Ideologies will always kill more people than violent weapons because if you can control the way a person thinks, you control the way they behave. While we are responsible for our own actions, we have to understand that there are forces beyond our recognition manipulating our decisions.
In the not too distant past, My wife and I took our son to the movie theater. We arrived early enough to catch the ads before the trailers started. One commercial flashed before us about Sprite that tantalized my son's taste buds. He is a loyal Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew fan and very rarely drinks Sprite of his own accord, but the video ad sprawled across the IMAX screen creating a thirst in him for that titular lemon-lime taste. After the ad played, my son leaned over to me and said, "Marketing works on me." This phrase has become an inside joke ever since as ads have come and gone, inspiring him to want what is being sold even if he doesn't really want it.
Advertisers do copious amounts of research to determine the best way to sell their clients' products and ideas. From fashion to food and packaging to politics, we are being told how to think so that our behaviors can be controlled.
The end of verse 5 in Ecclesiastes 3 states, "there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing." The word "refrain" in Hebrew literally means "to put some distance between". In other words, there are seasons of accepting a person and there are seasons of rejecting a person. There are times to intimately hold onto some ideas and there are times to put some space between us and the ideas that are poisoning our souls. After all, nobody consciously wants to be manipulated.
Let's break down this verse a little bit to see how we can protect ourselves.
Embracing friends when we see them is both a legitimate and expected response, but if certain friends start hanging out with the wrong people and begin to influence our behavior toward evil, we have to consider cutting some ties.
When I made a decision to follow Jesus, I went through a period of change. One of the more drastic changes I had was the way I talked. I went from cussing, complaining, and cutting down to purity of speech. It wasn't some struggle to beat the foul language out of me. I simply had no more desire. When I hung out with old friends though, they interpreted my lack of filthy talking as too much change and they treated me as an enemy. Eventually, I had to get new friends, not because I felt I was superior. I was simply exhausted trying to manage the way some individuals exerted their superiority over me. I've come to realize that the most judgmental people in the world are not in fact Christians, but the enemies of Christianity.
While I understand the Bible promotes unity, there are times that we need to separate. "Bad company does corrupt good morals," and if we desire to live lives of integrity, we have to put some distance between us and the forces of evil.
Embracing is about intimacy - holding close. Even though Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, he does not teach us to imitate them, wrap our hearts around their ideologies, or accept their behavior as a way to fit into their fold. With some enemies, we have to be downright intolerant of their philosophies lest we become just as corrupt.
For years, America has tried to ignore the arts and entertainment industry attempting to sexualize our culture. We've made excuses for TV, movies, video games, music, etc. that are pumped full of sexual content and even graphic nudity, hoping that if we merely put our head down, it would go away. Advertisers have used sex to sell their products as early as the turn of the Twentieth century. We have accepted it as part of the culture and, for many people - even pastors in the church - embrace it through the avenue of online pornography. For years we have sexualized bill boards, commercials, magazines, social media, etc. It is extremely difficult for any human being - not living in a cave - to go an entire day without witnessing something sexual.
Then we take a cause like #MeToo backed by countless dollars from representatives of the sexualized entertainment industry. I am hesitant to bring this up as a white, Christian man - since my kind of people are the most hated by media today - but if actors and directors and producers and politicians all want to scream about sexual harassment, they should have the courage to also apologize for creating the problem. When a culture is sexualized, it will perform sexual misconduct. I give no support to individuals abusing others (in any fashion), but I also give no support to people who create a problem acting like victims of the problem.
Embracing honesty and compassion are good, and rejecting hypocrisy and double standards are also good. Be cautious about who you allow into your inner circle of influence. Think critically about the messages you receive and don't fall into the trap that every message should be embraced to promote unity. Psalm 97:10 says, "You who love the Lord, hate evil." In order to hate the evil that resides in the world, we have to first hate the evil that resides within ourselves. If we truly love God, we will embrace what He embraces and reject what He rejects - that is the mark of a true Christ follower.
However, If I only condemn stealing when my neighbor does it to me, and I do not hold myself to that same standard, I have fooled myself. If I condemn the act of telling lies in the people around me, but allow it in myself - again, I have fooled myself. We never possess the power to change anything if we are secretly part of the problem, but the more we love the Lord, the more He will protect us from double standards and give us the authority to make a difference.
That is how we protect ourselves from unholy manipulation, though embracing the love of God and rejecting the pride of being our own.