Loving Our Enemies: How Am I Supposed to Do That Again?

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Matthew 5:43-48New American Standard Bible (NASB)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may [a]be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus is pretty clear.

We are to love our enemies.

Here’s where I get hung up: how do I do that?

I suppose we could start by defining what an enemy truly is. Merriam-Webster defines it as:

Full Definition of enemy

plural enemies

  1. 1:  one that is antagonistic to another; especially:  one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent

  2. 2:  something harmful or deadly <alcohol was his greatest enemy>

  3. 3a:  a military adversary     b:  a hostile unit or force

We can all name people or groups that we perceive are our enemies. We all see our nations rage against one another. And we all have to deal with the emotions and beliefs that both support us and snare us as we face those with whom we disagree so vehemently.

Perhaps it would be wise to differentiate between people with whom we disagree and enemies. We will always have people with whom we don’t see eye to eye with. Married couples, for heaven’s sake, disagree all the time. We have many choices in terms of finding ways to work things out. It’s never easy, but it’s usually worth it.

But what if the person with whom I’m disagreeing places me (or you) into a position where safety is threatened? What if the person has already threatened me or hurt me? What if the person has harmed, threatened or continues to harm and threat our communities? What then? Does the person move into the “disagreement” category or the “enemy” category.

My sense is that there could potentially be some of both.

I can’t speak for all those who feel threatened or who have already been harmed, but for myself, I find it hard to love those who persistently share information/doctrine/ideology that demeans other humans. Specifically for today, LGBTQ+ people and their allies and the continuing stream of science that is all of sudden concerned for LGBTQ+ youth and which toilet is used to pee in.

So when groups like

Parents for Choice in Education

keep posting that, by allowing trans youth to use their bathrooms of choice, we’re harming our youth’s psycho-social development or inviting cisgender male predators into female washrooms, I want to bang my head against the desk repeatedly. Where was this group when we were begging for help to end violence against gay boys and men in men’s washrooms? Where were these so-called concerned citizens when transgender people were being sexually assaulted, beaten up, burned with cigarettes, condemned to hell, called out as mental aberrations, or mentally and emotionally abused?

Where were these voices then?

The anger rises.

This “concern” for girls at such vulnerable ages seems to be somewhat specific. And the sadness at using the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual assault as a grounded argument against bathroom usage? There’s a lot. Instead of pursuing the end of rape culture and teaching our boys not to rape, we fall back on the fear-mongering of “boys will be boys” in order to keep transgender people out of a stall in which they can pee.

So there’s outcry for straight girls to be protected. But the cry for safety for trans youth is to be ignored?

Yes. It is. By the use of science, traditionalist values, and the power of the majority, it is acceptable to demand safety for most kids (straight); but not for trans kids because in reality, there’s no such thing.

Okay.

Deep breath.

How do we love people who seem to be so unloving towards others?

I know when I become angry or frustrated or sad over how these groups are treating LGBTQ+ with such ignorance and disdain, I don’t feel particularly loving towards them. These “family values” groups appear as anything but, and I wonder why Christians continue to insist on choosing exclusion using the guise of love.

So this post is as much for me as it is for anyone else. I read that Jesus says to love our enemies; I know I’m supposed to love our enemies; I believe we need to love our enemies; but… how do I love these enemies in tangible, meaningful ways?

For those of you seeking some concrete steps, here are a few ideas that might assist us all around the table:

