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Enemy love doesn't mean dining with white supremacists
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.—Matthew 4:43-48
One of Jesus’ most profound and powerful statements in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is his one on enemy love. Jesus exhorts us to reject worldly wisdom, and continue in obedience and service to the God of Love, to even love our enemies. We are to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus encourages us to resist the way of the world – loving those who love us and hating those who do – but extending love to all like our heavenly father does.
We can only love our enemies if we know who they are, however. And for the oppressed, those who hate us and want us killed or left undignified are clearly our enemies. We want to love them into their fullness, just as we desire for them to love us into our fullness. Too often, enemy love is used to put BIPOC in their place as they name oppression and harm they’ve experienced at the hands of white people. Even the mention of racism will cause White Christians to recoil and argue that we aren’t loving our enemies.
We’re gaslit to even think that we aren’t following Jesus’ commands if we call our oppressors to repent of their oppression before sharing the communion table with us. But enemy love is not about inviting people that can harm us to the table, but rather, offering them an opportunity to become fully themselves! We don’t pre-judge people based on their social status, but rather, welcome everyone. We can welcome everyone while encouraging everyone to offer the fullness of dignity to all.
The remarkable problem with saying that BIPOC should, with open arms, welcome those who oppress us to the table, is that the white advocates who tell us so openly that this is what following Jesus means, never, with the same fervor do so with the very white supremacists they are talking about. It’s as if minorities need to be loving, sacrificial ones, and we can’t expect the same of their white supremacist counterparts. But that is just the opposite. The reason I am confident of this pattern is that I have experienced it as a pastor. White members will tell me my writing is too harsh, not loving enough, or seeks to lob off people from the body. But it is just the opposite, I am encouraging white people to love their enemy – namely BIPOC. Racism is fundamentally about hating minorities; and white people unconsciously (and horrifyingly, sometimes, consciously) are making BIPOC their enemies as a result. Jesus’ teaching, then, make it incumbent upon white people to practice antiracism.
And so white people do not love their enemies if they welcome unrepentant white supremacists to the common table or the baptism pool. Those people are not actually white people’s enemies – they make enemies of BIPOC. Considering their hostility to antiracism, liberal white Christians may actually want to consider the enemies they make are those who benefit from antiracism, and those who threaten their power, in fact. Before you take the speck out of the eye of the BIPOC who does not want to commune with someone who threatens their existence, pull the log out of your eye that diminishes the experience and livelihood of that very person of color you humiliate with your religious superiority.
We want people who are earnestly repentant and following Jesus to participate. That doesn’t mean we are gating our community, but rather, that we are protecting the most vulnerable among us. Jesus himself did this, and he reserved his harshest words for those religious leaders who threatened the vulnerable. Jesus happily dined with the least of these (the enemies of the powerful), those of the lowest social status, and when he dined with oppressors (his enemies), he converted them! Table fellowship is essential to understanding the New Testament, and we must mimic Jesus’ example at our communion table. For oppressed people, loving our enemies means leading them to repentance.
So, I do not think a politically pluralistic church that pairs immunocompromised people with anti-vaxxers, immigrants and ICE agents, trans folks and those who want their parents imprisoned, killer police, and Black men, is loving their enemies – I think they are putting the vulnerable at risk. If we want to love our enemies, then we must help that anti-vaxxer to love their enemies, that ICE agent to love their enemy, and that officer to love his enemy. The Gospel is about transformation, not making peace with warmonger. Those violent ones must be disarmed if we are to create a loving and generous community where all are truly welcome. All can’t be welcome if we welcome those who hate members of our community. All aren't welcome until each one of us. BIPOC aren't welcome until we are antiracist, LBGTQIA folks aren't welcome until we are actively included, disabled people aren't welcome until we put their safety first. Those with power love their enemies quite differently than those without.
To consider who our society makes enemies of, we must look to our mass incarceration system and law enforcement. Our society’s enemies are those behind bars and in police chokeholds. We love those people by caring for them into their fullness, not punishing them. Thus loving our enemies means prison and police abolition. It means changing our systems of punishment and turning them into systems of transformation and restoration.