In these days when hatreds are being cultivated and racial and class strives are rampant how important is it that the Christian Church magnify the spirit of the Master. Surely it is for us to love our enemies and many of the people with whom we deal and perhaps treat unkindly are not our enemies at all but only have a skin of a different color or have been reared in different circumstances.
I came across the above quote in recent days and it strikes my conscience as one of the great obligations for Jesus’ disciples in this world. At the same time, the quote does not remove those who are Jesus’ disciples as part of the problem 1. Rather it admits that “we” treat may treat others unkindly because “they” are of a different background or skin color, and should not be treated as enemies in the first place. In fact, even if such people were our enemies the call issued in this quote is clear — those who would magnify the “spirit of the Master” must love even their enemies.
In this day and age where the divisions of politics, race, class, and creed have been raise to a deafening screech this is a quote which tells Chrisitians, “We are part of the problem, we need to be participants in the solution.” When confronted with blanket condemnations of the poor, immigrants, conservatives, liberals, white, black, Asian, Native American, heterosexual, homosexual, or any other human division how do we respond? Do we remember that these people, some of whom we would be inclined to treat “unkindly” or with whom we may disagree, are not automatic enemies? Do we remember “they” are also created in the image of God, but approach life from a different angle than “us” based on experience and circumstances? Do we remember that, even if some of “them” are our enemies, the call of Christ is the love? And do we remember this command was given to an oppressed people, living under the weight of an imperial power?
Or, as we look at the differences which surround us, do we enrobe ourselves with power and become like those who wish people well elsewhere, but don’t want “them” here because they’ll threaten what little power “we” think we have?
In a day when animosity is on the rise, this critique from 1943 still rings true,
CHRISTIAN American or AMERICAN Christian—which are YOU? Are you like the big-hearted woman who, with her own hoy on the ocean headed for an unknown destination, could still find time and inclination to assemble and mail a bundle of toys to make a merry Christmas tor little Japanese—Americans in relocation camps? Or are YOU the one who was so annoyed by shortages she said, “Christmas presents! Nonsense! Children or not, they’re Japs, and you can’t trust Japs!” Or are you like the dear little lady who said, “It’s just terrible what Hitler is doing to the Jews,” and then added as an afterthought, “but we’ll really have to do something about them in America, before they just push us out! 2”
So which are we, who claim to be Jesus’ disciples? Which identity is first in our hearts 3?
What I find striking in the first quote above is how contemporary it sounds, and how sobering it is to read something so contemporary and realize it was spoken to the United Baptist Convention in Maine by its executive secretary, John S. Pendleton. The year was 1942, and the issue at hand was the refugee crisis sparked by Nazi atrocities 4. Both these quotes appear in Baptists, Jews, and the Holocaust: The Hand of Sincere Friendship. Written by my friend, Lee B. Spitzer.
- Though perhaps it softens it a bit, “unkindly” instead of “sinfully.” ↩
- Mary Gage, Christian Friendliness Worker. 1943. ↩
- I would say “which allegiance,” but if we’ve split our allegiance between Christ and another master it doesn’t matter which we think is “first,” we’ve already compromised ourselves. ↩
- United Baptist Convention of Maine — Year Book 1942, Report of the Convention Board, 12–13. ↩