The Common Good

Surprising Our 'Enemies:' What If We Flipped the Script?

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

Boston bombing aftermath, Vjeran Pavic / Flickr.com
Boston bombing aftermath, Vjeran Pavic / Flickr.com

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What if we surprised our enemies?

I mean, really surprised them. What if we surprised them with something totally unexpected? When our personal, political, and national enemies strike us, they expect us to strike back. That’s been the human script since the foundations of human culture. We mimic violence blow for blow. Only each side wants to be the side who delivers the final blow.

What if we surprised our enemies and changed the script?

That’s precisely what Jim Wallis encourages us to do in his latest book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good.

In a chapter called “Surprising Our Enemies,” Wallis states that we do have “real enemies in this world” (131). Tragically, we experienced the real violence of our enemies last week in Boston. The question that Wallis asks, and the question our political leaders need to ask, is “are there better and more effective ways of dealing with our enemies” than the old script of violence?

Peace will only come through peaceful means. Wallis asserts that “the obvious task before us, in a world engulfed with so much conflict, is to increase the use of more peaceful means of resolving those conflicts” (131). This is practical advice on the personal, political, and national level. Indeed, when it comes to human conflict on any level, “fueling it more with a hostile response will escalate it” (133).

What’s the alternative to violence? Wallis brilliantly explains Bible verses that point to those alternatives. Christians should not ignore or downplay Jesus’ teachings to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27) and Paul’s teaching to, “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21). Teachings are great, and explaining those teachings is important, but what I find more important about this book are the stories Wallis tells. Jesus knew this well: stories make the teachings come alive.

One of the big news stories from 2010 was the furor over the creation of Islamic centers. Emotions ran high as many protested the building of a Mosque near Ground Zero. Meanwhile, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., many protested plans for an Islamic center in that suburb of Memphis. Signs of “Keep Tennessee Terror Free!” were prominent in the protest. The message, of course, was the based on the unfounded and simplistic belief that all Muslims are terrorists.

But in another suburb of Tennessee, someone was reading a different script. Wallis tells the story of Steve Stone, the pastor of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tenn., who “learned that the Memphis Islamic Center had bought land adjacent to his church.” Stone didn’t get caught up in America’s hatred and fear of our Muslim neighbors. He didn’t protest the Islamic center. As Wallis explains, Stone “Put up a large red sign right out in front of his church saying: “Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighborhood.”

Wallis states, “The Muslim leaders were astonished” by Stone’s welcome. Christians are in a sad state of affairs when people are surprised when we actually live out Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbor.” If we stopped protesting our neighbors and took the time to love them, we might discover the peaceful means that lead to true peace.

According to Wallis, “Before long, Christians and Muslim children were playing together, and their parents began to talk and share meals. Believers who knew almost nothing about each other’s faith began to have conversations.” Fortunately, Stone’s hospitality went beyond a welcome sign. “The Islamic Center’s new building was still under construction, so its members were offered Heartsong Church for their Ramadan prayer services the following year. Heartsong’s community barbecues were now serving halal meat, and the two congregations were planning to join efforts to feed the homeless and tutor local children” (138).

Heartsong and the Memphis Islamic Center are showing us what it looks like for Christians and Muslims to work together for the common good. It requires that we read a new script. One that has nothing to do with violence, but everything to do with the spiritual principle that we all share: loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. 

Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.

Image: Boston bombing aftermath, Vjeran Pavic / Flickr.com

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