Thursday, September 23, 2004

Making Enemies

“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.”
~ Matthew 5:44-47(NLT)

Due to our tendency to get involved in controversial issues, my husband and I have made our share of enemies over the years. Consequently, we’ve had ample opportunity to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.”

What I’m about to say may sound contradictory, but it’s the truth. Of all the issues Keen and I have raised and elected officials whom we have challenged, not once was it ever personal. Furthermore, we’ve never hated anyone in our entire lives.

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Keen wrote his weekly column called My Perspective which was highly critical of the county commissioners, a local paper carried a headline about one of the commissioners calling a public truce to the “personality conflict” with Keen. Keen responded by stating that he did not have a problem with the commissioner’s personality, but rather his policies.

One time that same commissioner cut Keen off in the middle of his trash route and verbally threatened him. “You’re supposed to be some kind of Christian,” he yelled, just inches from Keen’s face. “Well, let me tell you something, boy! You’ve got a long road to hell… a long road to hell!”

Nevertheless, Keen always said that if he saw that same man broken down on the side of the road, he would stop and help him.

I think it’s important to understand that we all have enemies of one sort or another (some of us more than others), and that’s never going to change. But God doesn’t want us to fret about the unjust things people do to us. In Hebrews 10:30 it says, “For we know Him Who said, Vengeance is Mine. Retribution and the meting out of full justice rest with Me; I will repay, I will exact the compensation, says the Lord.” The only thing we can control is how we respond to those people.

The Bible tells us that we should live at peace with all men, “if possible, as far as it depends on you.” (Romans 12:18) But sometimes it’s not possible.

After our lawsuit was concluded, we made various attempts to ease the hard feelings caused by the whole ordeal. However, when Keen approached two of the commissioners and tried to shake hands and suggest that they put it all behind them, the first one just turned his back on Keen and the other one (whom I referred to above) told Keen to go away because he didn’t even want him standing next to him.

Our most dramatic attempt to ease the wounds caused by our lawsuit was when we offered to donate a parcel of land located just north of the Alma Hotel. The year was 1999 and the mayor of Alma had asked the citizens to come up with ideas for a community project that we could all work together on in celebration of the Millennium. Since our local library was looking for a place to expand, Keen and I sent a letter to the City offering our property as a future site for the library. We explained that we wanted to do this in honor of Keen’s paternal grandmother, Ann Umbehr, who was a long-time librarian at the Alma library. We went on to say that it was also a way for us to give back to the community where we had lived, raised our children and operated our businesses. Unfortunately, our offer was rejected, purportedly because five powerbrokers at the Alma bank didn’t endorse it. Ironically, the First National Bank in Wamego approached us just a short time later inquiring about the possibility of purchasing the land for a new branch bank.

But that’s what I mean when I say that sometimes it’s not possible to “live at peace with all men.” When we realized that we couldn’t even give away a $8000 piece of property, Keen remarked that he could come up with the cure for cancer and some people still would not accept him.

Now to those who would say that we are not striving for or promoting peace when we stir up controversy or file lawsuits, I would refer them to these verses in Matthew 10:34-38

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…a man's enemies will be the members of his own household… and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

I think most people would agree that Jesus was extremely controversial. Although He went about healing the sick and causing the blind to see, He was not a pushover. For example, when He discovered the moneychangers in the temple, He overturned the tables, ran them out and rebuked them for turning His Father’s house into a den of thieves. Jesus also fiercely rebuked the religious leaders of the day, calling them hypocrites and sons of snakes. He told them that they made people twice as fit for hell as they were themselves!

One day when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, He saw a woman who had been afflicted for eighteen years. He said, “Woman, thou art loosed from your infirmity!” Immediately she was healed and glorified God. Then the ruler of the synagogue became indignant and turned to the crowd saying, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day." Jesus answered him and said:

"Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound--think of it--for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame…” ~ Luke 13:15-17 (NKJV)

Yes, Jesus had adversaries because He spoke the truth and made people uncomfortable about the way they were living their lives. In fact, Jesus had enemies from the moment of His birth in Bethlehem. After King Herod heard that a new King had been born, he became threatened and handed down an order that all children under the age of two should be killed.

Of course we all know that Jesus’ enemies eventually crucified Him. But that’s not the end of the story. The end of the story is that Jesus rose again victorious three days later. The Bible says that demons tremble at the sound of the Name of Jesus, because they know that He defeated them at Calvary.

We have made at least one new enemy in Wabaunsee County’s most recent controversy involving Undersheriff Jack Metz’s decision to “un-arrest” an individual involved in a domestic disturbance. In fact, when Keen went to the sheriff’s office to retrieve some documents that he had requested, Mr. Metz angrily told him that he was going to hire a lawyer and sue him for slander. Keen informed the undersheriff that the truth is an absolute defense against such charges and suggested that his lawyer might want to read up on the case of New York Times v. Sullivan 376 U.S. 254 wherein the Supreme Court ruled, "…we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” We also rely on verses like Proverbs 2:15 which says that God will give us wisdom and deliver us from those who are “…crooked in their ways, wayward and devious in their paths.”

My husband takes the First Amendment literally; he always has and he always will. Some people felt he was “biting the hand that fed him” by writing his column, but he held fast to the belief that as long as he was doing the job he was hired to do (and by the grace of God he never missed a day in nearly 18 years), he was free to participate in debate on matters of public concern, including criticizing the very men who awarded him the trash collection contract. Of course, that belief was put to the ultimate test when the Supreme Court decided to hear our case and ultimately established First Amendment rights for private contractors once and for all.

Being involved in controversy and making enemies is never pleasant, but it’s unavoidable.

As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary to keep the waters pure."