No, Seriously, Love Your Enemies
Extensive writing has been done as to which side of this election people of faith should stand on. There are blogrolls the size of the Great Library at Alexandria on what “true” pro-life means, and even more so on the relative merits or lack-thereof of various political candidates, candidates’ spouses and candidates’ confidants’ sexual exploits. You can easily find strongly worded essays, tweets and podcasts on the role of the Supreme Court in religious liberty, justice for refugees through the actions of the State and the important role that misogyny and latent racism has played in this election and every other in human memory. I am happy to say that I have nothing to add to all of this. Nothing.
No, I’m serious.
I’m not even here to say that all the Better Butter Battle Bombs which are being tossed in the Wayne Grudem/Rachel Held Evans War or the more recent Matt Walsh/Jen Hatmaker War or so many others which fill the field full of landmines both theological and rhetorical are out of bounds. As much as I have sat down to write a post about these debates for these past months, I have been linguistically blocked at every turn.
It’s not because I don’t have opinions on these topics. I do.
It’s not because I don’t believe some of them to have real import to who we are as people of faith. Some do.
I couldn’t even convince myself to write a post about how we all just need to “vote our conscience” and then live and let live. Because we can’t.
Voting our conscience, said another way, is to act within the realm of the Powers from the vantage point of our knowledge of Good and Evil. We are to pick a nation, leverage our moral superiority to endorse that nation, and then imbue that nation with spiritual power by presenting our agency as humans at its side. This is what it means to vote our conscience. To act politically out of the authority of your moral awareness (Basically to fulfill the entire prophetic view of Genesis 3-11) cannot be taken lightly, and when we try to do so, we undermine the exact human agency which makes it possible. There is a reason why even those who have a very low view of the value of human worth believe it is important to vote. Voting is our rise upon Babel’s steps, and our pressing out as a nation from the receding of Noah’s waters. It is our attempt to make a world after the rainbow. We cannot do it and then live and let live. We cannot do it as if nothing matters.
An astute reader would traverse to this part and notice that I have argued both sides of the same coin. I have simultaneously said that I wouldn’t pick a side in important debates of our time and that we must pick a side because to pretend like we can’t is to ignore the creative and destructive power of human agency. Good catch.
And yes, I have argued both sides of the dilemma. If only to expose the horns on which it stands.
Nation-making is a flight to power. Whose power and which power comes from that flight has very real consequences for those on the margins and so we cannot take it with a grain of salt. Scripture is clear that the kings of this world will wage war, exact tax, and manipulate human forces all within the scope of God’s purview of human time. Jesus lived in the dead center of such nation-making. So much so that he spends much of His last week on earth making clear that there was no difference in the two sides to the debates. Whether one paid sovereignty taxes to Caesar or temple taxes to the chief priests, in either case, one was getting fleeced by the powers-that-be. And by the way, Jesus said, do it anyway.
Jesus’ magnetic otherness was so strong amid this warlike political milieu that even the sworn enemies of Herodians and Pharisees sided together to see Him taken down. It is not too cliché a thing to say that both the liberals and the conservatives knew not what to do that Holy Week in Jerusalem when Love Came to Town.
Jesus spends Mark 13 making clear that the flight to power of these opposing forces: the liberal and the conservative, would entangle themselves into a day of torment and torture: the Holy City’s violent end in 70 AD. The fulfillment of all of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel’s woes would finally come to those who were willing to mix faith and political power: The end of the world as they knew it.
Jesus knew that those who act with the power of the people behind them would act with massive unintended consequence. There was no ruler in Jerusalem, Conservative or Liberal, who believed their actions would bring the nation to its literal knees. But as we’ve said: ideas have consequences.
So, what of us? What are we to do if we simply cannot “vote our conscience” and move on? I would offer Jesus’ greatest political claim (among many political claims): Love your enemies.
No, seriously, love your enemies.
Some will read this and quickly try to get out of jail free by saying that we are all Americans, even when we vehemently disagree. In the end we are not enemies. Herein lies a convenient naivete. Politics does not exist but for the making and remaking of enemies. Politics, as the art of nation-making, is dependent on borders, statecraft, conflict and necessary zero-sum games. In any political gambit, there must be losers and the greatest political debates inevitably require losers so that the winners might get their just desserts. Rich people who should pay more taxes so the middle class can thrive. Coal workers who should lose their jobs and get government benefits so we can save the planet. Immigrants who should return home so we can have our jobs. Intellectuals and elites who should be silenced so the proletariat can finally have their say. There is always a finite bucket of power being waged over in every political war. And to the victor go the spoils.
