The New Year (and new decade!) is almost upon us! Our Jewish and Muslim friends marked the beginning of their respective new year’s a few months ago, and now we are all moving to the cultural New Year’s celebrations that often entail, at the very least, contemplating New Year’s resolutions.
That in mind, I cannot help but wonder what the mark of the new year means for people of faith in the midst of the state of our nation and our world? After all, if people of faith are to “do good together,” how do we go about doing so in such turbulent times?
Is a possible solution to write Jesus’ command to “love” our enemies at the top of all of our New Year’s resolution lists? Would that help? People of faith have done a great deal to heed the calls of their faith traditions to love marginalized people. People of faith have been feeding, clothing and standing in solidarity with those who have little or no power. For people of faith, such actions are at the very foundation of their faith traditions.
As a Christian, I would argue that such actions are at the heart of Jesus’ teachings. The question that remains, however, is how to love “our” enemies even while we go about the business of loving those on the margins? What does loving our enemies look like?
The question is complex. Who, after all, are our enemies? Regardless of how you or I answer this question, the current state of our nation might suggest that we all have enemies — that there are people who see us as their enemies and that perhaps we too imagine that there are people who are our enemies.
The idea that there are enemies all around appears to be our prevailing cultural sentiment. It has even been argued that our nation is more divided than it was during the civil war. So, it seems inevitable that you and I are enemies to someone or to some group of others, or even to one another… So, how do we love these enemies?
At times, some in the Christian church have falsely argued that “loving our neighbors” looks like silence in the face of injustice. But, silence in the face of injustice would neglect the call of all of our faith traditions to stand in solidarity with those on the margins. So, clearly “loving our enemies” does not look like silence in the face of injustice.
I believe that the answer, at least in part, is expressed through the writings of theologian Gustavo Gutierrez’ words about Jesus’ injunction to love our enemies, “It is not a question of having no enemies,” he says, “but rather of not excluding them from our love … ‘Love of enemies’ does not ease tensions; rather it challenges the whole system and becomes a subversive formula … one loves the [enemy] by liberating them from their inhuman condition as oppressors.”
As I read his words, I am reminded that these times demand greater love, not less of it and I am reminded of the humanity of an oppressor — of their potential to be that which God intends for each of us. So, I find that even while I seek to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, even while I say “no” to injustice, I choose to do so in ways that point the oppressor to their own humanity, to ways that can help restore dignity and that communicate peace.
As the New Year comes, inviting new aspirations, may we “do good together,” by endeavoring to imagine — against all odds — that an oppressor can and should be liberated from their condition of being an oppressor. Love in concrete action — not only in sentiment — can do that.
Finally, it cannot go without saying, that when we contemplate the idea of “loving our enemies,” we must also remember that we too have been or are enemy to someone else, and that perhaps we too need liberation from our own forms of being the oppressor.
This coming New Year, may it be so.
Crystal Silva-McCormick is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and an adjunct faculty at Texas Lutheran University who is passionate about interfaith work