Much has happened in our world in the last few months. The Supreme Court made it legal for people of the same gender to marry. A nuclear deal was signed with Iran. NASA sent a spacecraft past Pluto. We all celebrated Independence Day with explosions, fires and chaos.
The political season arrived with daily announcements of another potential candidate. Recently passed laws, like the legalization of marijuana, still garner debate. Racial tensions have erupted as well, with the murder of black church-goers in South Carolina, the murder of a woman by an illegal immigrant in California and a spate of church arsons across the South.
All these events have a way of dividing us against one another. Regardless of the issue, we Americans stake out our position as the only correct position, and then get about the business of shouting down all other voices.
Television newscasts devolve into people shouting at each other. Online comment pages turn into torrid streams of insults and accusations. Social media fills up with posts and articles denouncing and demonizing those with whom we disagree.
In short, we make enemies out of each other, even though we are all residents of this same beautiful country.
French-American philosopher René Girard has written extensively about the scapegoat mechanism with which humans manage their stress and anxiety. He wrote that when our unfulfilled desires bump up against reality and fall short of our expectations, we seek a sacrificial victim to take the blame.
In other words, when we aren’t feeling happy, we search around for people to blame. We turn them into enemies who are responsible for all that is wrong with the world. We demonize, we dismiss, and with great malice we seek to destroy.
Unfortunately, some people have figured out this is an easy way to gather a following and raise support. Politicians, political action committees, religious leaders or public figures denounce “those people” as a threat, and then ask us to support them (usually financially) as they rally against the evil scourge.
Just in the last week, I’ve witnessed this in action, with the enemy including immigrants, people of color, those in the LGBT community, Christians, the New World Order, people who listen to rap music, teenagers, tailgaters and drug users.
As a Christian, I follow one who commanded we love our enemies; a man who, in fact, chose not to create enemies but instead crossed boundaries and barriers to seek relationships with all people. I have friends like this, friends who don’t see “us-vs.-them,” who don’t look at others and see enemies; friends who reach out to people across the aisle, seeking peace, rather than blame.
This is what healthy and mature people look like, and it’s a good model for us all to follow. Recognize that most of our anxiety can only be resolved when we address our own issues. Stop looking for people to blame, but instead reach out and seek to know and understand the other.
You are not my enemy, regardless of your beliefs and practices. I hope you’ll recognize that I’m not your enemy, either.
Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org