May 17, 2016

Serving Our Neighbors When They are Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

By Anna Ilona Mussmann

Facebook’s algorithm has apparently decided that I like to be discouraged, because my newsfeed is filled with headlines about assisted suicide, late-term abortion, and transgender politics. Even worse is when I see one of my friends “liking” something ugly, like a brash joke in support of Planned Parenthood’s grisly activities or a statement that Christians must be content with freedom of thought and stop letting their faith get in the way of the world’s progress.

It can leave me with a sick feeling in my stomach. I know, of course, that the world holds radical liberal activists. That is not what worries me. The part that is hard to understand is the way so many nice, normal people have accepted the beliefs of yesterday’s radicals. How can they really think that this insanity--so cruel, so destructive, so dysfunctional--is the way to make the world a better place? Not only that, but how can they really think that people who oppose these things, people like me, are bigots who should shut our mouths?

There is a part of me that wishes they would all just be quiet. Just keep their thoughts and angry memes to themselves. Yet when I recognize this wish, I can’t help but see that it makes me just like them. Neither of us is comfortable with living among people who challenge our core outlook. It’s a metaphorical kick in the shins, a scrape against verbal asphalt, to know that other human beings look at our beliefs and call them bad.

One trait of our era seems to be a peculiar insecurity. We are uncomfortable with being different from each other. Claim that stay-at-home moms give their babies something precious, and someone will lash out to defend moms who work outside the house. Claim that your career makes you a better mom, and stay-at-home moms will sprout porcupine spines. It is as if we are all so desperate for affirmation that we cannot bear the implication that we are being compared to someone else and possibly found wanting. We Christians tend to suffer from this tendency as much as anyone.

My pastor commented in today’s sermon that we are often guilty of looking at the headlines and feeling angry that “those people” have “ruined” our country. Of course we have a duty as citizens to disagree with our neighbors if we think their arguments are harmful. In a democratic republic such as ours, wrong beliefs are extraordinarily destructive, and it can be an act of Christian charity to enter the public debate. This kind of spirit, though, is different from what I feel when I wish that progressives would leave my life alone. The sick feeling in my stomach is mostly for myself.

In Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment, he says that we ought to “defend [our neighbor], speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” I fail to do that when I wish “those people” would disappear. The truth is that their fierce pursuit of what they see as virtue is, in its own way, an admirable thing. After all, this sin-wracked world isn’t always very awesome; so it flows logically that changing it ought to make things better. In fact, it is surely a demonstration of natural law--albeit a twisted one--that human beings would sense so deeply not only that good and evil exist, but also that it is crucial to be allied with good. My Facebook friend who supports Planned Parenthood and transgender rights is showing a recognition that the world is broken and hurting. The fiercer his activism, the more likely it is that he is experiencing pain firsthand. He simply misunderstands the solution.

My reaction ought to be one of compassion. That is where my opportunity to serve my neighbors lies.

They need to see an alternative. They need to know that there is another, different, better, truer answer than the ideology that promises to save them. I’d like to suggest that we could wrest our world to the side of goodness and sanity by living as beacons--by showing them the meaning of love, marriage, Biblical manhood and womanhood, motherhood, generosity, and peace. It would be nice if they would look at our lives and be opened to our message.

Yet it’s a tricky proposition. My neighbors need to see Christ, but I’m the one living next door. As becomes obvious every time a Christian figure is publicly caught in sin, the world uses the sins of Christians to attempt to prove Christ a fraud. My neighbor might well take even my shyness, my failure to know how to offer help, my clumsy parking job, or anything else as a reason to reject my beliefs. In fact, I’m so vulnerable to sin myself that I cannot handle thinking too much about the idea that my life and actions should represent God before the world. I will either fall into despair, or try to make myself appear better than I really am until I become a full-fledged hypocrite.

Sadly, I cannot be the Christ that my neighbor needs.

All I can do is take my own sin, even the sin of selfishness in the face of my neighbor’s pain, to the cross of the real Christ. All I can do is receive the Sacraments and experience His forgiveness and His righteousness. In that, there is peace, even in a world that might persecute those whom Christ calls His own.

Yet our Lord does not leave it at that. He works through sinners like you and me. I cannot be the Christ that my neighbor needs, but Christ can work through me. If I take the time to chat with a neighbor who is lonely, if I give up a parking space or drop off a bag of groceries, if I somehow give an example of what marriage can be when two flawed people live in grace--then that is Christ’s work, not mine. I live in the freedom of the Gospel, and I can witness to my neighbors, sinner though I be. I can even enter the public arena and advocate for the rights of the oppressed, the abused, and the victimized. My neighbors may be wrong, but that doesn't change what is right. What comfort there is in knowing that no one can erase the reality of what is good, true, and beautiful. 

The world can be a discouraging place. Yet Christ tells us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” I can’t save my neighbors from themselves, but God can. That is what I need to remember anytime I log in to Facebook.


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After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist.

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2 comments:

  1. Thank you for a beautifully written and well thought out piece. It is true, Facebook is the stuff of headaches these days. Praise God that he comforts us in so many lovely ways.

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