The only two sides of any human conflict for Christians who love their enemies

The only two sides of any human conflict for Christians who love their enemies July 22, 2014

We live in a world that loves to draw lines between “us” and “them.” This line-drawing has grown very loud in recent days between supporters of the two sides in the Israel/Gaza conflict. Either it’s God’s chosen people vs. a degenerate race of terrorists or it’s the colonial racist imperialists vs. their oppressed victims. Both easy narratives are deeply unjust to the history of the conflict. Many evangelical Christians in my generation “stand with Gaza” at least partly because our parents’ generation is so disgustingly shrill in the way that they “stand with Israel.” But Christians are supposed to bear an entirely different witness to the world in terms of what we stand for and against. We are supposed to be against the enmity and demonization of anybody and in support of the human dignity of all people. Our understanding of the universal sinfulness of humanity and the unconditional mercy of God ought to lead us to the conclusion that the two sides in every human conflict aren’t really the human players involved but the two voices that compete for each of our souls: God and Satan.


Christians believe two basic things that ought to be the foundation for how we understand every conflict between people in the world: 1) Everyone including us is a sinner utterly lost without the grace of God (though people also do many good and beautiful things because of the grace of God). 2) We are commanded to love our enemies, which we can only do with sincerity if we really believe that we are just as sinful as they are. These two beliefs ought to disqualify Christians from ever thinking in “us vs. them” terms about any group of people. The degree to which we feel comfortable categorically condemning another group of people is the degree to which we are making it clear that we do not see ourselves as sinners standing on the grace of God alone. Jesus addresses this issue in his parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35.

Because we ought to be free from the insidious practice of dividing the world into “us vs. them,” Christians ought thus to to see the two spiritual forces that are really at war beneath every human quarrel. It’s two voices that organize the universe in two kingdoms, one that the Bible calls “the world” or “the kingdom of the air” and the other one being “the kingdom of God.” Whenever we think of our quarrels in “us vs. them” terms, we have already taken one of these two sides; we have been seduced by the voice of the devil. The voice of the Holy Spirit is the voice through which God is constantly “reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19) and “putting to death our hostility” (Ephesians 2:16).

The devil has two names in the Bible. His Hebrew name is satan, which means “the accuser” or “the heckler.” His Greek name is diabolos, which is a compound word combining ballo (“to throw”) with dia (“in the midst”), so a good translation for diabolos might be “the bomb-thrower” or, better yet, “the terrorist.” Whether Satan is a real person or an anthropomorphic “black box” label for the spiritual forces of evil, there is a “terrorist” voice in the universe that seeks to create division and enmity between all people. Satan’s goal is to make us all terrorists by making us see everyone else as a terrorist threat to our existence.

The voice of Satan tells us two things: that we ourselves are infallible and that our enemies are utterly despicable and unworthy of human dignity. Eventually, if we let Satan possess us completely, we will come to see everyone around us as enemies, but we start off simply by scapegoating a category of “bad guys” against whom we can define ourselves and our tribe as the “good guys.” As we are seduced more and more by Satan’s terrorist voice, our enemies are not just misguided and foolish, but cruel and fascist and entirely devoid of humanity, until at length, they become the ultimate form of bad guy: terrorists.

Here’s the paradox of terrorism: the way that we become capable of terrorism is by defining our enemies as terrorists, that is people with whom it is impossible to make peace who have forfeited their right to human dignity and deserve to be killed immediately without any trial or attempt at reconciliation. A terrorist is someone who acts on these assumptions against a population of people, though Jesus would tell us that anyone who hates another person or race of people with the perfect hatred of terrorism is a terrorist in their heart (Matthew 5:21-22), whether they have the opportunity to carry out their terrorism in the physical world or not. Furthermore, whenever we terrorize other people with our slander, we create a climate in which they are that much more likely to be terrorized with physical violence.

