24 September 2014

The Enemies List

by The Late Frank Turk

So last week I put it to you that before you start talking about race and the Gospel, you better first start talking in ways that humanize this issue or else (to be blunt), shut up.  The reasons seems pretty self-evident to me, but I'm sure there are some who are still wondering why I would come back from hiatus in order to say such an inflammatory and unkind thing.

Hey: that's not the hard part yet.  That's the obvious and easy part.

This next part should also be part of the "easy part" of this topic and discussion, but it's not at all.  In fact, I think that after the problem of being insensitive to the people involved is at least admitted into the discussion, the next impossible error to overcome is the problem of creating enemies.  That is: the ability to take a tragedy and to leverage it to make innocent people into contemptible villains is big business in our nation, and we love it.

Here's how I know that's true: both John Stewart and Bill O'Reilly make a lot of money doing it every day.  Glenn Beck and Al Sharpton would be utterly unknown and penniless if this were not true.  Ann Coulter and Rachael Maddow need each other in a way which borders on criminal conspiracy.  But the only reason it's not actually criminal is simple: we pay them to do it for us.

Look: this one doesn't require a lot of unpacking here.  It doesn't require you to review the tapes or read the weekly columns -- because you are already doing that.  These people are famous because they are polarizing figures who visibly flourish when they are taking their best shots at the other side, and they make tons of money by identifying classes of enemies and calling them out by name.  And we love it - we can't get enough of this opportunistic and execrable form of entertainment.

Last week I reminded you that MLK thought that there were 3 barriers to the political freedom of black in America in 1963, and that we ought to consider that today he would likely add a fourth (desensitizing to violence).  Today I am saying that if MLK is the gold standard of political thinking here, this sort of villianization of people we disagree with actually violates the final objective of MLK's great dream for America, and it's time we started thinking in terms of the strategic end of this conflict rather than in terms of the tactical and economically-profitable short game which allegedly moves the ball along for our side.  Moving the ball out of bounds rather than to the actual goal line isn't strategic: it's sloppy and weak.

But there's a deeper problem with this for those of us who say we are Christians, and that's why I called your attention to W.E.B. DuBois in this space a few weeks ago.  The problem is not that we oppose what we perceive to be evil or unjust and say that something is evil or unjust: it is failing to remember that the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  It is failing to remember that our goal is not to destroy our enemies with the weapons of this world, but to destroy their sin and the power of death over them with the Gospel.  DuBois, of course, did not really express this the way a white Reformed guy would, but his point is clear: somehow, Black people have a self-perception problem due to the fact that they have a double consciousness -- one which they aspire to, and one which they see as the way the world sees them and treats them.  If DuBois were alive today, I wonder which consciousness he would say is winning out?

If you are a Christian, and you do not come to the table with this in mind when discussing this question, maybe you don't really understand what it means to be an ambassador of reconciliation. An ambassador is one who comes with the primary concern of making friends and allies out of people, not enemies.  In fact: an ambassador will come to Enemies with the express goal of making peace with them -- even if it turns out that the terms of peace are non-negotiable.

Whatever advice it is you think you have to give here, if you really want it to somehow have the Gospel in it, it has to reproach the power of sin and death in the lives of the people you are speaking to -- but not out of a sense of partisan righteousness, or a belief that somehow we are defending civilization.  Reproaching the power of sin and death will certainly make some people see us as enemies.  But we need to not see them as our enemies - because they are not our enemies.  And we must be certain we are treating others in a way which seeks to defeat the power and effects of sin which they have experienced.

You know: when Stephen the deacon declared the Gospel in Jerusalem, and those men there were offended by the Gospel, his final words to them were not, "I knew you filthy haters would do this eventually.  I can't wait to see God take his wrath out on you because you definitely deserve it."  He last words were this: "Lord, do not hold their sins against them!"

A few weeks ago, when I posted MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, you didn't hear him say that anyone who was his enemy deserved death or even infamy: he said specifically that even the worst of his enemies ought to repent for their own good, and that they could be part of a future which was greater than the oppression they carried out in that day.