  1. Take a good, honest inventory about why we are wanting to love our enemies. Is it because Jesus said so? Is because we want freedom and relief for ourselves? Is it because we want to build community with our enemies? Discovering our own intentions is crucial. Anyone can claim to love their enemies as a form of weapon over others, a form of control. But then love ceases to be love. Take a good, long look at why you’re needing to love your enemy. When you discover those needs, they can help guide your outward expressions.Choosing to love our enemies means shifting our focus off of their demise, and desiring their best. Now you and I both could decide what’s best for our enemies, but trust me when I say: our enemies also believe they know what’s best for us. So when we choose to desire what’s best, choose that we’ll desire the ultimate best — God’s best — even if it doesn’t quite look like how we think it should look. Especially for us social justice and/or religious types, we can get quite self-righteous or preachy at this point. I want all trans youth to have the safest places possible to use the bathroom knowing the violence they’ve already endured. But I want all kids at all times to be safe wherever they are as well.
  2. Choose to understand the world while wearing the Other’s shoes. This Parents’ Choice group frustrates me to no end. I’m seeing the damage they’re causing to other youth and families seeking safety for their LGBTQ+ children all in the name of protecting their own children. But therein lies perhaps a connection: while I have no doubt there’s a huge smokescreen hiding homophobia and transphobia for some of members, there is certainly a strong parental desire to protect children. That’s totally understandable.
  3. Find something you honestly love about the Other. We might not feel our enemies deserve this action, but by finding actions or characteristics we love about our enemies we are re-humanizing them from enemy status. For example, one strong homophobic voice that wrankles me to the core was a college classmate of mine. He was on the hockey team. And while other hockey players and spectators would scream “Drop the gloves!”, he refused. He would not use his finely practiced sport as an excuse to beat up another player. That spoke volumes to me. That showed integrity and courage. I don’t like his teachings about LGBTQ+ people. But I know integrity is present. I must remember that.
  4. Reach out to them. This option and the next one are probably the hardest ones to follow through with. For these two steps demand we actually interact with the people who have hurt us so badly.  (**DISCLAIMER: I am not advocating for victims of abuse to run towards their abusers in the name of showing love to them. While this action might prove healing for some abuse victims, wisdom shows us that distance is often the better choice knowing forgiveness and healing can still occur in those manners)Have you had your enemy over for coffee? It doesn’t need to be about “the thing” — that issue or event that has caused such rifts. Remember back at #1 about discovering our intentions? Let’s choose to have our enemies over for coffee, BBQs, block parties, dinners, potlucks or anything around food because we truly want to know them.This can be super-hard for an introvert like myself who has trouble inviting even her closest friends or family over for anything. For me, I need to work through a feasible plan with a trusted coach or mentor before trying something like this. Not everyone will need to rise to the challenge as I do. We’ll each have our own ways of coming to terms with sharing space and food with our enemies.

    For our online enemies, ask open-ended questions with the intention of learning what they truly believe and desire. Open-ended questions will give us more information and understanding (and dare I say “wisdom”!) than black/white, open/shut questions. Especially when our online enemies are far away, this action can prove valuable when physical space can’t be shared.

  5. When you have mapped out a plan to reach out, find common ground. This space and time is NOT the time for us to pummel the Other with our beliefs or convictions. We have invited our enemies in because we are choosing to love them. Using that time and space, then, for bashing or demeaning is a useless effort. Perhaps after some common ground has been established and some trust has been built, cogent and reasonable conversations can begin to happen. But don’t intend to start with such a meeting, and don’t expect such trust from anyone right off the bat.So what’s your “ground”? Fine wines? Book clubs? Gardening? Pop culture? Comic expos? Travel? What spaces are in your life right now that could become sacred connecting points with the Other where you can invite them in and share some talking points (and food!)?
  6. Return to #1: what is your intention? After creating space where you reach out to find common ground with your enemy, how have your perceptions of them altered (or has it?)? It’s okay if your feelings towards them are still perhaps scattered or frustrated or hurt. Especially when we’re still dealing with our own hurt, it’s unreasonable to expect ourselves to suddenly feel warm and fuzzy.But if we begin to re-humanize those that may have de-humanized us, the space for our hate or fear or suspicions is taken up by commonalities that all our children love the monkey bars; that theatre popcorn is way over-priced; that a micro brew will always be better than a commercial brand; and that J.J Abrams did indeed do the Star Wars franchise justice by killing off Han Solo.We haven’t reached agreement yet. We’re still openly exploring common ground, remember.

I’m sure many of you will have other tangible ways or paths towards loving our enemies. As I said, too, if an enemy has caused damage past the point of physical reconciliation being safe, listen to those signals. Walk openly, but walk with caution. Many people shouting down against LGBTQ+ people have no clue about the damage they are doing. I sure didn’t. In fact, I was convinced THEY were the ones doing all the damage by destroying the gospel. Strange, no? Another point of commonality.

It’s almost beyond difficult to reach out and invite enemies into our spaces, especially knowing we won’t get the response we’re hoping for (mutual respect? love? acceptance? friendship?). In fact, our enemies might take the opportunity to use our gestures of common ground as license to bash us again. That’s happened to me before, and I was taken completely off guard. I assumed that because I’d invited this person for coffee to get to know them, that they’d assume the same intention as I had.

So be prepared for anything. Check your intentions (are there any that perhaps are trying to shout down the Other? are we really wanting to see the best in the Other?); know what situations are appropriate for sharing informed opinions and beliefs and which are not; take small steps towards reaching out and finding common ground; and above all, pray for those who persecute you. For in that prayer we will discover that it is we ourselves who are transformed by God. We can pray until we’re blue in the face for the enemy to miraculously change; but deep down transformation in the world begins in us. By praying for those who have hurt us, we find that God can finally touch those open wounds hidden so deeply within ourselves in such desperate need of healing.

Walk gently, dear reader.

This will all take time.

3 comments

Add Yours
  1. Helen O'Cobhthaigh

    I found its not my job to change the enemy. What I need to do is soften my own heart so I’m not the one carrying the hurt. Holding the enemy in the light and sending them love helps me to release this hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

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