If we take Jesus’ teaching seriously, then we will recognize that everything we say and share on social media which contributes to the demonization of a group of people such that genocide against them becomes a more socially acceptable idea is an act of ideological terrorism. When we make it our goal in life to prove that the people of Israel or Gaza are utterly monstrous people who deserve to be massacred, then we are no less terrorist than the missiles and rockets and suicide bombs that kill civilians. It’s terrorism for the Wall Street Journal to say that Hamas’ status as the elected political representation of Palestinians means that nobody in Gaza can be called a civilian. It’s terrorism whenever anyone feeds the flames of anti-Semitism by calling Jews Nazis or saying that Hitler was right or, I would argue, saying that the yearning of Jews for a Jewish homeland is racism, pure and simple.

Now there’s a very fine line here which I have stumbled over many times over the past couple of weeks. I think it is critically important to destroy the myth that every civilian who dies in Gaza is a “human shield” who was killed for being inappropriately in the way of a legitimate military target. That has been proved to be absolute bullshit over and over and over again. Gazans who followed Israel’s commands to evacuate and relocate multiple times got bombed and murdered in the places to which they evacuated. Schools and hospitals have been bombed repeatedly. Extended families of more than 20 people have been wiped out who have no connection whatsoever to Hamas. (I can hunt down the links for all of these if you’re not willing to take me at my word.)

Bombing civilian homes as a strategy for collective punishment and “subduing the population” is terrorism, even if there is a Hamas connection to the family. What defines terrorism is the targeting of civilians. What Hamas did in the worst days of its suicide bombings could not be called terrorism if we’re going to say that the families of terrorists are fair game because then Hamas could argue that it never killed anybody who wasn’t at least a family member of an Israeli soldier (since everyone in Israel has either served in the military or will serve in the future).

I get that the Israeli military faces an almost imp0ssibly difficult situation in Gaza. And part of the cost/benefit analysis putting boundaries on their rules of engagement must be zero tolerance from the international community for “shock and awe” collective punishment as a tactic for subduing the Gaza population. Bombing every building within a hundred yards of where a rocket was launched is not bombing a military target (that “hundred yard” figure has been the standard IDF response to accusations of targeting civilians). There are plenty of crimes that happen within a hundred yard radius of urban homes in America (and Gaza is more densely populated than any city in the US). Should every family living in a high-rise ghetto in south Chicago be sent to jail for the drug dealing that happens in front of their building late at night? Again, I get that the shape of the battlefield is extraordinarily difficult, but the Israeli military’s current rules of engagement are unacceptable, because every child that dies in Gaza is a child of God with infinite sacred worth.

That’s what the voice of God tells us. Amidst the relentless bombardment of Satan’s reminders of our infallibility and our enemies’ flaws, God says, “Everyone you hate is my child too; they are sinners whom I love no less than you and whose reconciliation I desire no less than yours.” This compound statement can be derived from two verses from the book of Romans: 1) “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and 2) “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16).

While Satan’s goal is to make everyone a terrorist through self-righteous paranoia about the terrorist threat of everyone else, God’s goal is to make us all children of God who see everyone else as God’s children too. I believe that the Christian gospel makes us uniquely capable of recognizing that we are God’s beloved children by addressing the barrier that sin has created between us and God. Without recognizing the redemption of our sin, it’s a blithe and shallow thing to call ourselves “children of God.” The reason it has meaning is because God has adopted us as part of our rescue from being ensnared by the universe’s terrorist. At the same time, I reject the way some Christians say that we are God’s children while other people aren’t; that seems like a tactic of Satan to give us an excuse for not loving our enemies and pumping ourselves full of self-righteousness. Everyone is a child of God; the question is whether we recognize and live into this reality.

To love your enemy is to say this person is a child of God. It has no meaning if you aren’t willing to hear your enemy’s story and try to understand where your enemy is coming from. That means that those of us who find ourselves called to solidarity with Palestinians cannot just go along uncritically with an oversimplified colonialist critique of Israeli  “apartheid.” The ANC in South Africa never did suicide bombing on the scale that Hamas and Islamic Jihad did less than a decade ago. We can’t just say, “Get over those suicide bombings. That’s so 2006!” It is cruelly unfair to try to put a moral statute of limitations on the suicide bombings of the second Intifada just because the world’s attention span is so short.