So, the first objection: “I don’t have enemies,” lacks both reflection and grounding. You do. We all do. Our enemies are those which stand in the way of the world we think is best. And even the most relativistic minds ever have at least believed that those who hold to any ideal too strongly were standing their way.
The second objection, I find, has something to do with redefining love. That Jesus means not the obvious—acting in your enemies best interests with kindness, patience and no record of wrongs—but rather something more nuanced like “love your enemies by convincing them how wrong they are so they can enjoy the benefits of being on the right side.” Or how about this one, “love your enemies by exposing their flawed logic so they aren’t so deluded anymore.”
No, unfortunately, we are all-but-assured Jesus meant love in what was to become the I Corinthians 13 love kind of way.* Bummer for us. That is much harder. So here are 15 ways, inspired by that famous passage to the people of first century Corinth, which we could love each other between now and Election Day:
- When someone else is expressing a thought you don’t agree with, listen to it in its entirety. Then ask a clarifying question. Give no thought to how your opinion is superior to theirs. Wait to be asked what you think, if (and especially) if you think they never will. Love is patient.
- Listen to what someone else has to say about their political position without debating, zoning out or trying to change their mind. Give them unfettered and unmitigated attention: Love is kind.
- Think of one political ideal that you have which involves taking from a group you disagree with and giving to a group you don’t. Consider how you might be endorsing a zero-sum game. Love does not envy.
- When something happens that vindicates your position, stay silent. Love does not boast.
- It will be easy to think of your victories today as earned and your losses as injustices. When you win, consider it a gift. When someone else wins, consider it an opportunity to understand something or someone new. Love is not proud.
- Do not forward, re-tweet, link to or post material that is defaming to other people. No matter how much you think they deserve it. Love does not dishonor others.
- Consider ways in which you have instigated political conflict with friends or family members so that you could make your points. Consider apologizing for your attempts to prove you are in the right. Love is not self-seeking.
- Something will happen between now and Election Day which will push all your buttons. If God loves your enemies and wants good for them, consider how that could help you refrain from reactive rage. Ask yourself, what does my passion say about what I worship? Love is not easily-angered.
- Make a list of all the things the other candidate has done wrong. Then at the bottom of the list write the words, “I forgive you,” and then destroy the list. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
- Harmful things will be done and said about candidates you oppose. Remind yourself that slander is slander no matter who it’s about. Apologize for ways you’ve celebrated the harm of political enemies. Love does not delight with evil.
- Resist gossip about the other candidate. Celebrate the opportunity to say, “It’s not important until we know the truth.” Particularly about those you oppose. Love rejoices with the truth.
- Stand up for the right of your opponents to speak things you disagree with. Protect their right to have a voice. Love always protects.
- Remember that you are safe in Christ. The ideas of your enemies are not responsible for the future of the world. Trust in a power greater than who sits in the White House. Take yourself less seriously. Love always trusts.
- The day after Election Day, practice this breath prayer, “I am peace (breathing in) because Jesus is King. (breathing out) Love always hopes.
- Your political opponents will say you are stupid, vile, hateful, ignorant, self-serving and many other slanders. Some of these accusations will hurt. It will be easy to believe that winning will vindicate your wounded pride. It won’t. Remember that eternity is populated by billions of your political foes. Their souls, like yours are timeless. Look them in the eye and say, “No matter what differences divide us, what makes us the same lasts forever.” Love always perseveres.
I’ve been a political junkie this season, like so many before. Sometimes in ways that were harmful to me and stirred up resentment, pride, animosity and even at times rage. The only place I have found a complete sense of peace this Election Year is the soft whispering of those three words in my ear by the Spirit of God: Love your enemies.
No, seriously, love your enemies.
*Thank you to Phil Vaughan at Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colorado for the inspiration to consider more deeply I Corinthians 13 in these troubled times. So it was in Corinth as it is in America, Paul writes these words to solve the problem He sees in the city. And the problem is now as it was then: the problem is our noisy rightness and self-righteous goodness. Instead, let us love, love, love.