Labels and Loving our Enemies

I haven’t figured out how labeling people can align with loving one’s enemies.

Just in the realm of politics alone, there are a multitude of labels that are used to either self-describe one’s beliefs, or to demean one’s opponents. Sometimes those labels are the same. The only difference being the intent.

Just the labels off the top of my head that fit this are: leftist, MAGA, liberal, conservative, fascist, communist, antifa, patriot, BLM, Back the Blue, Trumper, Never Trumper. That’s not counting the labels that we give to those we disagree with that they would never give to themselves. Those labels are meant to demean, and in some cases, to dehumanize.

When we dehumanize it makes it much easier to keep someone an enemy, to scapegoat, to blame, etc. We aren’t dealing with a person who have value after all. We’re dealing with something evil that is meant to be defeated. We stop seeing the image of God in the other person. We become more concerned with winning. But why? What do we really gain when we win and others lose – whether that is actually the case or not.

This coming Sunday, the Gospel reading is from Luke 6:27-38. Here Jesus gives this message:

“‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“‘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. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’”

Jesus calls on his followers to love our enemies. No where in that passage does Jesus say go ahead and label your enemies, demean them, dehumanize them. No where is there a statement about using immature phrases or insults for enemies. No where is there anything about trying to own or destroy your enemies either. Nope, just love.

Here’s the hard part. Loving our enemies doesn’t mean we roll over and take abuse. A pastor colleague described what love is – it’s like how we interact with our children when we need to correct them. We can be firm, tell them how they are wrong, and how to change. We do this because we love our children and want what’s best for them. They don’t like the correction. But sometimes this is needed. Love of enemies is not about mushy gushy romantic love. It’s not sappy. It’s not weak. It’s also not abusive or manipulative either where we do something or say something with the intent of hurting or putting our enemies in their place so they feel shame.

When we actually love our enemies, we extend to them the same things that God extends to us – grace, mercy, human worth, raising a person up rather than tearing them down, seeing them as someone who has equal value, moving both you and your enemy towards shalom.

The biggest problem with labeling someone in a demeaning way and with demeaning intent is that when we do this, we are assert authority and power over them, determining what their value and worth are without their consent or input. We take something away from a person without their permission and give them something that they don’t want or deserve. We see ourselves as superior. We attempt to become their master.

When we love our enemies, we may not change them, but that’s not the point. When we love our enemies we acknowledge that we don’t have control over them. We can only control our own actions and how we will act and what we will say about our enemies. When we love our enemies we equalize ourselves with them in terms of human value and worth. We see the image of God in them. We acknowledge their humanity. When we see the humanity in our enemies, moving deeper than whether their beliefs, opinions, and ideologies are right or wrong, we are acting out of love. When we act in love, we build up. We make room for God. We encounter Jesus in the most difficult of times and situations. And it transforms us and our enemies.

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