From Israel’s perspective, their uber-control of the Palestinian population is the only reason that their buses and discos aren’t blowing up to this day. The suicide bombings remain the most tragically stupid and self-defeating obstacle to justice for the Palestinian people; they don’t delegitimize the demands of the Palestinians, but they sowed into Israel a deep paranoia (which has of course been cynically exploited) regarding the need to blockade Gaza and build a land-grabbing apartheid wall in the West Bank. If you consider Israel to be the enemy, then part of loving your enemy is recognizing the legitimacy of Israel’s paranoia.

At the same time, it’s not illegitimate to try to understand where Hamas is coming from. It doesn’t make you a terrorist sympathizer to listen to someone’s story and try to understand it. I would argue it’s a much more effective weapon against terrorism than the bombs which always sow the seeds for future terrorism in the anguished grief of those who lose their loved ones. I realize I’m hopelessly naive, but it’s a naivete that I’ve been commanded to bear as a Christian who doesn’t see the imperative to love our enemies as a suggestion to consider whenever it seems practical. On the contrary, I see learning to love our enemies as the only hope for the future of our world.

The most courageous people in this conflict who are teaching me how to be a Christian even though they aren’t Christian themselves are the Jews who risk their lives and the hatred of their people by infiltrating Gaza as international solidarity activists not to support terrorism, but to stop genocide, as well as Muslim leaders who are willing to befriend and listen to Jews like Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, who has been attacked for his promotion of an interfaith dialogue program with the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

I would love to be part of creating positive and peaceful interfaith relations between Christians, Muslims, and Jews here on campus at Tulane. I have no idea how to do that. But I’m going to try to reach out to my fellow campus ministers from each respective faith. Mostly, I want to try my best in my everyday battle to follow the right voice in my head, to be a child of God instead of a paranoid terrorist in how I speak and treat other people.

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  • disqus_FG1o3Knu92

    Amen, brother. Yours is a voice that needs to be heard. Please keep preaching.

  • Madison Mangum

    I loved your article. I live in area that is very pro-Israel and its frightening to watch people dehumanize those in Palestine.

    If you are interested in creating an Interfaith Dialogue, look at Interfaith Youth Core or Project Interfaith for resources. I’m president of Student Interfaith Dialogue at West Texas A&M University and it has been hard to start those conversations but both has been tremendous help.
    If you have any questions for me, feel free to message me through our Facebook page, here is our link The message will go to me.

    God bless you.

  • Dave Walker

    For the most part, I really like this article. I completely agree the real enemy is Satan. I also believe in loving my enemies. In theory, anyway. I’m still a work in progress. :p My prayers lately have been something like this: “Lord, I would rather see Palestinians and Jews alike come to salvation through Your Son, Jesus Christ. But, if they (individuals) should reject that offer, then please help put an end to the terrorist acts of Hamas and preserve Israel and her peace, for the good of all involved. ” The Bible actually instructs us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and by extension, Israel.
    I think the bible is pretty clear. We need to stand up for WHOMEVER is oppressed; Jew or Palestinian. I recognize that Israel is far from innocent victims here. Come on, read the Old Testament — the Jews were more often in rebellion than obedience. Whomever is perpetrating crimes should be brought to answer for them. Jew or Palestinian. But I have to step up for the case against Hamas. Their charter is quite clear. In no uncertain words do they call for the destruction of Israel and all Jews. Their tactics, including indiscriminate rocket attacks, human shields, and the like, are reprehensible. Note, I did not say Palestinians , I said Hamas — those individuals who are expressly dedicated to eliminating the Jews. I will gladly stand hand-in-hand with you for the safety and equitable treatment of Palestinian civilians. But God does make a distinction between the innocent and their oppressors. Morally speaking, there has to be a line somewhere. If we allow one group to continually kill another, we are no better than Satan for standing by and letting it happen. But in reality, that sometimes means killing those who started the killing. I would love to stand between one innocent person and another who is intent on harm, call on the Name of Jesus Christ and watch the one drop his weapon and both embrace as the Lord restores them. Apparently it happens. I just think it ridiculous to expect such a result every time. Any number of US school shootings will attest to that. “What religion are you?” — “I believe in Jesus Christ.” — BANG!

