About a month ago, on the anniversary of 9/11, a bevy of progressive bloggers, including me, spoke out about the need to forgive the terrorists who attacked the United States a decade ago.
That altruistic sentiment to love one’s enemies was all over the Internet. A quick Google search yields some 42 million hits — way more than the seventy times seven Jesus commands.
While all our posts were admirable, it was, I would wager, an easy thing to forgive the hijackers for many of us, to love those enemies so distant to be little more than abstractions.
Love an enemy that we will never see? Amen.
Love an enemy that has never harmed me or anyone I know? Amen.
Love an enemy that does not even know that I exist? Amen.
Love an enemy, as defined by the state, rather than by the circumstances of my own life? Amen.
But today, there is a new enemy to hate, to anathematize, to demonize. With the explosion of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its push to end corporate greed and political influence, to demonstrate for more parity between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, today, despite entering the 10th year of the Afghanistan war, Americans now have a new enemy.
Love this enemy, too, Lord?
Love an enemy that has taken your job and left your children hungry?
Love an enemy that has ground the poor to dust?
Love an enemy that favors the wealthy and calls it justice?
Love an enemy that arrests you for peaceful demonstrations?
Love an enemy that sustains the wealthy and drains the poor?
Must we love this enemy, too? How can we?
But, in honesty, it is this enemy not the abstracted terrorists in a foreboding Asian country that have the most in common with the enemy about which Jesus spoke. That enemy, according to the gospel of Luke, is the rich, the well-fed and the happy. In Matthew, the writer implies that the enemy followers of Jesus are to love are their oppressors — the soldier that conscripts you for servitude, the wealthy lender who takes your coat, the master who backhands you.
We are to love this enemy, Jesus explains, by showing them the error of their ways by demonstrating a generosity that outstrips their greed. Going an additional mile, in violation of Roman law and subjecting the soldier to discipline. Giving the cloak as well as the coat, revealing the lender’s moral bankruptcy by placing him in violation of Jewish law. Turning your cheek to force a master to acknowledge your humanity and strike you with an open hand as an equal.
But none of these kinds of radical acts are possible unless we first love that enemy enough to desire their redemption. Even in our most strident — and appropriately righteous calls for justice, parity and equality — as Christians, we must not forget to root such messages in Jesus’ command to love our enemies. As Christians, when we reveal the moral bankruptcy of the wealthy and the oppression of the poor, we must do so from a posture of forgiveness and reconciliation, not of pure populist moral outrage.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “When will we learn that human beings are of infinite value because they have been created in the image of God, and that it is blasphemy to treat them as if they were less than this, and to do so ultimately recoils on those who do this? In dehumanizing others, they are themselves dehumanized. Perhaps oppression dehumanizes the oppressor as much as, if not more than, the oppressed. They need each other to become truly free to become human. We can be human only in fellowship, in community, in koinonia, in peace.”
It is admirable that these Occupy protests have remained nonviolent in an age when riots sprang up freely in England. But nonviolence is not enough if red-hot rage and a deep-seated hatred of the wealthiest 1 percent simmers beneath, if a nonviolent posture is one of restraint and not rooted in something deeper like love of an enemy.
But it is hard to love an enemy such as Wall Street and the super-wealthy. Damn near impossible.
And that is exactly why it is so crucial that we do.
As Christians, we must stand against the injustice wrought by greed, wealth, the love of mammon. But we speak out against it or protest it not because we hate the wealthy, the greedy and the brutally unjust but precisely because we love them as our brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the human family.
So, if we love Wall Street, occupy it.
But if we hate Wall Street, I’m afraid we’d be better off joining it.
“Man and his deed are two distinct things. It is quite proper to resist and attack the system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are all children of one and the same Creator …” — Mahatma Gandhi
David Henson is a writer living in Augusta, GA, and currently working on a novel in between his duties as a youth director at a local Episcopal church, member of the Religious Progressive Coalition of Augusta and tending two young sons while his wife toils away as a medical school student. He is also in the process of ordination in the Episcopal Church through the Diocese of Northern California.