The Awful Command to Love our Enemies

By Stan Friedman

Many of us are angry these days. We feel betrayed or fearful. I haven’t been sleeping. I woke up again at 2:30 this morning because I am feeling all of those things. And I don’t foresee any of that changing any time soon.

If it wasn’t clear before last Tuesday, it should be now: We have become a nation of enemies. Even worse, our brothers and sisters in the pew have become our enemies. And despite Jesus’s command to love our enemies, I haven’t detected much evidence in conversations I’ve heard or seen on social media that a lot of us really want to.

We quote Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Nelson Mandela in sermons or on Twitter about the need to love those who mean us harm—but I fear that our actions largely belie those words. We have become an all-or-nothing people, an either/or people, a with-us-or-against-us people. We have reduced the “other” to one-dimensional caricatures.

If all people who voted for Trump are racists, then what does that say about the people of color who voted for him? If people who voted for Clinton are out-of-touch elitists, what does that say about people living in poverty who voted for her? Racism and elitism have indeed torn at the fabric of our country and our churches, but applying sweeping generalities to individual behavior fails to account for the complexity of these issues and the stories of our neighbors.

It can be easy to talk about peacemaking when we are referring to conflicts across the ocean. But it is mighty hard to do when it involves our own nation, our own church, or our own homes.

My Facebook feed is filled with posts calling us to listen to one another and pursue reconciliation. Minutes later I see the same people “liking” posts that mock the stupidity of anyone who disagrees with them. It is all too tempting to search for the articles that prove we are the righteous ones so we can re-post them—as if to say, “Take that!” to anyone on the other side of the aisle.

Closed Facebook groups are being formed where the like-minded can gather together. If their purpose is to create space to listen to each other and lament with people who understand us, that can indeed be helpful. But such groups can pose a terrible threat to reconciliation if they just become another way to further entrench balkanization.

Let’s be honest. It can be easy to talk about peacemaking when we are referring to conflicts across the ocean. But it is mighty hard to do when it involves our own nation, our own church, or our own homes. It is here that the cost of discipleship is paid.

That is not to say we ignore or diminish the issues that divide us. Quite the contrary! Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” because there were many in the church who wanted to either ignore racism or thought protesting was worse than the underlying evil.

We must address head-on the issues of sexual abuse, racism, classism, poverty, xenophobia, and what it means to be pro-life. When children ask why the rest of the country hates them or when parents feel they cannot provide for their family because economic recovery has passed them by, we must not turn a deaf ear. That means we must speak and act.

Still, it seems that every day there is at least one new reason to justify my anger and sense of betrayal. I struggle to separate my desire to speak out from my desire to strike back. And yet every day, there is that awful command of Jesus. Sometimes, I wish he never said it.

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About the Author

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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