    I’d also like to point out a bit of a gaff with your quoting of Romans 8:16 to mean everyone is God’s child. The context of this passage clearly refers to those who accept and believe and are therefore in the Spirit of Christ, and He in us. It says we are permitted to become God’s children by adoption. His offer is to allow us to be called His children. If we don’t accept the Lordship of Christ, we don’t get to call ourselves Christians … we are not children of God. Again, I wish that all would be saved and know the Loving Grace of Jesus Christ, but it just ain’t gonna happen that way.

    Believe me, I am seeking to sort this whole thing out in my head and in my heart, through prayer and my bible and the wise counsel of Godly friends.

    Grace and peace to you.

    • I would say that a critical part of knowing that we are the adopted children of God helps is that we recognize that all human beings are sacred to God and are thus his children. God cares about every human being and is pouring out his spirit on all flesh. Some of us respond and accept God’s grace; some of us don’t; but God offers it to all. Even if I’m using the phrase children of God slightly differently than the Romans 8:16 use, I think there is a legitimate theological foundation for my use.

  • Ian Paul

    Good post, and I also advocate not taking sides here

    But your Twitter feed does not appear to match up to your aspiration.

    For every Tweet condemning Israel, it would be good to see a Tweet condemning Hamas’ advocacy of human shields, their violation of human rights (also on record), and their children’s videos which teach children to kill Jews and venerate the martyrs.

    I think that would be effect in preventing the demonisation that we both hate.

    • My twitter feed serves the purpose of disseminating information that isn’t getting shared in the mainstream media. I don’t feel obligated to “balance” it for the sake of appeasing your sensibilities.

      • Ian Paul

        OK–hadn’t intended to provoke sarcasm…

        The difficulty is that if you are commenting against one context, then when the comments are read elsewhere then their significance changes. I am aware that in the US there is a lot of unqualified and uncritical support for Israel. The opposite is mostly true here in the UK.

        But in any case, a statement of unqualified support for the Hamas position (which is usually inferred from support for ‘Gaza’) can easily look like support for a regime which in fact has abused its own citizens. There is an interesting perspective here:

        • It’s weird to me that someone would assume support for Gaza equals support for Hamas. Would that mean that support for America means support for the Democrats because we have a Democratic president or the Republicans because we have a Republican Congress? Thanks for sharing the resource.

          • Ian Paul

            Not that weird, In the US there is an opposition party (since the Democrats did not throw their political opponents from the roofs of buildings) and a free press. So it is clear there are multiple voices in the nation. It is not so clear in Gaza–which is why people make the inference.

          • Paul Koopman

            That’s a poor reason to make the inference, given that in the very next line you seem to indicate that you do understand the difference between a regime and the people it oppresses. What citizens would Hamas be oppressing, if not the citizens of *Gaza*?

          • Ian Paul

            Yes, *I* understand the difference. But the general populace in the UK doesn’t appear to.

    • Ian –
      I read your blog post and it was so encouraging to me.

      I certainly understand the urgency of this situation; the bloodshed is heart-wrenching and has to stop. I also understand, in the current crisis, how and why Israel is viewed as being engaged in an unfair fight. Calls for a cease fire are just and right. I join the Morgan and others in that goal. I’m disturbed, however, by the vilification of Israel.

      When we zoom out from the current crisis, we see a much different picture. The current events are the product of an environment where the governing body of Gaza and the nation of Israel are locked in conflict. The truth is that the culpability for that larger conflict is spread wide; no party is blameless which necessarily means that no party is without agency to create reconciliation – that includes the people of Gaza.

