Updated: Jun 27
Now lets get down to it and dig into the details: how’s this supposed to look, exactly? We have “love” in one hand and “defeat our enemies” in the other. How are we supposed to keep both in tension?
One more thing before I lay out some specifics: remember, the below is directed at a very particular group--enemies. Recall the definition in the first post. This isn’t all encompassing and does not include simply any non-Christian or anyone we disagree with. We are called to respond differently to different groups. Grace to the broken, confrontation to the aggressors, bold proclamation and exhortation to the timid, teach the sheep to be on their guard. You gotta know who is who.
Not everyone is a bully, but treat bullies as bullies. That’s one thing that I’m grateful my dad taught me when I was young. I got picked on a lot--mercilessly, actually--and he told me in no uncertain terms that sometimes you have to give the bully a bloody nose, otherwise he doesn’t go away and just keeps getting bolder, which includes bullying other people. I did take that a little too far at times--I got in a *lot* of fights in elementary and middle school--but when I started standing up for myself, the bullies backed off.
So here is my best attempt to work out some specific principles regarding how to “love our enemies while working to defeat them.” On the “loving” side: 1) Prayer It’s gotta be said. If we can’t at least pray for the wellbeing and good of our enemies, we ain’t good for much else. Yes, we do this already. I had to say it though. Honestly, how strong is the prayer life of the average Christian? Answering for myself, my prayer life leaves much to be desired, and from what I keep hearing, I’m not alone. Lets go further up and further in. Do we really believe there’s a real all-powerful God out there who a) hears us and b) is active in the world? We say it, but do we really believe it? If we really believe it, at a minimum our prayer life should reflect that, directed towards the good of our enemies. Not only does this work towards their good, but it also helps keep our hearts properly oriented too, away from improper anger and bitterness.
2) The gospel comes with a house key This is a phrase coined by Rosaria Butterfield, who, before she converted, was a lesbian, atheist university professor. The “radically ordinary” hospitality of a handful of believers got her attention and melted her heart. Same story for Holly Ordway, who was an atheist professor before God got a hold of her. The hospitality of her coach piqued her interest. The kind of hospitality Butterfield and Ordway outline in their books is so much more powerful than we give it credit for. Breaking bread with our enemies, opening our homes to them, not just passively but with intention, can move mountains. There are lots of ways to do this outside of meals: game nights, movie nights, holiday parties. And on and on. The opportunities are endless. In a modern world bereft of true, embodied-in-the-same-physical-space connection, so many need and crave that. We can step into that void. The atomistic wasteland modern society has birthed is a real opportunity for us. Invite them in.
3) Put down the cell phone I know I bang on about this a lot, but for good reason. We all have a rectangular heroin needle in our pockets, and 99.9999% of us, devoted Christians included, are addicted to it. Being so hung up on the cell phone ensures we will miss real opportunities to live counter culturally. We will likely miss a lot of the Samaritans on the side of the road who are in need (In the parable the Samaritan isn’t exactly an enemy in the way I defined it above, but you get what I mean--we will miss opportunities to love those right next to us, which includes our enemies). We need to talk more about this, and not just saying “hey be on your cell phone less.” We all say that and squawk about “kids these days they are so addicted,” but really how much actual change does that bring about? Lets get practical, specifically working out and acting upon principles and habits that greatly loosen the screen’s hold on us, so that we are free to see the opportunities to love all around us. Books like Techwise Family don’t go far enough in this regard. Guys like Cal Newport do a much better job at laying out practical advice on how to do this at the level needed. I’ve also written on this here and here 4) Continue with benevolence ministry Though we can always improve, I’ve never been a part of a church that wasn’t serving the poor and least of these heavily. We do this a lot, quietly and with little to no fanfare, so by all means lets continue. It will do much good to all, including enemies. We should be realistic with our expectations--this won’t win us any fans culturally and improve our “witness” one bit. The negative world will continue to heap invective apace. The problem the world has with us is not our lack of compassion and service, but what we believe to be true and what we stand on. In other words, they have a Romans 1 beef with us--they want to be kings and queens unto themselves and what we stand for gets in the way of that and ruins the party. This will not change no matter how well we serve the least of these. Nevertheless, we must persist because that is what love looks like, even though the world’s perceptions of us will not change an iota.
That’s not why we do it anyway. We do it because we care about the wellbeing of others.
