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Pastor Viewpoint: Must our opponents be seen as enemies?

By Pastor John Lestock, Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Have you noticed the world around us is narrowing in a troubling way? Once upon a time, it seemed possible to disagree with someone holding different opinions, or even different world views, yet to still respect them and even call them a friend. I remember the day when politicians would respectfully refer to one another as "my worthy opponent" and they really meant it. Maybe you remember those days, too?

Yet this sort of civility, tolerance and open mindedness seems to have changed on so many levels in our world. It now seems the common mindset has evolved into "If you're not with me 100 percent, then you're against me." It's a short-sighted and small-minded view that divides people into groups of "Them and Us," "Right and Wrong," and "Friends and Enemies." We see it: in our community issues, in our political leaders and parties, in our world leaders and foreign policy, and tragically, even in the church. It's troubling because it smacks of immaturity, incivility, fear-mongering, and our own spiritual poverty.

It's a mindset that leads people to demonize those they disagree with, causing riffs and the destruction of relationships. Sadly it brings out the very worst in personalities, community relationships, politics and religion and it serves no one's best interest.

Centuries ago Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9) What is a peacemaker?

A peacemaker is someone who attempts to build bridges, not walls and barriers. A peacemaker is someone who encourages discussion and dialogue and doesn't need to do all the talking themselves. They know how to listen. Peacemakers work toward respect, courtesy and civility.

Peacemakers know when you sink to "name calling" you've slammed the door on diplomacy, objectivity, and fair play.

Unfortunately, there are so many poor examples around us in the world today. You see it in negative campaign ads. You read it in the hot-headed letters to the editor in the newspaper.

You see it in the division going on with our world leaders and in world events. And sadly, you notice it in the troubling schisms between so many people of faith today.

The simple truth is, we don't have to agree with one another on everything. What truly binds us together as a community, a nation, or in the church is not our mutual agreement, but rather our mutual concern over the issues. Of course there will be differences of opinions on any issue. God created us all differently, yet God also calls us to work together through our teamwork and understanding on issues. My opinion is important, but so is your opinion.

Can't we be "big enough" to realize that neither Republicans, Democrats, nor Independents have the corner on the market of truth, and neither is completely right or completely wrong? Can we come to believe that neither "liberals" or "conservatives" are morally inferior, but only different? Can we accept that words like "evangelical," "fundamentalist," "mainstream" or "progressive" are not four-lettered words?

Most importantly, can you and I recognize there are intelligent men and women of values, faith, character and integrity on both sides of an issue? And can you and I have opponents in our lives without turning them into our enemies? There is a lot at stake in how we handle ourselves in these situations of life! If we can, then perhaps we're on the road Jesus pioneered and calls us to follow as peacemakers in a world full of differences. May God enable us and empower us to live these kinds of lives!