      There’s a dangerous tendancy in the present days to flatten this conflict to an “oppressor” / “oppressed” narrative that doesn’t capture the full relaity of more than 100 years of history in the region. And the side-taking actually fuels the conflict and will inevitably lead to greater violence; it does not lead to peace.

      Brian McLaren has done two excellent posts on his blog articulating a different perspective where we can lay the side-taking aside and focus on the possibility of peace. I would love to see more Christian bloggers follow his lead (as you have done).

      Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts.

      • Ian Paul

        Thanks Ford, glad you found it helpful.

    • Fiordalizamena mena

      Well said!

  • Christian Elder

    Sad, this article seems so naïve for someone that’s supposed to be a campus ministry leader. What is our prime directive Mr. Guyton? To preach the gospel of course. The first thing that has to be understood is they are lost without Christ, they live under the delusion that mohammed is/was the last prophet of God. Christians and Jews know (or should know) that allah is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Going further Christians know (or should know) that Jesus is the Messiah that the Jews are looking for (at least the ones that have not been totally secularized). The idea that you should listen to Hamas and get their side of the story is ridiculously naïve. If they would repent of their false ideology seek the true path to salvation, destruction of Israel would no longer be their prime directive, and there would be no war between themselves and Israel. Quit blowing yourselves up in the name of allah, and quit shooting rockets into Israel. Problem solved. Why not go over there and preach the gospel Mr. Guyton, instead of pontificating erroneously in a blog? +++

    • Random Former Methodist Reader

      You just proved the author’s point…

      • Christian Elder

        Did I? Ok, we listen to the terrorists, get their side of the story (we want to annihilate Jews), then what? All I can say is, start out preaching Christ, and finish up preaching Christ. That is the only real way to break through that ideology, with the Lord’s help of course. I don’t know, maybe what set me off was that last sentence where he doesn’t want to come off as a “paranoid terrorist”. That seems like foolish lib speak, like he doesn’t want to upset people by telling (preaching) the truth. Sorry, I don’t get it. +++

        • Emily Johnson

          We tried that. It was called the crusades. It ended badly for everyone.

          • Christian Elder

            Is that right? Not much a student of history I guess. Maybe Dr Warner can help widen your perspective check him out on YouTube – Why We Are Afraid, A 1400 Year Secret, by Dr Bill Warner.

    • Fiordalizamena mena

      I stopped reading at “That has been proved to be absolute bullshit over and over and over again. ” poor and unprofessional writing.

  • JoFlemings

    (sorry, I didn’t even read this one yet), but I have to ask- new digs? Neat! BTWs Dude you are in Acadia south, now- the handwriting in on the wall, and its in Latin, not French, just saying’….

    • Haha. The only problem is if I became Catholic, I couldn’t be the Methodist campus minister at Tulane anymore so I’d be unemployed. So I’ll keep on reading Catholics and sharing what I learn ecumenically with my tribe.

      • JoFlemings

        Tiber. River. Swim. Club. Just bring ’em all on over- we have lots room!

  • Richard

    Hello, Morgan! Mike Morrell asked me to contact you because he really appreciates your blog and thinks you’d be an excellent candidate for his Speakeasy Blogger Network. Do you like to review off-the-beaten path faith, spirituality, and culture books? Speakeasy puts interesting books in your hands at no charge to you. You only get books when you request them, and it’s free to join. Sign up here, if you’d like:

    • Yeah I’m actually already in the Speakeasy rotation. Just haven’t been super active as of yet.

      • Richard

        Morgan, that’s great. Hope you get to check it out soon. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything!

  • Morgan –

    Here’s the paradox of terrorism: the way that we become capable of terrorism is by defining our enemies as terrorists, that is people with whom it is impossible to make peace who have forfeited their right to human dignity and deserve to be killed immediately without any trial or attempt at reconciliation.

    I absolutely agree. That’s true in all directions. Let’s be measured in our words and our condemnations. Otherwise this: