Twenty years ago, I was a high school senior looking forward to college with all the optimism you’d expect from a glass-is-always-half-full girl. There are two things God during this critical time in life that forever changed me and my outlook on how the gospel speaks into our world.
In the fall of 2001, I moved into an international residence on campus and found myself living with two girls—one from South Korea and another from small town Iowa. On another floor, I had friends from the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by many different languages, cultures, and religions.
One might assume that this setting would lead me to be pulled “into the world” where my faith would be shaken, doubts would occur, and I would walk away from my faith. To be clear, doubts did occur, and my faith was shaken. There were countless late night discussions about the religions of the world, America, and other random topics we were curious about. It was a lot to take in, and I was confronted by questions I had never asked before.
But I never walked away from the gospel because of the local church and a connected college ministry called The Salt Company. So, while I was fully entrenched in “the world” each time I came back to my dorm room, my spiritual life was growing by leaps and bounds.
The two worlds could not have been more different, but this was a crucial time of preparation in my life as God taught me to live in the world but not of it. Having friends who were agnostics, atheists, Buddists, and Muslims, while being grounded in Christian community, enabled me to see everything through a different lens.
“Us vs. them”
When most Americans describe their reaction to 9/11, I hear a lot of patriotic undertones as they speak of how proud they felt in its aftermath, which is not wrong. But, my experience was different. I first learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center by a Nigerian girl on my floor.
My floormates and I agreed the attack was horrible. But I listened closely as they shared some of their concerns in light of their countries of origin. They were just as shocked and scared as I was, but they also didn’t see things through the same worldview that many of my fellow Americans did. One night, several of us were walking as a group along a busy street in our town when a car drove by and yelled “Get out of our country!” to my Arab friends. I still remember the look on one friend’s face — sad and embarrassed to be talked to like that by another human being.
We are living in a moment where social media feeds have been inundated with “us vs. them” rhetoric. This exists on both sides of the political aisle. I’ve seen more examples than I can count in only the last few weeks. “Us vs. them” thinking distracts us from our call to be salt and light in the world. Christians can and should advocate for just and wise policies. When something comes up that the gospel demands we speak into, we should do so boldly and with conviction.
But, we should speak up because the gospel demands it, not because we are trying to garner political capital or curry favor with anyone. As Christians, we should speak truth with conviction, but always in ways that honor Christ. A commitment to the truth is not a commitment to belligerence. Rather, as we are reminded by Paul, we should stand ready to give an answer of our hope, but always with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15).
Our goal must not be to destroy or “own” anyone. We speak to issues and seek to persuade people. And we know that even the people we disagree with most deeply are not our enemies. We have only one true enemy, and he was defeated on a cross over 2,000 years ago. Our opponents are people made in God’s image. We can contend with their ideas and attempt to defeat harmful legislation, but we must not revile other people or dehumanize them with our words.
After all, those same people are also our mission field. We have been sent to them in order to demonstrate what a follower of Jesus looks like. It is my hope that Christians will lead the way in civil and gracious dialogue. We don’t need to fear “them” (whoever “them” is to you), because our King sits on his throne.
As Christians, we should continue to speak up for what is right, but we can do so in ways that show a watching world whose we are, and who we are. We are citizens of heaven, following a coming King, who welcomed us when we were still his enemies. How can we not do the same?