By Mark Walz
I recently saw a social media post from a former classmate of mine from seminary. In this post, he rejected the idea that as Christians we should ever call someone we disagree with an ‘enemy.’ (He had witnessed a political commentator who professes to be Christian call ‘democrats’ and ‘media’ your ‘enemy.’) His point being that Jesus called us to love our enemies, and by using harsh language we are dehumanizing people and revealing an ugliness in our own hearts at the same time. Is he right? Given our often inflamed political discourse, are we responding in a godly manner when we use words like ‘enemies’ to describe political opponents? Are we increasing division by calling someone an enemy? I think he is wrong, and here is why:
My classmate seems to think someone with whom we disagree ought not to be seen as an enemy. Behind this is an assumption that either politics are minor and neither here nor there when it comes to our faith, or our language is unnecessarily hurtful. But politics are not inconsequential. They are significant and important to all people, affecting freedoms and freedom to associate and gather. And the other side believe it too. Godless progressives and marxists find politics and the power associated with it incredibly serious. They protest and vote and move in associations with great energy and expense to effect change through politics. There are powerful groups bent on destroying religious freedoms and ostracizing Christians to the fringes of society, and more. They do not want you to be able to spread any religious messages, they don’t want you to be able to decide whom you serve, and they don’t want you to be able to teach your own children. If someone is against you politically, there are few things in this world more worthy of the moniker, ‘enemy’, than that. Politics are significant.
And if my classmate seems to think this type of language is hurtful, then why did Christ use the word in His call to love our enemies. You see, Jesus did not say something akin to ‘you have heard it said, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but instead remember you don’t really have any enemies — that’s a nasty word.’ No, he said the word and affirmed the word. We do have enemies. It does not make any sense to eliminate the word when it is apropos. It reduces our faith to a smarmy kind of thing, for milquetoast men and women who are afraid of their own shadow. But I think it clear the call in our faith is harder than that and much more difficult.
You see, if we believe we have real enemies, people who want to destroy our lives and rob us of freedom, and then we read the words in Matthew 5 that say,
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
If we read those words and then realize that Jesus is calling us to pray and seek the good of those who want to destroy us, is not that a much more profound and utterly arresting command? Do you see what is happening here? If we fail to see these people as enemies, we are reducing them in two ways! We reduce them and their firmly held beliefs as not that big of a deal, and we also reduce them because our call to love them in spite of their political hatred for us becomes insipidly patronizing. No! They are your enemies. They want you gone and removed from society. With that in mind, no pulling punches or making light of the situation, Jesus calls you now to love them. This is no smarmy faith. It is radical faith. The kind of faith that enables someone to say to those who are actively persecuting you, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” And besides, and maybe this was entirely Christ’s point, you too were once enemies of God (cf Romans 5:6-11). But because of His love for you, even though you were his enemy, you are now his friend (John 15:15). If we reduce the first part, we also reduce the second.