Making Peace sans Evangelism (Part Two)
Oftentimes, traditional understandings of evangelism get in the way of peacemaking. In fact, evangelism that demonizes the other and their belief system while hoping to replace it with another, better system, will often build walls in the hearts of the other that are almost impenetrable. If peace requires breaking down walls and building bridges out of the pieces, we need to re-think many things.
Take Bernie Sanders supporters and Trump supporters as a prime example. Both camps believe that their candidate provides the best hope for the future of America. Those in the Sanders camp see those in the Trump camp as small-minded, deluded, and dangerous. They use words to describe Trump like ‘idiot’, ‘bigot’, ‘racist’, ‘fascist’, and ‘frightening’. They compare him to Hitler or Mussolini, and see in his followers the attitudes that led to the Holocaust or apartheid in South Africa. Clearly, in their own minds, they are operating on a higher plain and have a more developed sense of humanity and hope for the future than those on the other side of the aisle.
Sanders supporters are indeed terrified at the possibility of a Trump Presidency. They warn of the destruction that will take place if we keep moving in that direction. In Sanders, they have found a savior of sorts whose policies and attitude they believe will provide the best possible future for everyone. They want Trump supporters to see this before it is too late. They fear that the end of democracy is upon us if things don’t go their way.
So, they try to argue their point of view, not sharing the good news of Sanders, but only telling the bad news of Trump. They say that Trump is a bigot and a racist whose policies will spell the certain doom of America. They point out that Trump doesn’t make sense when he talks, and that he may in fact be the very face of evil. If Trump supporters don’t start to see the error of their ways they will be complicit in choosing the worst President of all time. Instead of sharing from a posture of generosity and good news, they focus their efforts on making sure Trump supporters know that they are in the wrong and need to change before it’s too late.
The resulting effect is inevitable. Trump supporters simply become more committed and more belligerent in their support of Trump. They don’t hear good news because good news isn’t being shared. Unfortunately, perhaps, they become more convinced that a Trump Presidency is the only hope for our future. They remain unconvinced that another way is possible, let alone better.
This is the evangelism many of us have learned, isn’t it? If you don’t believe differently, you are doomed to participate in the destruction of the world. We ask, incredulously, how the ‘other’ can possibly believe differently than ourselves. It lacks the humility, generosity, and empathy that is necessary to making peace a possibility.
When I lived in Jordan, I had many conversations with my friend ‘Jamal’. Through those conversations across lines of religious and cultural difference, I realized something important.
“I wasn’t trying to convince Jamal. I was telling him why I was convinced.
I think there is a world of difference between those two statements.
A person who is trying to convince another person that his or her way of seeing or believing is true tends to look at the other person as a person in need of a new road map. He or she is lost, and I need to convince him or her to look at a new road map in order to move from lost-ness to found-ness. A person who is convinced of something and sharing that conviction with another is like a person sharing a new recipe with someone else. To create a metaphor, if we say that God is a cucumber and faith is what one does with that cucumber in order to make it taste good, then I was sharing with Jamal that my faith adds tomatoes and tzatziki sauce to the cucumber and all I was doing was inviting him to try it to see what it tastes like.” ~ Of Strangers & Enemies p.29–30
If we are to be peacemakers as people of faith/conviction, we need to give up on rhetoric that seeks to tear the ‘other’ down. If we seek to make peace, whether across political lines of difference or religious ones, we have to take the posture of inviting our ‘other’ to taste and see. If we choose the other path, focusing on all that is wrong with the other way of seeing and believing, then no matter how hard we try I am afraid that our beliefs will always end up tasting like pickles (and pickles are at best polarizing).
Ongoing relationships across lines of religious and cultural difference require an attitude of give and take, offering and tasting, speaking and listening. It’s the only way I have experienced that both sides can remain fully at the table.
Stay tuned for Part Three of Making Peace sans Evangelism. For a book that will help you and your friends think more about some of these ideas, check out Of Strangers & Enemies.