Love Your (Political) Enemies

photographs-new-york-man-41-47-1Fascist. Snowflake. Liberal weenie. Nazi. Racist, xenophobic, bigot. Idiot. Moron. Ignorant fool.

These are just a few of the tamer insults hurled violently at others online and in person during the past two years of the election process. And since the election itself, things have only gotten exponentially worse. It’s no exaggeration to say that the nation is as divided as its ever been.

What disturbs me most of all, though, is the hate and scorn displayed by many Catholics in my social circles against their political (and religious) enemies. Some of the most bitter vitriol comes from those who claim to follow Christ, and many who would even identify as traditional Catholics. These men and women go to Mass and pray piously and reverently, beseeching God’s mercy for themselves, only to return home and tear others mercilessly to pieces online.

There is almost a religious fervor in these individual’s belief that politics can save America. To them, anyone supporting a candidate different from their own is a bitter enemy of the state, a subhuman wretch deserving only of humiliation and mockery. It is really quite disturbing.

Of course, I am not singling out one political persuasion or another. This characterization holds true for both sides of the political spectrum. Both sides are content to return hate for hate, scorn for scorn. And it is just as wrong no matter who is saying it.

The Danger of the Tongue

Now, some might accuse me of being overly sensitive. “It is only politics after all. I don’t really hate my political enemies,” they would argue in their defense.  Yet, you cannot despise and loathe someone online and love them in your heart. It just doesn’t work that way.

What bothers me most about it is that many Christians seem to have reduced sin to issues of sexual morality or “big” sins. But the words that we speak? They don’t think those matter. We can say whatever we want with impunity. God doesn’t mind.

The witness of scripture, however, tells a different story.

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so….This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3). 

We have no fear of God. Don’t we realize we will give account for every idle word, digital or otherwise? The way most Catholics behave online, we apparently don’t believe it all. But whether or not we believe it or take it seriously, it remains true.

A New Commandment

At some point, we have to ask how seriously we are committed to the commands of Jesus. Are they nice suggestions, or should they seriously effect the way we conduct ourselves as self-identifying Catholics who claim that Christ is our King? We have been given a new and radical commandment: Love all, even those you like the least.

“But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

Did you get that? Jesus promises hell to those who call each other fools. I don’t see an exemption clause for the internet. But our Lord doesn’t stop there.

Love your enemies and pray for those who [disagree with] you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who [agree with] you, what reward have you?” 

Yes, I changed the wording slightly, but I think the point is clear. Loathing your enemies is not pleasing to God, and there are serious consequences for those who choose to ignore these commands.

A Danger and an Opportunity

The national discourse has sunk so low that it is hard to imagine it getting much worse. And yet with this vitriol and hatred being slung back and forth, we have an opportunity to show the love of Christ in a powerful way. The darker the national mood grows, the brighter our witness can shine, if only we choose a different way.

What if our speech were peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits? What if we chose to make peace instead of war with our words (see James 3:15-17)? How disarming, how surprising would it be if instead of returning scorn for scorn, we returned love for hate? Instead of despising those who believe differently from us, we reached out to them in compassion and love, and prayed and longed for their salvation? After all, Christ died for both liberals and conservatives, and everyone in between.

St. Maximilian Kolbe lived in dark times in the days before and during World War II. There was a great deal of hate and propaganda being disseminated on all sides. And yet this saint, holy as he was, did not participate in the evil being spread everywhere. He did not return hate for hate, bitterness for bitterness. I conclude with his words, which describe the true spirit of the children of God.

“Genuine love rises above creatures and soars up to God. In Him, by Him, and through Him it loves all men, both good and wicked, friends and enemies. To all it stretches out a hand filled with love; it prays for all, suffers for all, wishes what is best for all, desires happiness for all, because that is what God wants.”

21 Responses to “Love Your (Political) Enemies”

  1. Great article and I agree with your main points. However, there was a bit of excessive hyperbole in claiming “it’s no exaggeration to say that … the nation is as divided as it’s ever been.” I think back to a time in which the division in our country led to an actual Civil War.

    • A fair point. I suppose it’s always easy to assume the times in which we live are the worst, when it may not be actually true.

      • Within the context of the Catholic Church, we just might be living in the worst of times. Thanks for the post, Sam. I just flat out don’t have any social media accounts partly in response to the irrational bickering that occurs. The term, “snowflake” is a rather funny metaphor. I hope that doesn’t make me bad for chuckling a bit when I see it.

        • Well, things are indeed getting to be scary for devout Catholics, but we likely need to qualify this.

          This may be the worst we’ve seen in terms of the lack of Christian morality in many things, and the tolerance of immorality, in this nation, in some ways. But at the same time, we have to also remember that the United States was very anti-Catholic as a culture until well into the early 20th Century, and certainly very much so for the first half of the 19th Century. So we Catholics aren’t in the worst of times in some ways, certainly.