You need to consider this, if you're wondering how the Gospel and Race are related: if you can make a list of the people who are your enemies in this conflict, you are doing it wrong.  You had better realize that your name needs to go at the top of that list as your own worst enemy, because that's a truth deeply rooted in the meaning of the Gospel -- and it's a truth which ought to make you a little more humble when attempting to build a bunker to protect the things you think you love. After that, you need to rethink the whole conflict from God's perspective.  In Christ, God is reconciling the world -- the world full of those who are His enemies -- to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

You had better humanize this issue before you think you want to talk about it, and you had better decide whether or not you're thinking about this the way God does -- because God is not trying to make anyone his enemy.

With that said, next week we will start getting to the items which are not as rudimentary and crude as these have been.  It will not be for the faint of heart.


Frank Turk said...

In the spirit of not making enemies, we're using a new font for the headlines these days because it looked like Arial Black was no longer supported. Any comments about that?

Daryl said...

For my money, this sentence sums up the post pretty well.

"Whatever advice it is you think you have to give here, if you really want it to somehow have the Gospel in it, it has to reproach the power of sin and death in the lives of the people you are speaking to -- but not out of a sense of partisan righteousness, or a belief that somehow we are defending civilization."

Because we do that, don't we? We talk about human flourishing as if that's the point. It's an important thing to be sure, but unless human flourishing in the here and now, is grounded in human flourishing in the hereafter, what's the point?

Not that human flourishing isn't important, it just isn't ultimate. And, if I'm reading you right, unless everything, especially conversations like this one, begin and end with the goal of "peace among men on whom his favour rests" we won't even get around to really making a difference in the here and now.

Jacob Phillips said...

Once again, fantastic job framing the issue. These past two weeks have been very helpful.

A Wheeler said...

Headline font: Didn't notice the change because I'm observant like that.

This post falls right in line with what my pastor just preached on those we consider "enemies." From Romans 12:14, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them."

The meaty bit that I'm still gnawing on is that we are to actually be purposeful in finding ways to "bless" our enemies, not be inflammatory, not ignore or avoid. Tying it in with what you have said, does make it very clear that this is much easier to do when we humanize those involved.

As a mother, I think I can do that much easier when I think that this person is someone's child and more than that, God's creation.

Awaiting the next post with cautious anticipation...

Kerry James Allen said...

Since eliminating Arial Black sounds racist, I want to go on record as saying that Pyro Staff had nothing to do with it.

Michael Coughlin said...

Well said, Frank. I hope this clarifies last week a little for others who needed this follow up to understand your point.

KJA - It is amazing Frank would use such inflammatory words in a comment. I suppose we need to humanize Arial Black? She really has been a good companion all these years...

Michael Coughlin said...

I had a twitbate the other day because I saw the same type of behavior Frank is condemning in the post.

Click here to see most of the thread. Twitter is not the best medium for rational discourse, but I hope God will use my words for His good purpose in someone's heart who reads the tweets.

I reference Acts 60, Stephen's final words, as well as Frank, to try to indicate what our attitude should be toward "enemies."

I appreciate your continued desire to see yourself and us conformed to the image of Christ.

Frank Turk said...

Kerry - I can't believe you would throw me under the bus like that.

Jim Pemberton said...

This is precisely the spirit of evangelism that many need to overcome. If we truly believe that the message of the gospel is to be used by the Holy Spirit to transform people then we need to have the heart to present it to - let's pick our worst enemies here - the Mexican drug cartels and the like, corrupt politicians and promulgators of sundry institutional madness, producers of porn, rapists, murderers... even ISIS. If proclaiming the gospel is the answer should we not think that it would behoove us to proclaim it to these people in ways that demonstrate the love of Christ?

Michael Coughlin said...

And after Item 2 of Let it Go, too. Some people just can't handle praise.

Frank Turk said...

Jim --

I would add that it's not either we preach the Gospel or we hold to a view of government which says the police ought to enforce the law and I have a right to defend myself/my family against attacks.

