and demonize, leaving some people on the outside, facing hostility and persecution from the insiders. Even when it is just an “issue” that we are being called to united against, that “issue” often ends up with a specific face, and a specific group of people end up being targeted as embodiments of the “enemy” we are opposing: single mothers for welfare, for example, or Latinos/Latinas for immigration.
Instead, I think the church has a constructive role to play here, in calling for different groups to unite around shared commitments, shared compassion, and a recognition of the way in which the whole human family is united in love through the work of the Holy Spirit. That way, no one becomes the scapegoat, and no one is overlooked. The author of the article says this: “One way [to come together] is to focus on common threats, rather than on common ground, just as the Bedouin proverb suggests. It’s only the threat of the stranger that brings the extended family together.” That may be true, but when that happens, there is always a loser, someone who is marginalized by being cast in the role of the “stranger,” the “enemy.” I prefer a different way of coming together, a way modeled by the good Samaritan–the man who saw a stranger in need and came to his aid, even though they were not members of the same family or clan. The fact is, the Christian view of “family” is much more expansive, much more inclusive, and much more transformative than traditional models based on kinship; and that is because the Christian family explicitly includes the stranger and the enemy–rather than excluding them. This view creates new possibilities for parternships and fresh ways to think and work together; and thus, this view of “family” is a vision of American society that the church could share with the rest of the country, which could really help us move beyond red and blue into purple–which is a much prettier color anyway.