The Common Good

Love Your Political Enemies: A Response to Jimmy Carter's Comments on Racism

I love my fellow citizens who have taken to the street against President Obama and his plans for health-care reform. I love those who carry signs that compare him to Hitler and depict him as the Joker in Batman. I love those who show up to his town hall meetings wearing guns. I love Congress members who show disrespect for the first African-American president by shouting out, texting, and not giving him their attention. I love those citizens who say that President Obama is not a natural-born United States citizen. I love talk show hosts on radio and television that seek to divide the nation with pronouncements that bear little resemblance to the facts.

President Jimmy Carter has said that many of these good people are motivated by racism. Each woman and each man has to look into her or his heart and decide the truth of this. Racist or not, I love them. I love them because the teachings of Jesus command it.

Christianity is a hard religion to live. We do not tell people this when we open the doors to the church and invite them into salvation. It is easy to talk the talk of being saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost. But it is difficult to walk the walk, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, to give up coat and cloak, to pray God's blessing upon people whose actions are hateful. It is difficult to pray that God will walk with them and demonstrate God's love and presence in their lives. I cannot do this in my own power. I can only do this through the power of God's own Holy Spirit.

I value my heard-headed realism that tells me to be clear-eyed about everything. I dare not forget my history, a large part of which is the history of struggle against the congenital deformity and the internal contradiction of America. From the very beginning our founders used the rhetoric of liberty and equality but did not consider their slaves or women to be equal persons under the law.

This racist thinking corrupted every aspect of American life -- science, society, culture, economy, education, politics and religion. In-group identities and loyalties, common in human social organization, become dangerous when one group considers itself superior to the other. I must stay vigilant and work to exorcise this danger from the world. I have to release my resentment.

Moreover, my faith requires that I wrestle with the spiritual wickedness that is racism, but not with the individuals who are trapped by it. And racism traps everyone it touches. Love, radical love, is the first work that is ours to do. Biblical wisdom tells us that perfect love casts our fear (I John 4:18). This perfect love is not a flawless or error-free love. It is a complete, mature love -- a love that loves even enemies. Thankfully and blessedly, it is a love that also shelters me and protects me from my own fears.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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