John Allen Mathews was a preacher when he was a young man in the 1830s. In fact, he preached the Gospel to the Osage Nation. Later, he married an Osage woman and settled on the reservation where he went so far as to build a church on his ranch and held services for all who wished to attend, Osages, mixed-bloods, whites, and blacks.
John Mathews was also a slave owner, like his father, and grandfathers for generations. In 1861 Mathews led a raid against a Union town in southeast Kansas. He was subsequently hunted down and killed by a force led by Col. James Blunt, an abolitionist, a Christian, and a doctor who had recently settled in Kansas. I have never understood what turns neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, and Christian against Christian.
I researched the lives of Mathews and Blunt and several other key players in the story for over twenty years hoping to gain insight into their thinking and discover the reason that seemingly good Christians get swept up in the currents of social and political drama. It is especially fascinating to me that there seem to be devout Christians on both sides of such issues.
I could have saved myself countless hours of research by simply waiting twenty years, for we see the same sort of political and social divide today that we read about during the Civil War.
There were millions like Mathews in the Civil War, Christians who pitted themselves against other Christians. Likewise, millions of Christians today take determinedly polarizing positions against their spiritual brothers and sisters; the similarity between 2016 and 1856 is incredibly frightening.
I find myself fighting against the currents of social and political extremism. As a conservative I wonder how anyone can call themselves a good Christian and align on the opposite side, just like I wonder how John Mathews could have been both a slaveholder and a Christian, but I refuse to let the cause of social conservatism take priority over my relationship with God.
It is difficult to temper myself, to remain rational. I unflinchingly stand for right, yet I realize it is not my place to criticize, name-call, or make an enemy of those with whom I disagree.
Here is my place, my duty as a Christian in these trying times: it is my duty to love God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind. Secondly, I am to love even those I consider wrong, just as i love myself. Thirdly, I am to pray for those same folks. They seem impossible, these tasks. But they are not requests; they are commandments.
Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; – Matthew 5:43-45a