          In terms of the current political scene, we also have to remember that in large part we got to where we are because we forgot that we are Catholics first, and everything else after that, in the early 1960s. That contributes, I think, to animosity within the ranks as we’ve become so acclimated to being Catholics within our hearts, and nowhere else, that it now comes as a bitter shock to many that this frankly is not possible.

          Following that, I fear that we will have a lot to account for in the coming World for basically turning a blind eye and ear when the cock crowed thrice.

      • Quite true. Indeed, the vitriol that we have seen in recent years was likely matched early in the country’s history.

        Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that we have not seen polarization such as we have recently for many years, indeed decades. It’s really been something.

  2. You’re right ! We Christians need to live more of the Gospel and practice what we preach. I am guilty of this and after reading your post, I am going to try to watch my mouth! Thanks for the post Sam…

  3. Thanks for the post Sam. We have to remember that the world is watching us as Christians, as Catholics. A friend from high school, who identifies as an atheist, commented about comments being made by her Christian friends. It will be hard to win people to Christ if all they see is what they perceive as hypocrisy.

  4. No, you do not, and you are exactly wrong on this topic, Sam. You have to love them in Christian charity. That is all. You do not have to like in the least. You may loathe them regarding all the things of this world. I pray and wish for their conversion, and hope that they make peace with God through the mercy of Jesus Christ and the ministry of His Church. However, I owe them absolutely nothing temporally. They are my adversary. They need to be defeated and destroyed. This is primarily because their political ideology is (at best) incorrect and misguided, but (more likely) morally wrong and evil. Certain aspects they hold are intrinsically evil. Furthermore, they use God-given, and God-sanctioned earthly power to lord it over us. Therefore, they should be destroyed along with the intrinsic evil they champion. They should be shown no quarter with respect to political power and any political considerations. Jesus drove the money changers out of His Fathers house for a reason.

    • Kamela Gleason Reply

      Mark, I think Sam was merely asking folks to be more cautious on the internet with comments. How well do we really know the people we admonish on the internet? Words can be misconstrued so easily, which may cause misunderstandings, ill-feelings, and confusion. Our adversary likes to sow seeds of bitterness and resentment. Without careful consideration, written words can appear sharp and cutting. Yes, Jesus drove the money changers out of His Father’s house, but remember that He alone could read hearts and we cannot (although many claim to). Catholic conversion requires much prayer and sacrifice. St. Stephen prayed for his persecutors and it was only through his martyrdom that Saul (St. Paul) was converted. There is a wonderful book called “The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time” by Father Lovasik. Although this book was written pre-internet, Father gives practical advice on how to deal with others who may not agree with our point of view. He shows how we can bring Christ to others in a fallen world. ‘Love is patient, love is kind . . .’ God bless!

      • Yes Kamela: One can practice the corporal work of mercy to instruct the ignorant in Christian charity. This goes by restraining one’s tongue. (or fingers on the keyboard!) I always try to explain the issue and never ad hominem attacks. As far as Hillary Clinton goes, I cant imagine a more just punishment for her (temporally, of course) than to be relegated to anonymity and poverty in her remaining years. This is especially since she so completely lusts for power and money with every fiber of her being. Would I pray for her? (& other Lefties?) Yes, and I have. Would I buy her a beer or sit down with her to provide her company? Absolutely not or ever. I do not owe her/them any temporal kindness at all. Think of: “You go your way, and I’ll go mine”. Nothing vindictive or spiteful.

  5. Thanks for the article, Sam. I have to give a talk on the election at my college ( I teach political science/criminal justice), so it is very timely (and well written). Very timely.

  6. Based on my experiences with fellow parishioners in the wake of last week’s election, I have mixed feelings about this article. Beginning with the terms you identify at the outset: “Fascist. Snowflake. Liberal weenie. Nazi. Racist, xenophobic, bigot. Idiot. Moron. Ignorant fool.” This is (obviously) not an exhaustive list but it covers a lot of what is read in posts and heard in conversation when it comes to political opponents. But some of these terms are not like the others. If I call you a “moron” or a “snowflake” that’s obviously judgmental. There’s not really a factual basis upon which to apply that term. The same cannot be said about “racist,” “xenophobic,” and “bigot.” While it is true these can be thrown about too loosely, one can make some determination about whether a person is exhibiting those views based on their words and actions. For example, when Trump (repeatedly) said that the “Mexican judge” couldn’t perform his duties on the basis of his heritage many interpreted this as a racist attack. Similarly the internment of Japanese-American citizens during the Second World War *was* a racist policy because it decreed certain actions based solely on racial/ethnic identity. Bottom line: I think that if we are to illumine the truth we must be unafraid to use words so long as they correspond with the facts. That’s not excuse for bomb-throwing or hateful language, it’s an invitation for dialogue even if we disagree!

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