This blog post is a book review of The Church of Us vs. Them by David Fitch, a good friend of the New Leaf Network. Also, read this reflection from Bernard Tam in response to his review: Reimagining the Church of Us Vs Them
The new book The Church of Us Vs. Them by David Fitch, in my opinion, is an important and prophetic book for today. In a polarized culture (even church culture), David Fitch, speaks into the enemy-making machine in our culture. Perhaps most vividly seen in our churches today. The book is framed within an American context and thus the nationalistic polarization in the church today is further expounded; which is a little different in Canada. However, this book would disrupt the comfort of modern evangelicalism and urge us back to peacefulness in Christ.
In this book, what I’ve found so important for understanding the enemy-making narrative is through these four words: banners, enemies, perverse enjoyment and antagonism. Fitch explains that when the church participates and engages with the enemy-making machine these four areas begin to reveal itself.
Banners: these are what he would explain as master signifiers, “symbol for who and what we are against.” (pg.30) These become rallying points where people wave them to draw people’s attention. Banners often reveal the enemies; the people, the ideology or even the theological framework that we are against.
Enemies: “It is often a caricature of a kind of person or people group that becomes the enemy.” (pg.33) Void of any relational connection but instead the enemy represents something instead of actually being the something.
Perverse Enjoyment: As the enemy is revealed then how one begins to engage with them becomes a form of perverse enjoyment; in a way, the propagandizing of oneself while antagonizing the other. Fitch explains in the narrative of John 4 through how the teachers came together anticipating and preparing to stone this woman. Though not explicitly revealing a sort of perverse enjoyment but perhaps the perverse absolution of being “right.”
Antagonism: This idea of antagonism then is the full effect of this enemy-making process is to draw the crowd together. In the narrative in John, the leaders of the law were hoping to rally the crowd together; this is antagonism and enemy-making.
These four words are extremely profound in our days today. Sometimes I think even the most “holy” and proper things can become enemy-making ideologies. In the book, Fitch even alludes to how the scriptures can become a tool for making enemies. Banners become so subtle or clouded by the nuances that hide in our very culture (especially Christian culture) that it becomes ones that divide and draw lines between Christians-to-Christians and Christians and the culture at large. Perhaps the greatest sadness is that we’ve lost in the process of seeing God “weaving together all who will enter into this marvellous Story.” (65) As the continuous engagement in the enemy-making machine this marvellous story of redemption and restoration is lost and no longer has any purposes here. Perhaps it is true that it does require us to return to the gospel. One that is “the pronouncement of a new world being born in and through the work of God in Jesus Christ.” (105) The centrality in Christ brings a different story and narrative; a new imagination through Christ.
Fitch also offers a way forward. He emphasizes the importance of the church as politics. He explains that “politics becomes a matter of incarnational social engagement.” (143) This is where and how the incarnation (Christ) becomes to inform how we live out our lives in a specific context. Incarnation requires a place and a specific rooted narrative. It is something that is presence focus; the presence of God with the presence with one another. “Our church will first be a space that demonstrates God’s justice in space and time. We then will go and propose it to the world.” (146) Fitch explains that the church needs to step out first in embodying a new way of engagement and then it can offer this counter-cultural narrative of the gospel to the world.
Although the heightened political and theological divide can be seen in greater magnitude in the United States. Our Canadian narrative also experiences an incredible amount of division and antagonism. I want to wrestle with a few of these questions that perhaps can be a piece of dialogue with this book.
What is the enemy-making narrative here in Canada?
Although it is hard to define the Canadian story, I’ve observed the political divide. As I observe the political progression in our country and in our recent Federal election I can see how antagonism soaks into the church. Seeing the comments of how divided our country is and also people’s anger and frustration in our system. No matter which party wins, Christians celebrate and are also angered. As we fuel the enemy and division perhaps we have lost the fact that there is a prophetic imagination and a new social politic that God has invited the church to engage in, regardless of our political inclinations.
I draw us to this political division not because my focus is on a commentary of the politics of Canada but that our church is fragmented and divided even as we look at the political lens. I believe that there are probably other enemy-making narratives that are deeply entrenched within our Canadian culture and it requires us to practice some healthy deconstruction to see our formative narratives that are deeper than our Canadian Christian identity. What are some of these enemy-making narratives that you have experience and have seen?
Do we have safe spaces for the practice of this local incarnational approach to politics?
I also wonder if an enemy-making machine is this political correctness. Our Canadian culture has led us to not be able to actually engage in any topics deeply in fear that we will offend someone. This is not to affirm any kind of discrimination or offensive posture towards one another. However, this subtle culture disavows the space that one can engage and converse with one another in an honest way. Most spaces, if we are honest, are always unsafe. It requires a posture of openness and listening in order for this truly safe space to happen. And if I am honest, it requires the presence of Christ in order for these spaces to actually open up. With our human nicety, we can only get so far, in terms of the purpose of creating space. Perhaps we do need to practice tending to the presence of God at work and nurturing healthy relationships that would allow difficult conversations and differing perspectives to sit at the same table. What are some of the restorative and redemptive conversations we are practicing? And how are our Christian community sitting at a table that is safe to truly engage with the issues and realities that affect our communities?
A reflective offering during our COVID19 crisis
In such a time as this in Canada when we are experiencing the COVID19 pandemic, I would suggest that Fitch’s warning of this divisive church calls us into a new space together. As I have observed in recent social media posts, the church is yet still divided in their practices and responses towards fighting this invisible force. The voices seem to either channel further hysteria or full out fear-mongering. It is slow but I am beginning to see the voices shift; to recognize that we need to be on the same page as we move forward. There is no us vs. them in a pandemic as it requires all the churches to come together to recognize we need to be the representation and the bearer of hope in such a time as this; it is our calling to be presenter and modellers of a Kingdom response to such a time as the pandemic. Perhaps The Church of Us vs. Them reminds us especially in times of such global catastrophe that we are so needed to break down the walls that divide and usher in a Kingdom that unites us on a mission to restoration and healing amongst our land.
The Church of Us Vs. Them is perhaps a launchpad for introspection as the church of this century. Have we bought into the perverse enjoyment of rallying against an enemy? Or do we have the restorative and redemptive hope that in Christ there can be put into practice this narrative of how we live this out together?
I will close with a quote from the book,
“Wherever space is made for his presence, there can be no enslavement to the machine of strife, jealousy, or enemy-making. Instead, there is an openness to what he is doing. For ‘the glory of the Lord’ is revealed here in this space of his presence.” (29)