Author mug On Faith

William Shimkus

Saturday, November 6, 2004

Christian ideals can
heal nation

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my parents on the mainland. As my dad took me to the airport in St. Louis for my return home, I noticed a white pickup truck passing us on the right. As it pulled alongside our car, the driver made an obscene gesture at us and then pulled away. I looked over at our car's speedometer and saw that we were driving the speed limit. My dad hadn't suddenly changed lanes, so we hadn't cut the white pickup off.

I mentioned the driver's behavior to my dad and he thought that the driver was reacting to the bumper stickers on the back of his car. My parents are very Republican and they have, on the back of their car, bumper stickers for practically every Republican on the ballot in southern Illinois.

That got me thinking. The driver of the white pickup truck didn't know me. There are many things we might have agreed on. We probably were both rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals in the baseball playoffs. Unlike my parents, I have, on occasion, voted for Democrats. We would both agree that we have a constitutional right of free speech. For that reason, I could express my political opinions by bumper sticker while he expressed his through his hand gesture.

Now the election is over. It's been a campaign with more than a fair share of acrimony between candidates and their supporters. Yet with the voting done and all the races decided, the divisions remain. A wide variety of experts have told us that we are a "polarized" society, strongly supporting the candidates with whom we agree, strongly opposing those with whom we disagree, with very, very little middle ground between these points of view.

If you believe, as I do, that this is not a healthy trend for our nation, we must begin by asking ourselves what we can do about it. I believe that the Christian faith has an answer to that question. That answer is more than just another admonition to be nice to one another or even to "love your enemies." All that's been tried before and, though true, is never enough by itself.

I believe that we have to start with the very nature of God, as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that we are all, by nature, sinful and that our sinful human nature continually colors our thinking, speaking and doing as people. As the result, in God's sight, there is nothing about us that is any way attractive, nothing that deserves his commendation. We are rather, by nature, judged to be "blind, dead and enemies of God."

The good news of Christianity is that God loved us so very much that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to suffer, die and rise again for us that we might be changed from enemies into God's own dearly loved children. As the result, I am the type of person for whom Jesus died. But so is the man driving the white pickup truck. So are the winners and losers in the election. So are all those people who waved signs.

Looking at other people, particularly those with whom I disagree, through the eyes of Jesus means that I can't demonize them. I can't stereotype them. I can't reduce them to labels, slogans or bumper stickers. And while I contend for the truth, I will do so in a way that is not contentious, but rather seek what is best for all. Perhaps if more of us would strive to do just that, we might find the strength, the courage and the wisdom necessary to work together that we might reach the high ideals of freedom and justice on which our nation was founded. It's worth a try!

The Rev. William Shimkus is pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. He retired recently from the Army Reserve after 23 years as a chaplain and formerly served congregations in Illinois, Washington and Idaho.

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