All of the discussion right now is in the aftermath of an event where, frankly, the facts are not clear except that one man is dead and another shot him -- and one was black, the other white. If we are going to talk to anyone about this, let me say plainly that the question is not "what would you do if I made up some facts to prop up around this outcome," but, "how do I deal with people when a tragedy like this occurs and one of the questions involved is about the category of race?"

Jim Pemberton said...

Frank, I think I'm tracking with you. One of the misattributed quotes I hate is the one that says "Preach the gospel, use words if necessary." It should be something like, "Always Preach the gospel and always live it." I guess the point I was making rather less than clearly was that these kinds of race issues are easy compared to what we should be doing.

What I didn't get into is that we are too comfortable to do what we need to do. Many whites approach it as "it's a problem way over there and why should it affect me here?" And then they give all kinds of good reasons why this is a good attitude to have. Many blacks approach it as, "it's not only a problem way over there, but it's also a problem right here." And they give good reasons why that's the case. Addressing the issue with the gospel, even between brothers and sisters of different races, requires uncomplaining self-sacrifice for the benefit of someone who may be immature in their faith enough to call for your blood in the matter, even as you illustrated here with Stephen:

"You think I deserve to be punished? Here's the stone, knife, gun, etc. Do me in, not only because I deserve far worse anyway, but because that's the very least of what Jesus did for you."

I'm not advocating something so extreme in every case, but that is the sense in which we need to enter into the arena of people's lives. Moses never defended himself. God did that for him. He only ever defended God.

Frank Turk said...

Jim Pemberton wins the thread.

Michael Coughlin said...

Yes, Jim won, but this is still 'Merica and I still expect a participation trophy.

Saved By Faith Alone said...

“Jim Pemberton wins the thread.” I didn’t know one could “win” in this forum???

And a “participation trophy” to boot! Well – I had no idea! But now that I’m motivated sign me up and here I go! ;-)

A simple textual search of the NT for the phrase “love your neighbor” results in at least 9 occurrences in the NIV. What kept going through my mind as I read Frank’s fine essay was how simple it really is when considered in the light of our Lord’s “no commandment greater than this” command. This entreaty from our Master should be the bedrock and the foundation of every effort of reconciliation, regardless of the issue. I find the breadth and power of the following verse from Galatians to be stunning:

[Gal 5:14 NIV] 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

I too, wait in trepidation for the next “The Enemies List” installment from “The Late (great) Frank Turk”.

In Christ,

Dan H.

Frank Turk said...

Dan H. -

Do a word search for the phrase "one another" and see how often Paul says to "one another" after he says "therefore." It will make the point even more clear.

Morris Brooks said...

Actually, Leviticus 19:18 gives us the first mention of loving your neighbor as yourself, and it is in the context of not taking vengeance or not bearing any grudge.
Racism begins with a lack of love and therefore bears a grudge with anyone who is a different ethnicity than you simply because they are of a different ethnicity. Racism is lack of love which does not believe all things, hope all things, bear all things, endure all things, and therefore assumes that someone did something to someone else simply because of ethnicity; it therefore mistrusts because someone is of a different ethnicity; it therefore leaps to conclusions; it therefore refuses to give the benefit of the doubt; it therefore refuses to hear the truth; it therefore refuses to treat others as it would be treated.
Therefore, racism is sin. It is the sin of a heart that has been hardened toward those of other ethnicities, and is a sin that continues to harden the heart. For the issue to be humanized it must begin with all involved loving their neighbor as themselves.

Saved By Faith Alone said...

Hmmm... I didn't know it could be made any more clear but you're absolutely right!

Brad Mason said...

Just asking and not a criticism--promise. I agree with every word. But who is your target? What audience do you have in mind with all of the "you"s? I don't feel that most readers of this blog are currently running afoul of these admonitions. Maybe what you are saying is actually not that controversial? Though exhortation is always needed.

Frank Turk said...

You personally. Every one of you. There's nobody reading this blog who isn't somewhat guilty of these things in some degree -- as opposed to actual racism and actual murder.

Brad Mason said...

But definitely "you"; not perhaps "we"?

Frank Turk said...

I love a good troll, Brad. Just not forever.