Why I went on Living with the Enemy ...and had them come and live with me
Engaging with society and culture has always been tricky for Christians.
“In the world but not of it” is a helpful guide but what do we do when the world pushes up against us? Is it better to withdraw? Stand our ground? Or something else?
These were some of the questions I had when I was invited to take part in a documentary series that has just screened on SBS called Living with the Enemy.
The premise is simple: people from opposite sides of a big social issue spend five days in each other’s worlds. Quite literally, they “live with the enemy”. What a wonderful idea! It’s not often people get the chance to really listen and potentially understand those they disagree with.
The topic I was invited to join was same-sex marriage.
Debate on this thorny issue does not typically include much listening or understanding: those who support what we might call a “traditional” view of marriage are increasingly met with public scorn and ridicule. We often feel shouted down and dismissed. Yet here I was, invited to take part in that conversation.
You’ll have to watch the show to decide how I did, but I wanted to share why I chose to take part.
1. I was asked!
So often we’re excluded from these debates
and, if we’re part of them, people wish we weren’t. But here was a genuine invitation to have my say.
2. It was a proper conversation, or it tried to be.
I was struck by the producers’ desire to have a real crack at the issue. They didn’t want a short-sighted, reactionary participant who’d give great TV but not offer genuine engagement.
They wanted to air as many issues as possible in an open way, and the episode is a fairly balanced representation of that. It’s not all the way I’d like it, but what you see is pretty much how it was.
3. It was a chance to listen.
Often we jump to conclusions or think we’ve heard it all before. But here were 10 days to find out what
I didn’t know. That was partly successful. It was really helpful to hear Gregory and Michael’s stories of how they’d struggled with self- identity, particularly in relation to religious bodies. But sadly I never had the detailed engagement with
the “traditional” position I was hoping for. No major objection was ever dealt with and several invitations to engage on topics were thrown back in my face. It seemed the basic message was “I want to do what I want to do”. I listened to it and understood it.
4. It was an opportunity to speak.
There are many things that aren’t being heard on this topic. It was a chance to say some of them and, even if they weren’t being listened to by my conversation partners, have them heard by many others.
5. It was a chance to speak about Jesus and show great love to those whose experiences of Christians have often been negative.
We opened our home, shared our life with the production team, and helped them see what a difference knowing Jesus meant for us, our church, our charity Break the Cycle and the way we interacted with Mike and Greg. I think it left them a little confused; their paradigm was one of Christian disagreement and opposition. Their experience was remarkably different.
6. It was an opportunity to model gracious engagement.
Christians can come across as incredibly combative. I wanted to be loving to someone I was in profound disagreement with, and keep going even when it was hard. We tried to love Michael and Gregory as best we could, never pretending we were in agreement but seeking to disagree in an agreeable way.
It sounds pious, but I wanted to show others how to have a go and reach out to those they might otherwise keep at arm’s length.
7. I hoped to encourage other Christians to engage in their own contexts.
I also wanted to show what it means to be spoken of badly but keep going. I’m privileged to say all the negative things said (or written) about me at the moment mean nothing compared to Jesus’ great words of “loved” and “forgiven”. We don’t need the world’s approval, but seeking it can stop us from bringing people the gospel. If my participation encourages others to keep living for Jesus, I’ll be grateful.
Please pray for the ongoing response to the show. We still have a lot to learn as Christians in our engagement with others and I have no doubt I made a number of mistakes. The reality is that wherever we are in the world, we are “living with the enemy” (Col 1:21). But if we long for the “enemy” to be a friend (Col 1:22) the solution is to present Christ – and part of doing that is by living with people in a positive way.
This article is from the September Southern Cross - in churches now.
The show went to air on SBS on 3rd Semptember but is still available to view online
Photo: David (foreground) with Michael and Gregory (right) outside their caravan (SBS)