Neighbours or Scapegoats

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“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right.” (James 2:8)

James wasn’t saying that this is something we should do just in the good times. He was speaking just prior to the Roman invasion of Jerusalem, when civil war was tearing Israel apart. These were very violent times, and it was in this atmosphere that James told the Christians to love their neighbour.

And James didn’t specify which neighbour. He didn’t say “your Christian neighbour,” or “your Jewish neighbour,” or “your socially equal neighbour.” Neighbour means every person they came across, without, as James called it, “respect for persons,” or what we call today, discriminating one neighbour from another.

So, if we have an obligation in our faith to love and serve our neighbour, whoever that neighbour is, how do we circumvent this obligation if we wish to? We call the neighbour we don’t wish to help “a goat.” We have seen it happen when a man dies, and the man’s former family want to take his property and not give it to the man’s wife and children. They know they have an obligation to the wife and children, so they call the woman “a witch” and then they can take her property. How many times have we seen this?

In demonising the neighbour, we don’t wish to help, we can ignore the obligation our faith clearly gives to us. If the said woman was truly a bad person, then the man’s former family should help to restore here, like the Pharisees were supposed to help restore the woman caught in adultery. If we “suffer not a witch to live,” according to Moses, then the same law condemns us also.

This is what we do to the poor. We blame them and call them names, but the bible calls them neighbours. We like to change the name from neighbour, to something else, to tag them. We do this on an international level. The purpose of propaganda is to give other people a name, that eases our conscience in killing them. Like the African proverb, “If you want to kill a dog, just give it a bad name.” Just tell the community the dog steals eggs. The community will finish the job for you.

As the armies lined up to fight in the First World War, the offices told the soldiers of all the sins of the enemy, how they did terrible things to their mothers, how they murdered their own children, and how they weren’t fit to live. This helped convince the conscience of the soldiers that it was good to kill them, but it was for the rich families they killed the poor enemies. The leaders divided the poor in one nation against the poor in another nations, so the rich could take the benefits. The propaganda that divides us into tribes, races and religions is the wrong story. But the leaders know the people’s nature, they know they will buy into it. The right story is that we should come together to restore the poor.

If you look at our history, giving people a name has always been a practice in warfare. And if you can come up with biblical names, all the better. In the American War of Independence, America was new Jerusalem, Britain was Gog and Magog. In my youth, Russia was Gog and Magog, now its Iran. Israel are God’s people, Palestinians are worthy of living in scum and being killed. Helping the poor is called “wealth redistribution,” but extracting wealth from the poor to the richest 1% in the world is not.

This division has bedevilled our elections in modern democracy. We have become so divided, name calling and hating one another, that we can’t come together and be sensible about the issues that affect us all. A main narrative of news media is that it’s impossible for us to work together. And we may believe that, because it suits our sense of holy enmity. It’s like the powers want it this way, because the division can get them votes. We who support them are the ones who loose. If we refuse the division and work together, we could solve many of problems we face. This is what the United Nations is often calling us to do.

We quote texts like Christ came to bring division and a sword, but this was a parable of how love would be rejected and those who love would be persecuted by the people who benefit from our division. We are called to resist this worldly practice of division, in which are true motives are often hidden from ourselves.

Much of the church took a very wrong turn in the 19th Century. It is called Dispensationalism, a way of reading the bible as an end-times document. It means identifying the Gog and Magog in the world and naming them as the enemy. It plays in exactly with the economic powers of our nations. These bad nations can be vilified and brought down, in unimageable suffering. Millions upon millions of people have suffered by this technique.

As I said, it is a gross misreading on the scriptures. The scriptures tell us that if there are enemies, our task is to work to restore and reconcile, as much as possible. If we can’t do that, then we don’t deviate form that calling we have in Christ. We are reconcilers, we are restorers of sinners, not their judges. We have an obligation to treat them as neighbours, just as James said his own difficult days.

Our churches should be places where we learn and teach the skills of conflict resolution.

Instead they have often become places where we name call other sectors of society and name call other nations. Instead of being places where we predict the next enemy to take down, our churches should be places where we learn about our role in repairing the lives of the broken and repairing our relationships. These skills are often most lacking among us, but they are to be the number one skill that identity us as God’s children: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Its very unfortunate that just at the time when the United Nations was coming in, to be an organisation of peace, teaching conflict resolution and restoration of broken nations, the church took a turn away from this calling. The church and the United Nations have often been walking in opposite directions and very often it is the United Nations that has been walking in the biblical direction. At least regarding what we have been talking about above, its time for many of us to change.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.” Let’s not buy into the world’s story, but into Christ’s new kingdom. When we do what James aid, our nations become neighbourly instead of being filled with pockets of left bind people, who become the next terrorists. It’s the way to build community. It’s our Christian way.