Thursday, February 25, 2010

loving enemies

Most people are aware of how both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were heavily influenced by Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.

This led to both of them acting as catalysts for independence movements that were characterized by their dynamic non-violent approach. In Gandhi's case it brought about India's liberation from Great Britain. In King's case, it brought about the liberation of America's African-American population.

For many, the idea of loving one's enemies and interacting with them in a non-violent manner is all right for mass movements like King's and Gandhi's, but it is impossible to make work on a day-by-day, person-to-person basis. How do you love, let alone like, someone who hurts your children, back stabs you at work or trashes your family to others whenever they get the chance?

I believe the best way to love your enemies is to do exactly what you do when you love your friends.

If a good friend embarks on actions I think are not only unwise, but dangerous, I sit down with them, have a coffee, and express my concerns. Out of love. They may or may not listen, but it is what good friends do.

If a good friend is out of line with me, I tell them. If they do things that will hurt not only themselves, but my wife and children and other friends, I do what I can to make them stop. If they are engaging in actions that will hurt strangers, I challenge them on that too. Outside of self-defense, or their involvement in law enforcement or necessary military operations, if they are doing things that harm others - psychologically, physically, emotionally, spiritually - I make it a point to challenge them to cease and choose another manner in which to resolve their issues. And I do it out of love for them as well as love for those they intend to harm.

There is no difference with my approach to my enemies.

Loving your enemies does not mean letting them run rampant - destroying your reputation, indulging in harmful gossip towards you with others, hurting or killing your wife or husband or children or friends. Love does not permit that because loving your enemies means not only keeping them from harming themselves, but harming others, because harming others is a blow against their own lives and souls. And loving your enemies certainly does not mean you stop loving others and allow enemies to destroy them.

Loving your enemies means challenging their harmful behavious towards yourself and others. It means taking action to stop them from doing what is wrong. It means defending yourself and others not only for their victims' sakes but their own sakes as well.

Since when did love mean being a spectator when people hurt people? Since when did love mean doing nothing when you could do something to stop people from harming people? Since when did loving your friends meaning letting them self-destruct? Since when did it mean letting them indulge in whatever vicious behaviour they desire without you, their friend, saying or doing anything to attempt to change their minds and behaviour?

Since when did loving your enemies mean never challenging their destructive behaviour towards yourself and others? Since when did it mean letting them do whatever terrible things they wish? Since when did it mean never resisting their efforts to do yourself and others harm? You don't permit the friends you love to engage in that sort of viciousness towards yourself and those you care about and even those who are strangers. Why would you act any differently towards the enemies Jesus has commanded you to love?

Love your friend. Love your enemy. Act in the same manner towards each when they take a path of darkness and destruction. Loving them means helping them not to do the things that harm others and, by so doing, also harm themselves.

Love does not mean letting others do the things that make the world most ugly and wicked and which also make themselves most ugly and wicked.

Love does not only mean saying yes at the right times. It also involves saying no.

This is how friends are loved. This is how enemies are loved.

This is how our worlds and the one greater world is changed.

Jesus said, Love one another as I have loved you.

He also said, Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. Pray for those who try to treat you in dark and destructive ways.

Talk. Pray. Challenge. Resist. Embrace. Forgive.

Love your enemies as you love your friends.

It's not just rhetoric. Not just wishful thinking.

It works.


Helen said...

I ran across your book Mister Good Morning and greatly enjoyed it. The stories made me think for weeks after I read them. I later found your blog, and have been enjoying it.

What it means to love my enemies is something that I've been thinking about for the last few years. Thank you for posting your thoughts on the topic.

murray said...

Helen, thanks very much for your words. Yes, I've been working through what loving enemies is about in a real world sense. Many people think it means either becoming an ultra-pacifist (no police or military) or treating it like a sentiment of the heart that is a nice idea but unlivable. Somehow it must be meant to have practical impact. And to be livable and workable, to me, cannot mean love=granting another person utter freedom to destroy your life and the lives of others. That then contradicts the command to love your neighbour as yourself. Somehow these two teachings must work together so that loving enemies is not understood - as it often is - to mean giving enemies free reign to create havoc in others' souls as well as their own.