Once upon a time, Jesus was teaching his disciples, saying, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Ok that part is real; it’s in Matthew 5…the rest I’m making up.) But someone in the crowd, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus, “But who is my enemy?”
Now, in my story, if I was more creative, Jesus would tell a really great parable that turns the question on its head, asking the crowd, “Who am I treating as an enemy?”
If we try to answer that question, we may note that our killing sprees are infrequent, and we no longer push people down on the playground. We would probably find ourselves repenting over ways that we have treated a spouse like an enemy, or ways that we bulldozed our son’s boundaries, or spoke harshly to a coworker. But I’d like to go a bit beyond that to ways that I have seen myself treating people as enemies in the past.
You know how we don’t really notice the aroma of home until we’ve been away, or how our hometown landscape is invisible to us until we’ve lived in a different place? Well, I noticed something about American Christian culture when I moved toBahrain. I noticed that Christians feel like a lot of groups are their enemies, even though we don’t call them that.
American Christians often feel like a small, persecuted minority. Other people don’t see us that way. In fact, others can feel overwhelmed by the strength and prominence of the Christian presence inAmerica. Christians feel like others have an agenda to take away their freedom of religion, and Christians feel the need to defend themselves. Others feel that Christians fight to have their own rights trump the rights of other groups.
Some of these feelings lead Christians to feel that we are being attacked. But we don’t call those people enemies. Sometimes I wish we would. I wish Christians would just say, “Yeah, I think (fill in the blank–Muslims, Democrats, gays, atheists, immigrants, or non-Christians) are our enemies. I think they are intentionally trying to destroy our way of life.” Because if Christians would admit that we think people are our enemies, wouldn’t we have to make the connection that Jesus told us to love those people?
But suppose we don’t ask “Who is my enemy?” Suppose we ask, “Am I acting like an enemy?”
Maybe we would see that we take whole groups of people and the individuals in that group, and we assume negative intentions on their part, and then treat them accordingly. We might discover that we don’t really listen to others’ perspectives, but insist on believing that we know what they “truly” believe, or what their “real” agenda is. We might find out that when we say things like “love the sinner, but hate the sin,” we have no idea how deeply we are hurting the so-called “sinners.” Especially when “loving the sinner” is theoretical, whereas “hating the sin” is well-practiced and oft-articulated.
I want you to know that I’m writing this because I feel deeply grieved over the ways in which I have done these things. I have valued rightness over kindness, honored evangelism over unconditional love, and held so tightly to my foundation of certainty that I wasn’t able to truly respect people who believed or lived differently from me. It took some pretty big (and painful) paradigm shifts in my life to see how unloving I could be at times—especially when I thought I was being loving.
I would love it if you would share your thoughts about who we treat as enemies.
Photo by Aislinn Ritchie, CC license