“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Last week a police officer came to our church to help the leadership think about protocols we might put in place to help protect us. We were focusing on the possibility of an attack by an active shooter, but he expanded our thinking to include all sorts of worship disruptions. For instance, what do we do if someone comes into the sanctuary in the middle of worship and shouts out for help? Or what if they begin to make wild gestures, scream obscenities, or mess with the elements on the altar? What if somebody starts a fight? Or what if somebody has a medical emergency?
Our church is a partnership of three congregations. Each community has experienced a few of these sorts of incidents over the years. And while we all handled them fairly well, we nonetheless appreciated the advice we received from the law enforcement perspective. Designate three people who would take charge if something disruptive occurs – two to engage with the person(s) creating the disturbance and one to stand back and watch. The watcher observes not only the disruptor but the whole situation. While the others engage the disruptor, they can call the police or ambulance.
Suddenly our core value of noticing and engaging with newcomers took on a more sinister aspect. Pay attention to who comes into your space, we were advised. Are they traveling alone or with others? Are they dressed strangely? Could they be concealing a weapon? Talk with them and get a sense of why they are there. Bad guys will be put off by this and decide to go elsewhere.
This was how the officer referred to possible disruptors – “the bad guys”. The bad guy will do this or think that. And at first I thought that this was a kind of shorthand for talking about what is far more complicated: the human who is making poor choices at the moment in what might wind up being deadly ways. But as the presentation went on, I realized that this man’s job is to stop people from harming other people, and so “bad guys” and “good guys” work as descriptors.
We can’t afford to think of people that way, though. Our instinct is to judge anyone different from us as bad. Of course we want to interrupt threatening and dangerous behavior, but what if the other is not harmful, just different? We are living in a time when we are tempted to project evil all over the place as we navigate extreme, inflammatory political waters. When our welcome becomes an assessment of potential danger, and we overreact, we risk forming communities that exclude anyone not like us. As a Queer Christian, I have personal experience of this. “Queer”, after all, is a synonym for “suspicious.”
It seems that Jesus’ way in this dilemma is to get to know the suspicious character over time. “Love,” he commands. “Do good. Bless. Pray for.”
One would think that this leaves us open to harm, but there is nothing naive or doormat-ish about loving. Love discerns well and acts wisely. The best social workers and psychotherapists are good at this.
Bottom line, we have to go the extra mile. We have to be discerning and continuously on our toes while at the same time we are open to others’ different ways of thinking and behaving that are not meant to cause harm. Let’s take our welcome to the next level, into caution and awareness, and then let’s go a level beyond that, into deep understanding and humility. Let’s love and bless.