The phrase adapted from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” When Mercutio, a close friend to Romeo and a blood relative to Juliet, is killed, he exclaims with his dying breaths, “a plague o’ both your houses.” If you don’t recall it from your high school Literature class, Mercutio is that one named character with genuine relationships with both the house of Montague and Capulet. He dies in a fray that should never have happened if these two powerful families would end their complete hatred toward one another.
As I drove around the Southside of Chicago in the last 96 hours - by night and by day - watching young people protest in the streets; others looting stores and banks, my soul was crushed.
I listened as mothers wept on the other end of my phone and read the heartbreak and anger expressed by many parishioners on their social media timelines. My own heart is deeply wounded because violent protests have destroyed our neighborhoods. While reflecting on all of the devastations, it occurred to me that, in some way, we owe our present tragedy to the influence of both primary socio-political ideologies in America—conservatism and progressivism.
Mercutio’s words ring loudly in my heart, “a pox on both your houses.” Like the families in Verona of Shakespeare’s classic tale, conservatism and progressivism have developed an intense hatred toward one another. Like life in the fictional world we all read about in high school, nothing in American society has been untouched by the feud.
Our politics have become intractably polarized, causing a great divide within the church. There are conservative news networks and progressive ones. Sports figures and entertainers have found it necessary for one reason or another to choose a side and go all in. Rarely, if ever, can either side admit that there is some virtue in the opposite ideology.
Each day the war goes on, invading all too many areas of life; what we post and share on social media, where we get our news, which athletes and entertainers we cheer for, which political party we vote for and even where we chose to live, play, and worship. Like with Shakespeare’s feud between Montague and Capulet, it seems pointless to attempt to isolate a single event out of which this polarized ideological environment originated.
These two wealthy and well-established families developed bad blood over time. What is sure is that a brand of unredeemed and unrepentant conservatism wields significant power in our time. It is the kind of conservatism that does not want to thoughtfully consider that there are systems in America that have persisted for a long time despite their injustice, inequity, and sometimes outright racism.
The sights of this brand of conservatism seem singularly trained on crushing progressivism than making the nation whole. Opposite that brand of conservatism, stands an unconstrained and irreverent brand of progressivism. It seems to know only how to tear down systems and push against norms. Self-expression is the only doctrine. Restraint is the greatest evil. This brand of progressivism seems set on marching straight through every conservative ideal. Even God, if need be, must either change or get out of the way.
This week, I have felt quite a bit like poor Mercutio, connected by the friendship of collective political and economic interest with a progressive community that far better understands and much more easily embraces the need for justice and social reform. I feel connected by the precious blood of Jesus to so many conservative Christians in the religious right coalition, who join me in sacred reverence for timeless truth and enduring patterns of relationship and behavior that while traditional, promote and protect human flourishing. And like Mercutio, I feel caught up in a duel between friends.
My conservative brothers have been complicit in the slow rate of change in America’s overall policing policies. These policies still make it far too easy for officers of the law to harass, verbally and physically abuse, and yes, sometimes kill Black people with impunity. They have been complicit in their public silence and with their ballots in creating an environment that seems hopeless and stirs up fear and rage. But it does not escape me that my progressive friends are complicit in training the minds of our young people in our schools, through our politics, and with our entertainment to reject the “old school” values that dominated previous generations of the Black community.
In the name of “progress,” this generation of young people have been taught to reject what grandma and grandpa thought about marriage, family, faith, and self-restraint. As the anger stirred in me after viewing the George Floyd tape, it seemed after a few moments I was reminded in my heart about Matthew 5:44, where Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who hate you. And do good to those who persecute and mistreat you.” I can’t help but wonder how many of the young people who looted in neighborhoods across Chicago were trained to question the validity of these words rather than receive them as divine and unshakable truth?
Caught between these two dominant factions, Black communities all over the nation erupted, leaving behind a trail of devastation. Looking over the Black neighborhoods in Chicago, it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. And I think many Black evangelicals believe that as well. A little piece of me died this week in a feud between family and friends. What Shakespeare’s fictional world does not account for is the redemptive, resurrection power of Jesus Christ brought through the gospel. It does not account for the enduring power of the Holy Spirit. Because of that power, the fact that this feud has threatened the very lives of Black evangelicals all over the country and compromised the communities we call home is not the revelation of a dying soul. It is the observation of a quickened spirit.
In the play, “A pox on both your houses,” was a fatalistic judgment, a foreshadowing of tragedy to come. Today, it is more of a prophetic warning and a call to action. It will take both biblical conviction and Christian compassion to rebuild our communities both physically and spiritually. The question is, can these two great houses stop hating each other long enough to help a brother and save a friend?
Originally published at: https://www.thecruxandthecall.com/latest-posts/2020/6/4/a-pox-on-both-your-houses
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