We’ve been in a month-long series at Central on peace and I taught the third installment of it last weekend (see: Eating with Enemies). The response I’ve seen so far is overwhelmingly positive. Many people have told me this has been some of the most eye-opening conversations about faith they’ve ever had.
But as should be expected, not everyone agrees on this discussion. In reading through the pushback we’ve received, I’ve noticed that most of the comments focus on Muslims. Essentially, the argument is that they are so bad they should be exempt from enemy love. One person even compared it to us telling people to love the Ku Klux Klan.
I have a few thoughts on this. First, what was happening in Rome when Jesus and His disciples taught and modeled how to love enemies rivals anything the Muslim world has produced then or now. The early church lived in a culture that tortured and killed Christians for the amusement of the majority, so it’s hard to see how we might find exceptions today. There are great expressions of Islam in the world today and there are horrific versions of it too (as is true of almost any group of people).
Loving enemies doesn’t validate their actions, it validates our faith in Jesus. In addition, Jesus gave us no qualifying terms on who this enemy love applies to and who it doesn’t. There are no conditions which must be met before we act. Therefore, love everyone.
Second, how do we expect our enemies who are doing horrific things to ever stop doing them? By force? By killing them? By alienating them? What about expecting Jesus to transform them the way He’s transformed us? The challenge is that we have to love them in order to open that door. The Gospel becomes good news for others when we give of ourselves in our pursuit of Jesus (see: Christianity with Benefits). Most of us are comfortable giving out of our surplus, not when it puts us at a deficit.
I recently read an article in the New York Times from a Muslim man arguing how Islam should best move forward in light of Jesus (see: What Jesus Can Teach Today’s Muslims). You might need to reread that last sentence again to see how intriguing this idea is for most of us. His concluding paragraphs are fascinating:
But no Muslim religious leader has yet stressed the crucial gap between divine purposes and dry legalism as powerfully as Jesus did. Jesus showed that sacrificing the spirit of religion to literalism leads to horrors, like the stoning of innocent women by bigoted men — as it still happens in some Muslim countries today. He also taught that obsession with outward expressions of piety can nurture a culture of hypocrisy — as is the case in some Muslim communities today. Jesus even defined humanism as a higher value than legalism, famously declaring, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Can we Muslims also reason, “The Shariah is made for man, not man for the Shariah”? Or, like Jesus, can we also suggest that the Kingdom of God — also called “the Caliphate” — will be established not within any earthly polity, but within our hearts and minds? If Jesus is “a prophet of Islam,” as we Muslims often proudly say, then we should think on these questions. Because Jesus addressed the very problems that haunt us today and established a prophetic wisdom perfectly fit for our times.
Jesus is the only one who can transform the world, and this doesn’t just apply to Christians. We must follow Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies in order to be a part of this healing. Do we think Jesus can really solve this problem or not? And on a side note, once you begin loving your enemies you’ll start to realize they are actually your neighbors. And Jesus told us to love them too.