A foul-mouthed, sex-crazed Hindu recently taught me an invaluable lesson about what it means to be a Christian.
You see, I hate Westboro Baptist Church. I hate how they picket soldiers’ funerals, I hate how they threatened to picket the Newtown victims’ funerals. I hate how they misrepresent the love and justice of God. I hate that they make life hell on earth rather than advancing the cause of the kingdom of heaven. I found myself agreeing when a Christian blogger recently said that “The f%&#ing idiots at Westboro need to be stopped,” agreeing with both with his statement and his language.
They are my enemies. They give me nothing with which to empathize. No common ground, no shared humanity, no parallel purpose. I stand with the 250,000 signatures petitioning to label them a hate group (the largest online White House petition in history!). I wish nothing but the worst for all of them.
And yet, did Jesus not say, “Love your enemies?” Sadly, this is an easy lesson to forget when someone can be so offensively objectionable. But Christ died for us while we were still enemies; are we not called to live as Christ lived?
Somehow, some way, the person who has looked the most like Jesus to the people of Westboro Baptist is Russell Brand. This is especially remarkable considering that Brand makes no claims of being a Christian (he is Hindu), and is one of the crudest, most offensive comedians to thrive in major Hollywood films. Even so, Brand recently invited two representatives from Westboro onto his show, and as I watched the interview I was floored by the realization that I had never seen someone treat the WB people as Christianly as Brand did on his show.
The best word to describe it is ‘kindness.’ I’ve seen and heard plenty of Christians respond to WB from a perspective of justice, truth, and condemnation but Brand was the first person I’ve seen show them kindness. And while I suspect that many of us relegate ‘kindness’ to second-tier spirituality, kindness is a major biblical theme. I’ve been consumed with condemning and mocking, but Brand went out of his way to invite his enemies onto his show, asking them questions about their beliefs, and actually listening to their responses! The people of Westboro have acted inhumanely, but Brand treated them like humans. They have been hateful, but Brand showed them grace. They attacked Brand with verbal barbs and theological A-bombs, but Brand responded with wit, patience, and even hugs. I am both encouraged and shamed by his example: encouraged to see God working through Brand, but shamed by a non Christian living more Christianly than me.
It feels almost blasphemous to say this, but Brand’s interview now serves as a picture in my mind of the truth that God’s kindness leads us to repentance.
I learned another valuable lesson from Brand that day: the power of our testimony resides almost entirely in the habits of our life rather than passing acts of kindness. Here’s what I’m getting at: Evangelicals often seem wary of being overly kind to those who are different or hold different beliefs: gays, democrats, evolutionists, etc. We hold back from showing them honor, giving them an audience, inviting them to our homes, treating them as friends. We seem to fear that ‘kindess’ might be interpreted as ‘endorsement.’
But no one suspected that Brand’s invitation or interview signaled a “conversion” to a militant form of conservative Christianity. No one misinterpreted Brand’s actions as an endorsement of a view he does not hold or the start of slipping down the slope of compromise.
The consistency of Brand’s character has provided the lens through which all of his actions are now read.
If we fear that showing kindness may dilute our testimony, the fault is more likely in our lack of consistency of character than any momentary act. If our actions and speech are consistently rooted in the teachings of scripture, in the love of God and people, then we can show kindness to anyone, anywhere without ever having to fear that our actions may conflict with our theology.
Far from it. In fact, it is precisely when our actions are in sync with our theology that we may, in the words of Augustine, ”Love God, and do what you will.”