Christian community

Is My Brother My Enemy?

assume goodwill post

This is the second post in a series on Chip Removal for Christians. Read original post here.

Most people don’t like cops. The perception is that cops are self-serving, law-breaking enforcers out to ruin everybody’s life.

My best friend has been a cop for nearly seven years. Working in such a gritty profession has wrought violent changes to his perspective. He has arrested drug dealers, wrestled heroin addicts to the ground, apprehended drunk drivers, pursued high speed vehicles, rescued the dying, encountered bloody and decaying bodies, managed violent crash scenes, and stopped domestic violence.

And in case you are wondering… Yes, he has given tickets to soccer moms and white-collar dads on Christmas (going 90+ in a 65 zone). And yes, he has had vehicles towed that were over a year overdue on their registration or were being driven by those with suspended licenses. He’s also shown a great deal of mercy by giving warnings instead of tickets and refraining from throwing the book at people for all their infractions.

You’d think that dealing with criminals and being privy to the swirling dangers of the world would make the man bitter, but that wasn’t really the trigger. Dealing with everyday average people exasperated him. Nobody—except the desperately needy—assumed good intentions. They looked at him (and often treated him) like he was the Gestapo.

In turn, he viewed the world with intense skepticism. He assumed goodwill from no one (except family and very close friends).

When we first met, he was not a police officer. He had a heart for those who needed help. He noticed the people who often went unnoticed. He liked to go out of his way to make people feel comfortable or help a scraggly looking guy on a hot day by giving him some cold water.

After going through the academy, he was a different man. Instead of walking into a coffee shop or a restaurant and sitting down in whatever spot was open, he’d angle for a seat that faced the door in order to gain a good line of sight on who was coming and going. He’d listen to you talk, but instead of looking at you, his eyes would scan the room, evaluating suspicious characters. He couldn’t go anywhere without his pistol. The first time he took his family to Disneyland, he took the extra time to store his gun with the authorities at the park so he could drive to and from the Anaheim with protection. He could spot people he’d arrested or ticketed several hundred feet away. He was always on high alert.

After seeing so much death, blood, pain, corruption, disrespect and violence he had a diamond-hard exterior. I didn’t really think it could get any harder…

Two years ago, he was in his seventh career pursuit and that terminated with a combat shooting. Bullets everywhere. Blood everywhere. His partner nearly killed. It wasn’t a single-shot standoff.

Once again, his perspective and personality shifted. His usual long-suffering manner dissipated. This was a man who, before the shooting, could listen to a driver rant, rage and call him every name in the book and he would just smile and say, “sign here, please.” He wouldn’t rise to  goading or other stimuli that would make most people start punching. After the shooting, people’s asinine choices would spark hot temper. He spent a lot of time frustrated and angry. An entire year passed before he was finally evaluated and diagnosed with PTSD. That diamond-hard exterior went internal.

He had stopped assuming goodwill from anyone (except maybe his wife and close family).

How do you feel about people?

We live in a world marred by violence, hatred and deceit.

Priests, pastors and teachers have been accused of child molestation. Good samaritans get sued by the people they saved. People who should be trustworthy turn out to be base offenders. Someone in the church steals your identity. Maybe that couple you bought groceries for went back to the store, returned them, and used the money for dope.

We are weary and wary of people in the world. It’s a normal reaction, and, at times, a healthy one… but like anything it can get carried to extremes.

How do you feel about fellow Christians?

In the church, we try to be active participants. We help. We teach. We work.

Instead of thanks, we get criticism. At some point, the temptation is to throw up our hands and walk away with a very pessimistic view of the world and the church. We might stop worshipping with the church altogether. Or we may assume that people (Christians included) are out to thrash us in some way or another.

I’ve seen the tragedy play out too many times.

We stop assuming goodwill. We walk around with a chip on our shoulder. This is not what God intended. We should always assume the best of our Christian brethren, but how?

How can we assume goodwill without being destroyed?

1) Cultivate Situational Awareness

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.

~ Matthew 10:16, NASB

I like how the NASB uses the word “shrewd” because it implies a certain degree of street smarts. The greek word is “phronimos” which is defined as “prudent, sensible, wise.” Prudence involves wisdom and awareness. We’re not supposed to be witless wonders.

Situational awareness is a term used by military and law enforcement and is defined as the ability to evaluate your surroundings and prepare your mind to handle any perceived danger. A cop/soldier must rapidly identify danger and surrounding innocents at any time and in any scenario.

We need to have situational awareness as a Christian. There are people who are evil out there and they do creep into the church. We need to guard our hearts and minds from being carried away by their deceitfulness. We also need to be aware of the willingness of a brother or sister to turn over a new leaf. If someone repents, look at their attitude toward their repentance and give them that opportunity.

2) Practice forgiveness

The hardest people to forgive are often those closest to you because they have potential to wound you more deeply. Many of the conflicts that arise within our congregations stem from years of festering wounds. I’ve seen people get into conflict with an adult and then go on to  punish that adult’s children because they are bitter.

When we fail to forgive, the bitterness eats away at our heart like cancer. Every encounter becomes a potential for danger; our defenses and adrenaline rise and inevitable conflict ensues. Because they’ve hurt us before, we assume that they are always ready to hurt us.

Stop keeping a record of wrongs.

I’m not suggesting that you let go of your situational awareness, but I do recommend mercy, love and forgiveness. After all, what did Jesus give us? Mercy. Love. Forgiveness. Are we greater than Him? Did he ask God to forgive the people who put Him up on that cross? Yes. He did.

For more on forgiveness, read this post on conquering the haters.

In order to assume goodwill from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to forgive them. We need to listen to what they are saying with a heart that is willing to give them a second chance. Christ died for them just like He died for you. We are no more perfect than they are. Show them love. Show them mercy. Extend forgiveness.

3) Innocent until proven guilty

When my friend was in the combat shooting that I mentioned above, it was interesting that, although most of us would see the end result as the execution of justice, those who investigate these incidents do not. There’s a lot of talk on the internet about how cops let cops get away with murder. Maybe it happens, I’m not sure, but there’s got to be widespread corruption for that to happen.

In the American justice system, a person on trial is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. When a cop is investigated, they are guilty until proven innocent. They took his badge and gun. After the shooting was over, he went through a debrief that lasted for an additional twelve hours. He was interrogated by all three agencies who had officers involved. He went home, then, the following week he had to drive with his partner, commander and sergeant to a different city for a final evaluation with a lawyer and another investigator. The final conclusion was that the shooting was justified, but even then, the paper work wasn’t closed up for another 2 years.

Guilty until proven innocent is a bit backwards, don’t you think?

And yet…

Isn’t that how we treat people at church sometimes? We ought to assume that their intentions are good until they prove otherwise.

You will know them by their fruits.

Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?

So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Matthew 7.16-20, NASB, emphasis mine

This passage refers to identifying false teachers. The principle can also be applied to those claiming to be Christians; if someone has been baptized into Christ and claims to be a Christian, walks like a Christian, talks like a Christian and acts like a Christian, then they are a Christian.

If they are hateful, malicious, spiteful, deceitful or selfish, then they have chosen not to be like Christ. Assume that your brother or sister has good intentions until they prove you wrong.

It’s a lifelong challenge.

Are you up for it?

Can we help our congregations to truly become sanctuaries by being situationally aware, practicing forgiveness and assuming innocence until shown otherwise?

It starts with you and me.

Next week, we’ll be discussing how to perfect the art of listening.

May the Lord grant you grace and peace through Jesus Christ.

12 thoughts on “Is My Brother My Enemy?

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