There is a cold, civil war being waged in the US.  While the battle lines often break along political lines, they run much deeper, down to our core beliefs.  The majority of Americans identify as “Christian,” and yet, there are believers on both sides of tthe divide.  Despite our differences, all followers of Christ should have one thing in common: we are commanded to love our enemies.  Loving “some” on the other side may seem impossible, especially for those of us who are most passionate.  Whether we like it or not, Jesus makes it clear that “love for the enemy” is essential being called a child of God. (*)

So how can we possibly love those in our country, communities, and families, who we see as ripping us apart and tearing us down?   To answer this question, I turn to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., a man who had some real enemies; the kind of enemies that had him under surveillance, and had him killed.  In his book, Strength to Love, there is a chapter (based on a sermon) called Loving Your Enemies.  “First, we develop and maintain the capacity to forgive,” he tells us.  “He who is devoid the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”   

Whether we are right or wrong (and we all think we’re right), being able to forgive requires giving up a measure of pride or ego.  It’s akin to sacrificing a small part of myself in order to be free of the anger that comes with holding on to a grudge.  This is not easy because the hurt we feel may be very real and well-deserved (although I personally have a tendency to inflate my own injuries).  It does not mean we are admitting we are wrong.  As King tells us, forgiveness simply means there is no longer a mental block impeding a relationship.

Second, we must recognize the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is.”  We are all complex individuals who are all looking at the world through a different set of lenses.   Now, the lenses may be distorted, but there is still a real person underneath.  No matter how much we hate what someone thinks, or says, or does, we cannot lose touch with their humanity.   Once we lose touch with that, it gives us an excuse to think, say, and do all sorts of horrible things, and truly, evil wins.

Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding.”   It’s better to “lose” an argument than to resort to personal attacks, because then we lose more than the argument.  Once we reach the point where insults are exchanged, any hope of conversation, much less conversion, is lost.  In the same way, it’s better to lose an election than to “win” by any means necessary.  Political supporters take their cues from their leaders.  If our candidates attempt to humiliate, demean, or cheat, as Christians, we must insist on better candidates.

Fortunately, we are not required to “like” our enemies.   In fact, King states that liking our enemies is impossible.  “How can we be affectionate toward a person whose avowed aim is to crush our very being…”  No, we are not required to like people who show callous disregard for other human beings.   Clearly, Jesus was not very fond of the Pharisees who loved to point out sin in others while whitewashing their own moral failings.   “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”  (Luke 11: 39)

When Jesus tells us to “love your enemies,” he is referring to a spiritual, agape love that grasps, or at least glimpses, the love God has for all of us.   This is the transformative experience that Christ wanted for all of his followers, and that he demonstrates toward his own enemies when, on the cross, he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23: 34)   King concludes his sermon where it begins, “…we shall never be true sons of our heavenly Father until we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.”


(*) “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5: 44, 45

The quotes were taken from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Strength to Love, Loving Your Enemies, Fortress Press Gift Edition, 2010, , pages 43 – 52.


American Prophet is coming out soon!