The Danger of Us vs. Them

I know I said I wasn’t going to post a blog today, but I heard about the mass shooting in Orlando while reading about the Rwandan genocide.

We Wish

I’m going to assume you know the details of the former by now, so here’s a Cliff Notes version of the latter: in April 1994, over 800,000 members of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority were slaughtered by the majority Hutus—hunted down and hacked apart with machetes by their employers, teachers, and neighbors, incited by government leaders and ignored by religious leaders.

This is a horrifying scale of human depravity that almost made it hard for me to register the shooting in Orlando because I was weeping for an entire people group lost, pacing the living room as I turned the pages, wondering, “How could this happen?”

Here’s how it happened, and here’s how the two events relate: almost everyone accepted the lie of us vs. them. Hutu resentment of the Tutsi elite built up for decades, and when the political structure flipped, the Hutus wanted power, and it was out-of-control hatred and revenge that got them there.

Friends, hating the other—whether that other is Muslims, the LGBT community, the opposite political party, or the person who disagrees with you on Facebook—has, historically, had devastating consequences. (Also relevant: my earlier post on Nazis and faceless Star Wars stormtroopers.)

I’m a Christian, and I think the reason Jesus paired his famous command to “love your enemies” with “pray for those who persecute you” is because it’s basically impossible to think of your enemy as something other than human if you’re praying for him. Even if you’re praying through gritted teeth, in the face of personal hurt or ideological differences, prayer creates compassion.*

I want to be careful to point out that loving others doesn’t mean that we can’t say, for example, “You believe that and I believe this opposing thing, and only one of us can be right.” I have absolutely no patience for people who think tolerance involves never voicing critique of a person or worldview, of accepting and affirming everything anyone says.

To love our enemies, we have to have enemies, and we will. Our command as Christians is not to turn everyone into our friends by accepting all of their beliefs and practices. And yet, that said, I think Christians hide behind that truth too often, use it to justify words that Jesus never would have spoken. The signs that we’re slipping into “us vs. them” are more subtle than simply disagreeing with someone…but they are there, and we—I—often fall into them.

When you start to generalize about all members of a particular group…be careful.

When you find you’re primarily motivated by fear…be careful.

When you’re voicing most of your beliefs secondhand from one person or news source…be careful.

When you can feel absolutely no empathy for a person or group and don’t feel like trying…be careful.

When you forget that the people of God are to be known above anything else by their love for each other and for their enemies…be careful.

Please, please be careful. We think tragedies like Rwanda are beyond us, a “civilized” country, but that’s only the arrogance of people who underestimate the darkness in the human heart. I’ve seen my own heart at times. I know better. It could happen here.

Even if it doesn’t, even if there’s not a brother vs. brother slaughter in our country, there are always consequences for arrogance and failure to love others, even if it’s only the hardening of our own hearts against the very people Christ died for.

As I read the beautiful and incredibly difficult book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, I came to one passage that stopped me, a description of the editor of a fantastically popular Hutu-power newspaper that printed genocidal rhetoric in the years leading up to the massacre.

This editor made a list of “Hutu Ten Commandments” that was often quoted by Hutu leaders. It said all Tutsi women are traitorous—do not marry or befriend them. All Tutsi businessmen are dishonest—have no dealings with them. And all Tutsis are dangerous—show them no mercy.

The author summed up this man by saying, “He was one of those creatures of destruction who turn everything hurled at them into their own weapon. He was funny and bold, and in one of the most repressed societies on earth, he presented the liberating example of a man who seemed to know no taboos.”

Sound familiar?

Trump

Please understand: I am not saying Donald Trump is genocidal or Hitler or that those who will be voting for him in November might not have thought carefully about the political implications of their choice. I am perfectly fine with you disagreeing with me on who to vote for in November (see above points on how disagreement doesn’t have to turn into demonizing).

I am saying that turning the world into us vs. them, dehumanizing the other, is always a terrible choice, whether on a political or personal level. It’s often a dangerous one. And sometimes it leads to consequences so terrible that in the aftermath we pace the room, weeping, and wonder, “How could this happen…again?”

*Stuffy Theological Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: That’s why I have no problem with Christians saying they’re praying for or mourning with the LGBT community after this tragedy, even if before this they weren’t sure how to talk about welcoming LGBT people into the church, even if in their attempt to speak the truth their rhetoric was divisive and hurtful. Some say this is hypocrisy, but I believe God can change people’s hearts and make them more compassionate, and he often uses prayer for the victims of tragedies to do so.

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