Enemies, allies, and agendas

Jeffrey L. Samelson

The 2016 American presidential campaign has revealed a challenge. You find yourself defending a particular party or candidate merely because they have been attacked by someone whose views or policies you oppose, or you end up attacking some others merely because they appear to be aligned with someone you oppose. You end up wondering, “How did I get here?” when you realize that you are now supporting someone you really don’t agree with or arguing against someone who thinks as you do.

There are two old sayings: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “The enemy of my friend is my enemy.” Those may offer useful guidance on the battlefield or to resolve some major conflict for the short term, but as Christians whose first loyalty is always to our Lord, they can be problematic in politics, in our personal lives, and in the church.

We are often encouraged to form alliances based on false dilemmas, as in, “Candidate X is for this good thing; if you don’t support him, then you’re opposed to the good things she stands for.” In fact, Candidate X may also be for bad things we cannot support. In reality, other candidates may be worthier of our support. We may find the same thing happening in the workplace, in some groups we belong to, or even in our families as sides or factions are formed around some issue or personality. Tragically, we see it also in the church, when “for” or “against” on some single issue—finances, furnishings, or something else—is used to divide everyone into “us” and “them.”

Christians, however, don’t let common enmities or agreeable alliances stand in for faithfulness to God and his will. Sometimes that requires abandoning what is convenient or comfortable for careful consideration and hard choices. This goes with the “deny yourself” part of Christ’s call to “take up [your] cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We learn to discern (Philippians 1:9-11).

So we do well to remember that there are deep ditches on either side of the narrow, scriptural, Lutheran middle road. “At least it’s not Catholic” doesn’t excuse aligning yourself with a Protestant church full of its own errors. Saying “We’re on the same side on this important social issue” does not condone ignoring false doctrine. You may properly disapprove of Aunt Agnes’ lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong about Grandma’s health care. Pastor Smith may truly have handled yesterday’s discipline case poorly, but that’s no reason to oppose him today or avoid his Bible class.

Many people will try to get us to sign on to their agendas, but our ultimate agenda has to be the Lord’s, and that means asking hard questions: What witness to Christ am I giving with my support? Will this opposition burn bridges for the gospel? By being loyal to my friend, am I being disloyal to my Savior?

Sometimes God’s will coincides clearly with some person, party, or politics we favor, and then we can confidently give our full support. But this doesn’t happen as often as we want. Too often going “all in” means compromising Christ. So we study his Word, pray for wisdom, act in love, and seek his will in all things, rejoicing in the alliance God made with us by sending his Son to be our Savior.

Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

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