You know what's really, really hard? Loving your enemies.
It's such a pat phrase that I don't often really think about what it means. Circumstances don't currently compel me to spend time with people I don't like, so I find myself dismissing this commandment: “eh, don't really have any enemies.”
If there's one thing I've learned from this whole ugly riots mess, it's that I absolutely do. And I've been able to codify something about myself that makes me feel a little weird:
I have a lot more sympathy for people whose actions repel me than for people whose words repel me.
I condemn the rioters' actions while seeking to understand their point of view. Good job me. Top marks on loving your enemy right there. But the people who are saying horrible things about the rioters, impugning their humanity and calling for mass murder (encasing them in concrete and unleashing polar bears on them are just two of the suggestions I've seen on Facebook)? I condemn them without even trying to understand their point of view.
Maybe it's because my hate-spewing Facebook-friends are mostly a lot like myself in terms of background and socioeconomic circumstances – heck, a few years ago (pre-SJ, pre-Christianity) I might well have been saying the same things myself – and the reason I'm lashing out at them is because I understand them too well, and I want to distance myself from the things I could all too easily see in myself.
So what does it mean to love your enemies?
Let's start with enemies. That is like a ridic melodramatic word in today's parlance. Obviously it means the people you find it hardest to love. For me personally, I think ideological opponents is probably a better term. The fantastic Christian Humanist blog recently linked this super-interesting article, which argues that
“...as a culture, liberalism has become insular and narrow-minded. It lacks the capacity for the generous appreciation of other points of view needed in a pluralistic society. That capacity is more likely to be found today among conservatives, particularly religious conservatives.”
That's a helluva thing. Now, I don't really consider myself a liberal – liberalism's a little far right for my tastes – but it's certainly closer to me than conservatism, and (without wanting to get into discussion of whether it's a valid or defensible statement) this bold, extremely questionable assertion has got me examining my beliefs more critically than ever before.
I have an unfortunate tendency to pride myself on my “generous appreciation of other points of view”. I'm constantly checking my privilege, trying to be super-duper politically correct, accounting for the multifarious effects of background and circumstance and identity politics. The only people whose point of view I don't try to understand?
Right-wingers. People who don't seem to care about social and economic justice. People whose politics are in direct opposition to mine.
The thing is, in my actual interpersonal relationships I am okay at this. I have friends who are conservatives. I dearly love certain people who are racist, sexist, heterosexist, etc. When I was a small child living far away from my biological grandparents, an older couple living in our neighborhood were surrogate grandparents to me and my brothers, and I vividly remember the shock of learning, years later, that they believed God made black people and white people separate and we should stay that way. It was the first time in my life I confronted head-on the truth that sometimes people you care about have really objectionable views, and it's a lesson I've had to keep on learning.
And yet it's easy to make exceptions and justifications for people you already know and love. When the people with objectionable views are mere words on a screen, it seems logical and right to put principles above people.
To really live a Christian life, though, means always putting the people above the principle. (Side note: one of the reasons I adore children's fantasy classic Silver on the Tree is because of its take on this issue.) It is possible to reject someone's objectionable views but still understand and love em. It has to be possible. That's what God does: God understands all of us completely, and God loves all of us completely, and God absolutely rejects injustice and hatred.
How does God do it? I don't friggin' know. That's why God's God, and I'm not. I do know that it's my duty as a human being to try as hard as I possibly can, and that as long as I live it's going to be really, really hard.