If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who
love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even
sinners do the same.
--Luke 6:32-33 NRSV
Presidential Inauguration Day is about two months behind us and while there’s plenty of vitriol to go around, it feels to me like the general level of partisan demonization has returned to its usual furor rather than the insane levels of the last few years. For me at least, I can still get riled up any time I want by checking my Twitter feed, but no longer is every waking moment an exercise in reining in my political self-righteousness. Maybe there’s enough mental bandwidth to go around now, so I and we can consider whether or not living in a state of perpetual outrage is healthy?
I spent a good decade or so defining myself over and against fundamentalist Christians who were sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and every other kind of hateful -ist and -phobia that exists. It’s a good thing to refute that kind of Christianity, but at some point saying only “I am not. . .” leaves little room for one to say “I am. . .” One can spend so long criticizing the negative in the “other” that all you are is negative with nothing positive to say or be. One’s identity can become only about anger and outrage. Those things are non-renewable, so one must keep looking for someone or something to be angry and outraged about lest one be left with no identity at all.
Jesus understood that our identities have to draw from a spiritual source that never runs dry. That’s why he called us to love others, especially our enemies. It seems laughable, impossible even but when all you’ve got is anger and outrage for people who don’t think like you do or look like you do, then there isn’t much to you at all. It’s impossible to enjoy this one, fragile, precious life we’ve been given when there is no love, joy and happiness inside a person, only anger and outrage. Besides, love is the only real way to find union with God. When all of one’s self is devoted to anger and outrage, those things become our gods, false idols whom we unknowingly worship and devote our lives to. We end up have nothing left to give the God who is love.
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus also demonstrated that there are appropriate times to be angry—anger at injustice, anger at religion being used as a weapon, anger at the exploitation of the poor and powerless, but life is about more than anger. Jesus didn’t ask us to be passive in the face of injustice nor did he expect his followers to sit idly by while the powerful and rich abuse people below them on the social hierarchy. Instead, he called us to a better way where we resist becoming the same as the evils we claim to be against. Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy captures this idea, “When we are violent to our enemies, we do violence to ourselves. When we brutalize others, we brutalize ourselves. And eventually we run the risk of becoming our oppressors.” Ultimately, finding a way to love our enemies is a way to love ourselves.
Jesus taught resistance to violence for many reasons. One reason is the ones we are violent against are made in God’s image just like we are. A second reason is that we are made in God’s image just like they are, and the violence we direct outward flows inward too. It may not seem like posting on social media, hate-watching cable news or gathering with like-minded friends to decry the “others” who don’t think like you do is actual violence, but in a spiritual sense it most surely is. Writer Parker Palmer says it this way:
“Violence is any way we have of violating the integrity of the other. Racism and sexism are violence. Derogatory labeling of any sort constitutes violence. Rendering other people invisible or irrelevant is an act of violence. So is manipulating people towards our ends as if they were objects that existed only to serve our purposes. …Violence is not just about bombing or shooting or hitting people. To create peace in our lives–and our world–we need to be able to sit with frustration and hold the tension of opposite views.”
I don’t like it any more than you do, but perhaps the best way to love one’s enemy in 21st century America is to build relationships with people who disagree with you. I know there are some people with whom that won’t work. If someone refuses to acknowledge your sacred personhood because of your gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc. real relationship isn’t possible. You have to love that person from a distance behind healthy boundaries. But if a way exists for people to be in relationship who think and believe differently while acknowledging each other’s worth in the eyes of God, then the only Christian way is the way of love.
As Christians, our true identities can only be found in love not in anger and outrage.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.