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Avoiding Us vs. Them

"A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." That was a circulating sentiment during the 2000 presidential election. I can remember one of my good friends telling me about his voting experience (he was an outspoken Republican) and joking that he almost voted for Nader since he heard the saying so often in the days before the election.

I recently read a haunting book by Ephraim Radner, A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church. I found this book challenging but ultimately very helpful in identifying the ways in which the Christian Church has failed throughout the centuries. I even thought to myself--I wonder if this is the kind of book that D. S. Warner would have written if he was alive today and had studied a lot of historical theology. (For example, Warner wrote about the problem of the divisions in the church as ultimately sinful and Radner repeatedly includes the phrase, "division is murder.") Unfortunately, Christians have given Radner plenty of examples to illustrate and demonstrate the sins of the church. And yet, there was something bothering me throughout the first part of this book. Perhaps, he was just hitting a sore spot with me by critiquing William Cavanaugh--a theologian whom I find very compelling--but the outcome was what bothered me the most. Radner is not the first writer who has led me to this feeling. I remember having the same thoughts while reading Nathan Kerr's book, Christ, History, and Apocalyptic. This is a thought that I had while reading these two books (and others too): "I really like what you are going for, but why do you have to cut down these other alternatives that don't seem to me to be the real problem?"

Back to the Radner/Cavanaugh example. Radner is concerned that Cavanaugh oversells his thesis in The Myth of Religious Violence. I think Cavanaugh is well aware that there has been too much religious violence. He instead wants us to quit using a problematic category of religion to describe some violence as religious, and thus irrational, and other violence secular, and thus rational. The further along that I read in Radner's book, the more I appreciated what he was trying to do--but I still think Cavanaugh's book should be read more charitably. Put differently, I'm not convinced that "a vote for Cavanaugh is a vote for Radner's enemy"--(denial that the church has sinned in being complicit and active in violence).

I refuse to limit the world to Us vs. Them. It leads down a bad road. I think we should strive more often for creativity in the face of situations and drawing charitably on a variety of insights. Certainly, we can only engage "them" if we know who we are and have a foundation of Christian identity and understanding of our lord and savior, but we should try not to fear everything that is not exactly like us. We might just find ourselves with the good Samaritan instead of the dangerous one.