This guttural shout comes from my eight-year-old as he watches his favorite superhero, the Hulk, take on Loki in The Avengers.
Over the past several months, my two young boys and I have stepped into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I hadn’t seen the movies, and my boys have only recently turned the right age for many of the films. (Not all, though. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I’m looking at you).
Over the last week, I read the full comic book series, Civil War. Comics weren’t something I grew up with, so reading this was a new experience. It’s not my favorite medium, but this particular book mirrored many parallels to recent events.
Civil War is a seven-issue series from about ten years ago. It features nearly 150 different Marvel superheroes. Because of a tragedy involving the death of a child, Tony Stark (aka, Iron Man) works with the government to form a “Superhero Registration Act,” bringing accountability and regulation over people with special powers and abilities. Captain America and others are against this legislation from the start and become fugitives. There are nearly as many people with super powers that side with Captain America as there is who agree with Stark.
In a battle mid-way through, a character on Captain America’s side is killed by a character from Stark’s side, causing a shift in loyalty on both sides. Most notably, Spider-Man switches sides and joins Captain America’s resistance.
The final battle sees friend fighting friend and Iron Man locked in combat with Captain America. Cap’s side is winning, and he is one blow away from finishing Iron Man when he looks around and gives himself up. He says:
“They’re right. We’re not fighting for the people anymore, Falcon. Look at us. We’re just fighting.”
This past week, journalist Jonathan Merritt posted a series of posts containing an interview with the writer who influences my thinking more than any other: Eugene Peterson. They discussed mega-churches, fear within culture, death, and homosexuality.
In the third of three postings, Merritt asks Peterson if he would perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. Peterson responds, “Yes.”
Christian Twitter blew up.
Those who affirm same-sex marriage lifted Peterson up as a champion. Those who maintain a traditional definition of marriage skewered him. LifeWay Bookstores threatened to stop selling his books and his popular translation of the Bible, The Message.
The next day, Peterson retracted his statement. You can read about it here. But the same thing happened in reverse. Those with a traditional view of marriage locked arms with him again while those who affirm same-sex marriage disavowed him.
As I read posts and tweets from Christians on both sides I couldn’t help but think of what I’d recently read: “We’re not fighting for people anymore. We’re just fighting.”
Does right belief matter? I think it does. But I think right practice matters much more because it puts belief into practice. I can say I believe in loving God and loving others all I want, but if I spew anger and hate toward those who disagree with me on an issue, do I actually believe in loving others? Or am I more concerned with being right?
So much of the Christian life is about sharing the “good news” of Jesus with others through deeds and words. But I wonder: Why would anyone want to become a Christian, when much of what Christians do is quibble over who is right and who is wrong? There are so many people with doubts about God and genuine questions about Jesus. But why would anyone ask questions and express doubts—in a church—if a Christian is likely to tell them they are wrong for questioning or doubting? Who wants that? No sane person. And certainly not Jesus, either.
Jesus’ disciples comprised political extremists and government toadies, power-hungry fishermen and skeptics. They had their differences, but they made it work.
Jesus also prayed for unity specifically. I’d like to be the answer to his prayer. If you follow Jesus, I think you need to be the answer to his prayer too. Let us look for points of agreement, angles of similarity, and commonality in trusting Jesus. Christians will always disagree about something. And I think that’s fine. But Christians should be able to look beyond these disagreements to the larger vision of what God calls us to: “go into all the world” loving God and loving others, teaching them to love God and love others.
Captain America looked around and saw people dying, the city getting destroyed, and called off the fight. He didn’t change his mind, but he refused to war with his fellow superheroes over it.
May we stop our incessant need to be right and work together in love and unity.