I read a story in the Washington Post about Secretary of State John Kerry, who served as a Navy lieutenant in the Vietnam War where he led patrol boats on the river. He recently went back for a visit to the very place where he watched friends die, where he had enemy guerrilla fighters try to kill him, and where he killed at least one of them up close. During the visit, Kerry was introduced to one of the guerrilla fighters who had attacked his boat and who had also been friends with the fighter that he killed.
When War Enemies Meet Again
I tried to imagine what it would feel like to see the water, smell the air and hear the voices... all of which would bring back powerful and disturbing memories of a very challenging time in Kerry's life. Five decades ago, the man standing next to him would have had a lot of labels: “Enemy,” Viet Cong,” “Guerrilla,” and “Communist.” Yet now, the man had a name, a family, and a smile. As he shook his hand, John Kerry told the man, “I’m glad we are both still alive.”
What Would You Do?
The churches, organizations, and businesses in which most of us Christians lead and serve are far from perfect, but they are not even close to the circumstances experienced by Secretary of State Kerry during those years in Vietnam. Yet, we sometimes act like they are. Words like “Viet Cong,” “Guerrilla,” and “Communist” have been replaced in our own contexts with “Disloyal,” “Antagonizer,” “Insubordinate,” and “Enemy” – well that label never goes out of style. I wonder how many of us Christian leaders, if given the opportunity to stand with our “enemies” forty or fifty years later, would forget about the attacks, critiques, blame, disparaging comments and thoughts (you know, that “sin stuff”) and would shake hands and say, “I’m glad we are both still alive.”
The Poison of Hate
The poison of hate can become a permanent resident in our hearts and minds, occupying prime real-estate. It can lead to depression, anger, stress, heart disease, and alienation from others, just to name a few. Dr. Charles Raison, a clinical director at Emory University, describes the side effects of such negativity: “Physiologically, when we feel negatively towards someone, our bodies instinctively prepare to fight that person, which leads to changes such as an increase in blood pressure. We run hot as our inflammatory system responds to dangers and threats.”
The Power of Forgiveness
Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul commands us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
The power of forgiveness takes time. It’s not easy. It’s far from natural. And it often begins when we realize our own imperfection, our “enemy’s” humanness, and God’s grace and mercy provided undeservedly to us.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of ministry assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include a B.S. in Bible, a M.Ed in Instructional Systems Design and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership.