Loving Enemies While Defeating Them, Part I
Updated: Jun 27, 2022
(This is part I of a series. Click below for the other posts in the series)
Part III Part IV Part V Part VI
A while back, Josh Daws asked what turned out to be a provocative question on Twitter: How do we in the Church love our enemies *while* working to defeat them? What a great question, but you wouldn’t know it by many of the replies he got. So many Christians in the replies roundly criticized him for even asking the question. To them, we are commanded to simply love everyone, enemies included, period end of story, no more thinking needed. Many others also had a problem even considering the possibility that we have legitimate enemies. They argued such “enemy” language is othering and therefore unbiblical, unChristlike, and unbecoming of a Christian.
Well count me impressed by the question, but unimpressed with the replies mentioned above. We are, indeed, to love our enemies, but the problem is the “period, end of story” part. We should also work to defeat them, and we should think hard to concretely work out how to hold both of those in tension and develop what, exactly, all that looks like.
There’s a lot in the replies to address, so I’m going to take the next few posts to unpack my thoughts on it all.
First, some of what follows is aimed at individuals, other parts aimed at institutions. Some applies to the Church, some applies to conservative organizations. I admittedly am blurring lines between institution and individual, church and parachurch/non church groups. Properly treated, this question should be a book; this blog series is my initial messy attempt at laying down some general principles.
Next, lets define some basic terms. What is an “enemy”? Dictionary.com offers a pretty straightforward definition: a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent. Google defines the word similarly: A person who is actively opposed to or hostile to something; a thing that harms or weakens something else. Synonyms include “opponent, adversary, antagonist.”
Given this, do Christians have enemies? Uhhhh…yea. It’s kind of obvious.
Note here that by “enemy” I’m not simply talking about those who just disagree with us on key areas of truth, all non-Christians, etc. I am not intending to lump them in with the motivated activists, making “enemy” an all-encompassing umbrella term for all those not faithful to Christ.
Given the dictionary definition--which I’m adopting, I see no reason not to--*active* opposition or hostility is required. An enemy is an activated antagonist. While this doesn’t accurately describe all those who disagree with the gospel and the Christian worldview, it is apt for a subset of highly motivated opposers. The woke, as the saying goes, never sleep. So yes, we have quite a few “enemies.”
What’s more, notice the biblical injunctions to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you” presupposes the existence of…wait for it…enemies. You can’t “love enemies” if there’s no such thing as an enemy.
Other places in the Bible are very up front about this. In Act 13, Edymas the sorcerer “opposed” the apostles and “tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.” That is the behavior of an enemy--active opposition. If you read on, Paul aggressively confronts him, even calling him an “enemy of everything that is right” and a “child of the devil.” Ouch.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul notes in chapter 16 that there are “many who oppose me.”
Jesus is opposed frequently, not by honest actors, but by aggressive enemies: Luke 11:53--the Pharisees and teachers of the law “oppose him fiercely and besiege(d) Him with questions, waiting to catch Him in something He might say.” These are not innocent questions.
Matthew 19: 3-13--Pharisees came to him to “test him.” They are not honest seekers, that much is obvious.
Matthew 21: 23-28--chief priests and elders questioned his authority.
Matthew 22: 15-22--Pharisees tried to “trap him in his words.” vs 18 “but Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?’
Matthew 22: 23-33--Sadducees asked him a question about marriage to discredit him. Then, in the next chapter, Jesus spends the whole chapter then turning to the crowd and his disciples, actively condemning--in the most stark terms--those He just finished dismantling, and pronouncing woes upon them. Read it. It’s pretty harsh.
James 4:4 states that “friendship with the world means enmity against God.” It stands to reason that if we align ourselves with God’s agenda, that enmity will be aimed at us.
Take a gander at almost any Psalm and it will hit you in the face--The Bible says we have enemies.
My point here so far isn’t that we should sling mud and throw insults. I have yet to spell out what our engagement is supposed to look like. My only point is that if you square with the whole Bible honestly, there’s no question that we have enemies. Looking out into the world and surveying the lay of the land only confirms this. Some actively and energetically oppose what we stand upon, are aggressors against it, and do everything they can to dismantle it and convince others to join them. If that’s not an enemy I don’t know what is.
If the groups and individuals referenced above in the aforementioned Bible passages were enemies of Christ and His followers in the first century, what are some specific examples of enemies today? Towards that, I am thinking of secular, “progressive” and critical social justice activists and polemicists who seek to advance ideas, policies, public plausibility structures, and ways of being that are directly opposed to Christ, His Truth, and the reality of His created order.
Those professors, counselors, medical professionals, etc that Matt Walsh interviewed in his “What is a Woman?” documentary are great examples. The Disney execs Chris Rufo exposed; School officials using their positions to usher vulnerable kids into crazy lifestyles; University activists/professors and administrators fomenting toxic racial division through CSJ ideology; Planned Parenthood talking heads that use slick magic words and linguistic trickery to fool people that abortion is “necessary.”
On top of that you can throw in the Richard Spencers and Stormfronts of the world. Enemies. There are some differences between these and those mentioned in the previous paragraph--the former opposition is much more socially acceptable currently, and it has the cultural and institutional wind at its back at the moment--but both are united in that they are ideologies fronted by the enemies of Christ, His Church, and everything good and beautiful.
That is by no means an exhaustive list--its just a few particular examples to be concrete.
Again, I emphasize that this is not just people who are honestly mistaken. I am talking about people who advance an agenda. I know that’s a dirty word since we came out of the Moral Majority days of the 80s and 90s (ie, cue old white guy in southern accent talking about the “gay agenda” and the response from LGBT’s “I don’t have an agenda I just want to be left alone!”), but what else would you call it? This class of people plant themselves in corporations, administration in K-12 schools, Hollywood, higher ed, media, and professional organizations and use those institutions of influence to enact policy and persuade others towards very particular ends. They have an active intent in advancing towards specific political and cultural goals. That’s an agenda. Can’t get around it.
Not every gay man, lesbian woman, or trans identifying person advances this agenda. Plenty “just want to live their lives,” but plenty inside and outside those groups do.
We have enemies. I don’t even think I should have to wax eloquent over 3 pages to establish the point, but judging from the pushback Josh got to his question, apparently I need to. I get that we should handle the “enemy” label with caution, for we can easily over extend it and react in unloving ways. It’s hard to hold the right tension. But that does nothing to blunt the reality that we do have enemies. We should be honest about that.
The real question is how we should treat them. Love, yes, but also work to defeat them. Which brings me to the next question: What does it mean to “defeat” an enemy? I will take up that question in the next post in this series.