5) Similarly, infrastructure to care for victims Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have victims. If you look about you will notice a train of chaos and destruction left in the wake of those bad ideas from the people who’ve adopted them and then attempted to build their castles on that sand. We need to be there for these people when the waves hit. This is one place where the Church--and orgs outside the Church that are run by faithful Christians--is doing good. Pregnancy Resource Centers are a great example of this. Don’t let anyone fool you into believing that pro-lifers “only care about a fetus before ‘its’ born.” We’ve been stepping in the gap since day 1. We should keep going and even build upon that foundation with more funding and institutional infrastructure.
6) "Working to defeat" doesn't mean "hate" In both the world and in the Christian circles, it is easy to think that if we want to defeat someone that means we hate them. This ain't so. We can be happy warriors. Ryan T. Anderson is a paragon of this. When I was a wrestling coach, the opposing coaches were always striving their utmost to make sure they crushed my team. They wanted nothing more than to dominate us on the mat, yet with few exceptions I never go the sense that they *hated* me. In fact, I got along great with most of them. My family broke bread with their families, we'd have a drink together after tournaments, our teams sometimes even practiced together, and we always greeted each other with a smile and a handshake. The attitude might not be reciprocal, and the analogy isn't perfect, but there's no reason why working to defeat our enemies requires animosity in our hearts towards them. In terms of “defeating our enemies,” here’s what I’ve come up with. Some of this overlaps with loving but I’m deciding to distinguish it theoretically. In no particular order (well, aside from #1. That one does come first):
1) Speak the Truth
Let’s start with that. The overwhelming majority--including Christians--have an impulse to just keep their heads down, affirm what they need to affirm to keep trouble from knocking at the door, and at the very least just keep quiet so they don’t stir up drama.
When it comes to personal slights and the usual work force water cooler drama, this is excellent. But in terms of matters of Truth and reality, the thing you shouldn’t do is just keep your head down. Do not give a nod, tacit or otherwise, to things you think are not true. Today I overheard a pro-life parent talk about the reactions of the young, pro-choice women at her job to the overturning of Roe. These pro-choice women were angry, upset, and confidently venting their anger. This pro-life parent thought about speaking up, but then decided not to. “I work with these women, and if I speak up it will change nothing.” She kept quiet to preserve the relationship, thinking the risk not worth it. I can certainly sympathize, and there are a *ton* of times when I have kept silent, whether out of fear or for the reason above, so I can’t pretend boldness all the time and act like I’m that much different. ….and yet. I was thinking after I heard this: is it really true that it would “change nothing”? It might change someone’s mind. You never know. Even if not, it might create good short of that ultimate goal--it might at the very least thaw the co-workers’ dogmatism. A lot of times the confidence and hubris of the progressive left proceeds on the basis of a manufactured consensus. They think all compassionate and smart people agree with them because they never hear anyone in their circles say otherwise. Speaking up could at least subtly puncture that bubble. They could very well be less likely to brazenly cast personal aspersions about their colleagues next time. That’s real progress. It also could give confidence and courage to fellow pro-lifers listening in. It is much harder to maintain your own confidence when you think you are alone, and seeing a fellow traveler boldly stand can melt those doubts. After pondering that scenario for a bit, perhaps I should take my own advice. I keep quiet a lot. This physician should heal himself.
No. You do not have to use someone’s preferred pronouns. No. You do not have to celebrate “gender transitions,” and you can say so when it comes up in your circles.
This is the lynch pin of the enemy agenda winning. If they can get you to tow the Party Line or at least shut up about it, everything else falls into place.
So speak the Truth. Forthrightly. Without apology. Without mincing words or hedging bets. Say no--calmly, yet firmly.
2) Reject the status game Really, Social Justice minded/progressive folks have only one or two moves. Generally in the court of public opinion, they will not try to defeat contrary views rationally, with facts and argumentation. If you speak up and counter their agenda, they will not face you head on and actually address your point of view directly. Instead, they will play a social and rhetorical game. They will use verbal sleights of hand to manipulate and fool. That is the first tactic, one I will return to in due course. The second is to socially tear you down. They will seek to call you names and discredit you socially, so that they can diminish the authority of your voice. They do this because power, not truth, is what they are after. There is a lot you can do to tactically counter this, which I’ve written about elsewhere. There’s a whole litany of counter craft that you should learn. For the purpose of this blog post, start with simply not blinking. Have the eyes of an assassin. Do not blink in the face of social intimidation and reject the siren song of status/the applause of men. These social tactics work because most of us seek status and want to be well liked. Turning the other way goes a long way to sucking the power out of these strategies.
In the next post in the series, I will continue outlining specifics.