Who is my Neighbor?

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I am thinking a lot about politics these days. I generally want nothing to do with a system that seems like it brings out the worst in everyone, and I have recently become bolder about saying that I no longer vote. But that doesn't mean I don't care, or that I am not deeply distressed about the depths it seems like we keep descending to, collectively, in politics. It is hard for me to even understand how we could make it illegal NOT to discriminate, much less why anyone would want to, in the state where I live. But that is exactly what has happened in North Carolina. It is heart-breaking.

And I know, (really, I know!), that many, many people, even those I love, think that a lot of this political vitriol is because people like me don't vote, don't get involved, don't fight back against bad policies by working for better ones. What I don't think others understand is that my withdrawal from political involvement is not a cause of these issues, it is an effect. I just don't see how politics has, or even can, heal the actual relationships between individuals and groups that seem to be getting more and more damaged.

It seems like every time the needle moves in one direction politically, the other side just works as hard as they can to move it back. Until the next time, when the other other side works to move it again. Which means we are constantly in a state of fighting against one another; of taking things away; of making enemies of those who think differently than we do; of inflaming fears; of upping the stakes of what we are willing to do, to say. And I don't think we can see how 'our' side seems just as scary and damaging to 'them' as 'their' side does to 'us'.

This is violence, and to me, even if I am on the 'right' side of it, it is still about destroying someone else. I can't do it, and I believe my faith requires something else of me.

'Who is my neighbor?' is the fundamental question of the Christian faith, and it seems to me that reading the parable of the Good Samaritan, or really anything that Jesus says or does in the Gospels, implies that the answer is, 'everyone'. We are all neighbors, we are all called to see each other as brothers and sisters, and this is, as ever, easier said than done.

Today in North Carolina it is especially important to see our neighbor in everyone who is easily discriminated against, due to their gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status. If the law says that it is not illegal to discriminate, then I think our faith dictates that it becomes even more important morally that we go the extra mile for anyone who may be vulnerable. The law cannot dictate our hearts, or our every day actions. We most definitely answer to a higher authority on this.

And what is even harder is that I think my Christian faith also requires me to see my political opponent as my neighbor, to pray for them, and to understand them as a beloved child of God.

This does not mean that I agree with everything they stand for, nor does it mean that I will not oppose ideas I believe are wrong or dangerous. Or even actively disobey any policy that I believe is unjust - as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, we have an obligation to break laws that in themselves are morally wrong.

It just means that in addition to this, I believe I am called to see those whose ideas scare or anger me as my brothers and sisters. To see my own part in the escalation of violent thoughts, words and actions and to move in the other direction - to try to listen and understand what is underneath these ideas. To try and comprehend that perhaps the 'other' is just as frightened as I am, just as vulnerable, just as determined to make the world a better place. They just see it very differently than I do.

I think I am also called to admit that even my own best thoughts and ideas still have flaws, still don't work for everyone, still protect my own way of seeing the world, my own interests. I am still not God. I am still a sinner, and I am still wrong about very many things. My neighbor also has to work to love me as I am.

I don't think any of this is easy. But it is Easter, and if that means anything (and to me it means everything), I have to believe that 'faith-based' could have a very different meaning than it sometimes does today. It could have more to do with faith than politics.