“Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith …. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God.”
The author of those lines was writing about thieves, extortioners, torturers, murderers, tyrants – not just someone who belongs to a different denomination. It’s a very costly standard Jesus asks of us – “love your enemies” and “pray for those who misuse you.”
But it goes beyond that. I have to assume that the efforts at grace, or at least careful honesty, that we expend in trying to deal with our enemies – whatever the type of conflict, whatever the situation – those efforts should be the minimum standard that we apply when dealing with our allies – whatever the conflict we have with them or the errors we discern in them.
If enemies deserve love, honesty and carefulness from us, how much more should allies deserve these things. And, at least in principle, it is easier to practice this with allies. Allies can be very irritating, and horribly offensive to one’s pride, but it’s REALLY hard with true enemies!
“And no one can show others the error that is in them, as Thomas Merton wisely remarked, unless the others are convinced that their critic first sees and loves the good that is in them.”
That can be a daunting challenge! We have to speak the truth. You can’t fix (or repent of) what has not been seen. But we have to try to speak the truth in ways that leave at least some opening for the other side to move. We have to see the possiblity of good, the hope of repentance. In the case of allies and friends, we absolutely must remind ourselves regularly of the actual, practical good already operating in them.
This site, for example, is trying to provide a resource for Christians who are having problems with Bush, dominionism, neocon morality, etc. There are very few issues on which they (“they is us”) are going to agree exactly. But we can’t fill these pages with insults and condemnation of the people we are trying to reach out to – that is, each other, and visitors and lurkers looking for an alternative to what many of their churches are giving them. We have to point out the more egregious errors they hold or are being fed. That’s a major purpose of the site. But not by insults, condemnation, and strutting spiritual pride.
Unfortunately, even though it’s an obvious need, that’s not an easy balance to achieve day after day.
But it’s something I want to be aware of as the primary writer on this site. I don’t claim or imagine that I regularly get the right balances – but it’s something I think about often. I stand corrected now and then, probably less often than is really needed. And I always try to think of how my words will hit certain friends, neighbors, or relatives – if they take the risk of reading what I write – who I know disagree with me. I want to be honest while still retaining connections with them if at all possible.
“We must become the change we want to see,” said Gandhi. And he did it. We all need to think often about this. It’s a subtle, difficult, painful, necessary and rewarding obligation.
It does not at all mean we avoid speaking the truth, or even avoid speaking our minds. It will, however, usually alter HOW we do so. It helps us make better PRESUMPTIONS about the others involved, particularly when we are dealing with alllies.
How we operate now will help determine the quality of the future that comes out of our thoughts, prayers, and efforts.
And if we must err in drawing these lines – and no doubt we must sometimes – let’s err in the direction of truth, not the direction of covering up significant issues. The truth must be sought. Probably we’ll all have to thicken our skins a little to avoid taking umbrage too quickly, but it is truth that frees people and saves difficult situations.
Thank you each one for your interest in or contributions to this site. It means a lot to all the rest of us who come here.
Quotes are from Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, Fortress, 2003, p58-62