Just when I think that I have the whole “Christian” thing down (I try), something happens that smacks me in the face with my own humanity. Lately, I have been working on responding with grace and love. It sounds simple, but it is significantly more difficult than it seems, especially when I wish my biggest problem was when one of my students acted disrespectfully to me and I had to take a deep breath to avoid lashing out at them.
Alas, there are far bigger tragedies in the world. And, I just so happened to encounter one of them on Wednesday.
If you live in east Tennessee or western North Carolina, you have probably heard about the Tennessee Congressional candidate’s “Make America White Again” billboard campaign. If you haven’t heard about it, Google it. If you don’t have time to Google it right this second, here’s the nitty gritty: a TN congressional candidate has been campaigning under the slogan “Make America White Again,” and browsing his campaign media will show you that he intends to do just that. It’s repulsive. No one can make this stuff up.
When I first saw the “Make America White Again” billboard and other similar propaganda (including one image of the White House donned in Confederate flags with the words “I have a dream” above it *vomit*), I was shocked more than anything. Then, I started doing further research and found out a few other tidbits of information, some uplifting and others infuriating. The uplifting piece is how quickly the community rallied to have the billboard taken down within a matter of a few hours and make clear that their values did not align with the bigotry displayed for the world to see. I do not personally know any of them, but I wish I did. I would shake their hands and tell them that I appreciate them. Civil rights activists come in many forms, ya’ll.
But, there’s still the infuriating part… the part that taught me just how much I still have to learn from Jesus.
As I skimmed over the candidate’s Facebook and campaign website, my eyes locked on one word that I just could not ignore. In this man’s personal biography, “pastor” was listed as one of his occupations.
Pastor. One word, and I went ballistic.
It would be exceptionally difficult to ignore the fact that such a person was campaigning for a seat in Congress, but ignoring the fact that this man purported to be a servant of God was completely unacceptable. I felt my blood boil, and I immediately started planning what I would do, because I simply could not disregard such a vile manipulation of the gospel and such an inaccurate picture of the Jesus I’ve spent the last two years coming to know and love. I tossed around ideas of writing an angry letter to the candidate, and the things I planned to call him could reduce anyone to two inches tall. I even thought about writing an “Open Letter” to him on my blog, blasting him to anyone I could reach with my small platform. I planned to sit down at my computer and “just bleed” as Ernest Hemingway once put it, even if I didn’t quite know the medium with which to share my words.
My plans were not God’s.
As I lay in bed plotting and simultaneously scrolling through Facebook, I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. My pastor’s wife had shared a post from Bob Goff, one of my favorite Christian authors who has taught me so much about love.
As if that one post wasn’t enough to convict me, I started browsing Bob Goff’s page and found another.
And then, I remembered that one of my sweet friends has been sharing a daily prayer all week for those affected by the Orlando tragedy. One of her most powerful ones was about praying for our enemies. Here’s a snippet of it.
After reading and rereading all of those words over and over again, I was forced to admit that my heart was not in the right place about this political situation. Let me be clear in saying that there is no justification for the hate this man is spewing, not politically, and especially not biblically. However, my reaction wasn’t particularly Christ-like either.
Instead of bowing my head and praying for this man’s heart change, I daydreamed about berating him, possibly in a public forum.
Instead of opening God’s word and praying for guidance about what to do in this situation, I almost took matters into my own hands.
I could have easily caused more damage than good in the situation, because here’s what would have happened. I would have chosen to either write an angry letter, or post an angry open letter on Wandering Purposefully. Had I chosen the former route, I probably would have received an equally negative response, and I would have done nothing to lead this individual toward Christ (because, if I’m being honest, his actions make me question his faith even if he identifies as a pastor). Had I chosen the latter, I would have done nothing more than stir up anger in people who probably agree with my sentiments already (I like to think that people in my social circles would not accept this racism and bigotry either).
You know what? Both options involved me putting my politics ahead of my faith, and neither option would do anything to advance the kingdom of Christ. What would serve Christ’s kingdom is me praying for this man and asking for God to break my heart over these kinds of situations rather than allow resentment to fester in my soul like a contagious infection.
I don’t pretend that praying for our enemies is easy. As humans, we are so motivated by emotion that it is hard to overcome any scenario in which we or people we love are needlessly hurt.
It’s also hard because we have to accept two difficult realities: 1) that we are no more deserving of grace than the “easy hates” of this world and 2) that we are as far away from being on Jesus’s level as those aforementioned easy hates.
So many times Wednesday afternoon, I found myself pondering the concept of grace and asking, “Even him?”
“Are you kidding, God? What do you mean that he gets grace? Can’t we give his share away to someone who actually deserves it?”
Except, that’s laughable. None of us deserve grace, but on the upside, there is plenty of it to go around. In the New Testament, some of the Pharisees, the group responsible for crucifying Jesus, converted and became His followers. My goodness, just look at Paul! I’m sure that every believer in that time questioned God’s decision to set Paul apart to do His work, but luckily, God’s ways prevailed. One of the things I’m learning in my walk with God is that I cannot pick and choose. Sure, God commands me to give grace to the world’s vulnerable populations, and I’ve gotten pretty good at that. But, God never allows me to neglect the rich and powerful or even those who seem vile and disgusting by our earthly standards of morality. I have to love and pray for them too.
So, here’s my prayer, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy to say these words (or type them if there are any literalists out there):
God, Your ways are not my ways and Your thoughts are not my thoughts, and honestly, I’m grateful for that. I’m good at giving love to people I deem worthy, however, I am most definitely an amateur at grace and love for certain others. I’m thankful that You’re the one in charge, because I could never give out grace and love as freely as You do. You give it out, not just to the persecuted, but also the persecutors, and I have no idea how you do that. Help me to accept the task you have laid before me to love everyone, not just those I find easy to love. When I encounter situations like the unfortunate political campaign that almost made me lash out, help me choose love even if lashing out seems like the path of least resistance. Please break my heart for what breaks Yours, and please break the heart of this political candidate by showing him Your truth. Amen.
I’m certainly an amateur at grace and love, but luckily God isn’t. And luckily, some people like Bob Goff and Andy Stanley (please watch his “Avoiding Election Infection” sermon!) and so many personal church mentors I’m blessed with seem to get this much more right than I do. Here’s to being more intentional and learning from their example.