The Art Of Not Demonizing Your Enemies (Even In A Polarized Culture)

By Edwin Crayton/Opinion

Hey, did you hear the one about the guy who got stuck in a deep, dark, watery pit? A man driving by, heard his anguished cries for help, got out of his pickup truck and threw a rope down to him. The guy in the pit shouted, “Mister, before I use this rope, please tell me who you voted for in the last election?!” The puzzled rescuer shouted the candidate’s name. The guy in the hole threw the rope back up and shouted, “You can keep going! I don’t want to be rescued by anyone who voted for that jerk! Just leave me here! I’m good!” He decided to wait for a rescuer who voted exactly the way he did. He’s still waiting.

That little fable may seem a bit extreme, but I honestly believe it’s where we might be headed as a nation and as a world one day, if polarization in politics and society keeps ramping up as it has been. As you know I’m sure, the term polarization is being used these days—and in this article–to refer to the extreme hostility between at least two people, groups, or nations. When you hear the term used in the media, it’s most often about how the two main political parties can’t stand each other and do all they can to derail one another. In a polarized society, most people try to end polarization by getting rid of their enemy. A few thousand years ago, Jesus had a radically different way to end polarization. In Matthew 5:38-48 Christ told his followers to, “Love your enemy.” The obvious question is, how do you do that, especially in a polarized climate? Well, you don’t. And Jesus knew that out of our strength we humans cannot. He has to do it for us. When a person accepts Jesus as savior and lord, Christ spiritually enters the person’s heart and converts both the mind and heart. That allows an individual to see things differently and also act and live differently amongst others.

Did you read those verses from Matthew? When I read them, it seemed to me that there are four factors that are fueling polarization in our world and Jesus addressed all of them. I believe faith in Jesus can help us deal with these four factors. Of course, I realize that those who are not Christians, will not have the trust in Jesus that a believer has. Yet, I feel that Jesus’ instructions are so true and spot-on that they can even be useful to unbelievers in at least a minor way. Here are those factors and how Jesus’ instructions to “love one’s enemy” can “depolarize” us.

The first thing I noticed about polarization is that people tend to communicate to stereotypes of who they believe their opponents are, instead of viewing their opponents as individuals. I have noticed that media is starting to create “profiles” of people groups. Kind of like we accuse the police of doing. Unfortunately, the words “young black urban male” strike fear into those who may have fled the inner cities to get away from blacks. Now we have new profiles that do the same for other groups. For instance, we are starting to hear politicized demographics such as “White Evangelical Christians” This is used almost as a code for people who believe in the authority of the Bible. Some people spit the words out as if describing a monster. In a conflict, when we begin to talk to who we think the opponent is, instead of just talking to the opponent as if he or she was a person, we get a distorted view of their message. In verse 46, Jesus taught, it’s no big deal to love those who love you. He challenged us to love those who may not return our love, or who we don’t care for First, we have to see that person as a human being, not a stereotype.

The next factor that leads to polarization is that many of us tend to demonize our opponents. I confess that when I was very young, I did that. But time humbles us. I began to realize that although someone may disagree with me on one issue, they might agree with me on others. Let me ask you something that I asked myself: If someone is an idiot because they disagree with you, are they still an idiot when they agree with you?

Let me explain factor number three by asking a simple question. If something is true, is it still true if that truth is told to you by your enemy? In a polarized society, opposing groups often stubbornly reject anything the opponent offers—even obvious truths. When it’s a small truth it’s no big deal. But if the truth is something that really matters, such as whether or not Jesus was right when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). To be clear, he was saying that no one can get to heaven without believing in him. This contrasts greatly with popular notions that there are “many paths to heaven”. If you are not a Christian, I realize you don’t believe him. I also understand that those who don’t believe think it’s no big deal if they don’t believe he’s right. But what if he is right? Wouldn’t it make sense to at least investigate his claim? Why not read the Bible? Why not study his history? Because if he is right, that would be a very big deal. Eternity is a long time.

Repent like Peter, but don’t sell out like Judas. Last factor that leads to polarization is that people dig in, pride sets in, anger too, and it becomes harder and harder for either side to admit it when they are wrong. All of us are wrong sometimes. The Bible reminds us that all of us fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Did you like the TV show Madmen? Well, a pioneering advertising man from that 1960s era named Bill Bernbach used to carry around a card inside his wallet. It simply said, “Maybe he’s right.” Mr. Bernbach used that card when he was in a disagreement with a client or anyone. It kept him grounded. He went on to revolutionize how advertising is done worldwide. He is one reason commercials are so funny on the Super Bowl and command almost as much attention as the game itself. My mother used to tell me to listen to my critics because they may have something useful for me even as they are criticizing me or attacking me. That is good advice that I took and use today. I remember once, someone wrote something about me that attacked my character, They used a word I didn’t understand. I got a dictionary and looked it up. Actually, I was grateful to them because they expanded my vocabulary.

But seriously, apologizing is just something we need to be willing to do, Christian or nonbeliever. However, you can go too far. Today, in our politically correct culture, people are forced to disown statements in order to keep their jobs or position in society. We should not disown our faith or the teachings of the Bible even if they are not in fashion and are unpopular with the masses. God himself gave us Christians our faith and personally inspired the words and the beliefs of the Bible. That should mean something to believers. Those who oppose what he has told us to believe are in fact, opposing him. These are days when Christians are being challenged to make a decision that is similar to the day you became a believer—that is, if you are one. You hear a lot in the media about something called the cultural wars. But the war God is asking us to choose sides in is a spiritual war between our ultimate enemy, Satan—who hates all humankind–and God, our heavenly father (Ephesians 6:10-18). No Christian will be able to sit on the sidelines (2 Timothy 3:12). Those verses make clear that this spiritual war is not against people, but the forces of evil that are out there fueling the evil we see. Unlike in a conventional war, we are not fighting to see those who hate us damned. We are instead being used by God to spread his Holy Word to lost souls so that they can be saved through accepting Jesus as savior and lord. This will lead to conflict, even though we strive to love our enemies. It will lead to persecution as believers cling to the faith and are faithful to God in an unbelieving world (Acts 5:29). But it will not be done in vain, because Jesus will draw some unbelievers to him and they be saved from an eternity in hell. That is what happens when the weapon you use against your enemy is the weapon of love.

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray of them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?.” -Jesus speaking (Matthew 5:44-46)

“Always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much.” -Oscar Wilde