Just this morning, I came upon an article that horrified me, until I learned that it was actually a satirical piece of “fake news”. It was an article about the state of Arizona enacting a program in its public schools designed to help gay children find their way into “straightness”. While, as I said, the article was a work of fiction, and there actually is no such program in Arizona, the fact that it at first appeared credible (and, judging by Facebook, not just to me!) is an indication of how accustomed we have become to the vilification of “the other”.
In many respects, the “culture wars” of the last several years can be boiled down to simply this: a growing fear of “the other”, of people who don’t look like us, think like us, act like us, desire like us, believe like us. And those among us who are most fearful are those who are trying desperately to enact policies and practices to enforce a kind of homogeneity on society that will either eliminate the other or force the other underground. That way, they think, they can continue to live in a society that mirrors themselves, rather than having to learn to live in a diverse environment.
Sadly, to me, many of those who are most fearful of the other identify themselves as Christians. Their understanding of Christianity is such that they seem to believe there is some kind of divine mandate that we should all be the same. And, for them, it means that to be an American is to be this kind of Christian. Faith and politics and patriotism all become merged for them, and it is all deeply rooted in a fear of those who don’t share this worldview.
Yet, if we look at what Jesus does in the Gospels, we see a very different way of being in the world. Jesus also lived in a culture that was terribly fearful of the other, and that culture, too, sought to push the other into the margins and shadows of society. And in his life and ministry, Jesus focused great attention on those people. Jesus embraced the other, and suggested that by doing so, we would experience the kingdom of God in a new way.
He also warned his followers against being carried away by fear. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Mark 13:7) The rumors of war and dire consequences that emanate from those who lives are run by their fear of the other should not be allowed to derail us from living the way of Jesus: the way that embraces the other. Our consciousness as Christians is not to be formed by fear, but by the spirit of the living Christ who said that whatever we do (or do not do) to the least among us — to the other — we do or do not do to him.