Social Issues

Jesus and relational boundaries

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In many ways, my husband Josh and I are opposites. Despite both of us being Christians, introverts (well, he’s more of an outgoing introvert), and passionate about cats, he attends an evangelical megachurch — I attend a small Episcopal one. He finds liturgy “weird”; I love it. He’s politically independent, but holds views that lean right; I am an independent who leans slightly to the left.

His level of cleanliness is not nearly as stingy as mine. He always assumes the best of everyone, even those who may have hurt him in the past. As for me, if you break my trust once, it will be extremely difficult to earn it back. Forgiveness comes almost naturally to him; I, on the other hand, can hold decades-old grudges until I die.

I share this because I do believe it’s possible for people with different worldviews, experiences, and politics to be friends, even be married. While I support the general sentiment behind comedian Ellen DeGeneres’ now viral video on her friendship with former president George Bush, I don’t necessarily believe that all conflicting worldviews can be reconciled into friendship. I absolutely agree that, Christian or not, we have an obligation to be kind. But in many circumstances, friendship is not always possible or wise.

Regarding Ellen and George, specifically, I don’t particularly care about their friendship: that’s between them. It’s more the general idea that anyone can be friends with anyone that I want to talk about, particularly in this unusually divisive era of Trump.

In a previous post, I wrote that my boundary for friendship is pretty simple: I don’t care what you believe, so long as you have empathy. Beliefs that are inherently hateful — Jews are evil, gays are bad, black people are inferior — will never be tolerated by me.

As Ellen said, I believe in being kind. I believe in equal rights for even the most hardened of racists, anti-semites, and homophobes. But none of them will ever be invited over to my house for dinner. That’s for my own protection, and I stand by that. I believe that boundaries are important.

Someone asked me on Facebook recently where in the Bible I drew that conclusion. This person did not understand how I could call myself a Christian while excluding certain people from my personal table, and she’s not alone. Just skimming through comments from Christians on Ellen’s video, it seems that many believe we owe our friendship to anyone and everyone — no exceptions.

The thing is, even Jesus had a small, intimate circle of friends. Unlike the scene where he fed a town by multiplying loaves and fishes, the Last Supper was a private, personal event for those closest to him. It seems that even our savior exercised some boundaries in certain parts of his life, but that didn’t stop him from loving and serving everyone — even those who despised him.

In 1 Corinthians 15:32-33, Paul warns that bad company can corrupt good character. “Bad company” may be something that’s defined on a case by case basis, but it seems fair to say that not even Scripture advocates friendship in every circumstance. In my view, bigotry certainly falls under the category of “bad company.”

Of course, since none of us are Jesus, we will fail to love people we don’t like, or don’t feel safe around, perfectly. As Christians, we want everyone to know the eternal hope that we have, no matter how much they personally offend us. We should want the conviction of the Holy Spirit in their lives as much as our own. This is more than just a “bare minimum” when it comes to loving our unlovable neighbors. Simply praying for our enemies, real or imagined, is hard, sanctifying work.

But your own inner circle — the people whose job it is to hold you accountable, to counsel you through difficult decisions, and hear your most intimate prayer requests — should consist of people whose belief systems support your well-being, your very existence.

If you are an immigrant, a person of color, or a rape survivor, it’s understandable if you don’t want to be friends with someone who loves Trump. At the very least, pray about holding the door open for someone in a MAGA hat. Show them the love of Christ they are missing. That is how you can safely love them; no dinner invitation necessary.

As Amber Leventry says on Scary Mommy, “I can be respectful and kind to people from all levels of ignorance, religious beliefs, and misguided biases. But friendship is not a word I use loosely. That relationship needs to stand on reciprocal support and unconditional love.”

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

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