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About Loving Thine Enemies...
LOVING THY NEIGHBOR may be one of the greatest commandments, but loving thy enemies is surely the hardest. In the past few months, we’ve seen an outpouring of the former: crowds rallying at airports to welcome refugees; churches, cities, and campuses establishing sanctuary for undocumented immigrants; courageous bystanders intervening to protect strangers from harassment and violence.
But when it comes to loving the very people who have caused real harm to us and our neighbors—for example, peddlers of fake news, white nationalists, and members of certain presidential administrations—the crowd grows thin. And understandably so: Why should we extend love to those who perpetuate a politics of hate? What would loving those people even look like?
Former white nationalist Tony McAleer has an answer. As co-founder of Life After Hate, a nonprofit that helps people leave extremist groups, McAleer has seen how small gestures of compassion can transform those consumed by hate. So when McAleer met a young veteran inching toward anti-Islam extremism, he took him to meet a local imam. “It’s incredibly powerful to receive compassion from someone you’ve dehumanized,” McAleer tells Jason Byassee in our cover story.
Of course, loving your enemies does not mean condoning their actions. Neither does it mean a disregard for the safety or well-being of those who an enemy may harm, including ourselves. Yet even with these caveats, it’s impossible to domesticate Jesus’ commandment: Seeking restoration rather than retribution for those who do evil is truly radical. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, nonviolent enemy-love forces us to recognize “that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.” Try thinking about that the next time you see a sound bite of your least favorite politician.
Read Jason Byassee's profile of Tony McAleer, "Confessions of a Former White Supremacist," in the August 2017 issue.
New & Noteworthy
Woman of Valor
Coretta Scott King walked alongside her husband Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights struggle—and kept on working for social justice after his assassination, until her death in 2006. My Life, My Love, My Legacy is her perspective, as told to Barbara Reynolds. Henry Holt
In Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World, Leroy Barber draws from decades of ministry among diverse people to argue for the centrality of relationships across differences to achieving not just reconciliation, but true justice. Encouraging, openhearted words for divisive times. IVP Books
Sometimes, liberal Christians feel they need to apologize for the behavior of other Christians or churches. In Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting, writer and pastor Lillian Daniel encourages you instead to boldly tell your own story of faith and sacred relationship. Faith Words
The Revolution Has Come , by Rev. Sekou & The Holy Ghost, was released in early 2016—but its gritty mix of R&B and gospel, freedom and resistance is more relevant every day. Activists/artists Osagyefo Sekou and Jay-Marie Hill met at a Black Lives Matter protest, and street movements permeate the songs. rshgmusic.com
Letters to the Editor
Pricing Carbon Fuels
Thank you for your fine article on climate change (“Shattering the Silence on Climate Change” by Teresa Myers, Connie Roser-Renouf, and Edward Maibach, May 2017). There is no larger long-term challenge facing humankind. The mention of Citizen’s Climate Lobby deserves expansion. This grassroots, nonpartisan, national group has a very workable, market-friendly proposal to help us move forward: enacting a steadily rising federal fee on all carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). The net revenues from this fee would be returned on an equal per capita basis to all legal U.S. residents. Such a fee would correct a failure of the market to properly price the environmental and social costs associated with use of these resources. It would have a positive impact on economic growth, would favor a transition to nonpolluting energy resources, and would be fair to low-income residents.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The Pride of Milwaukee
One of the names in Lisa Sharon Harper’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” (May 2017) was instantly familiar to me: James Cameron, the only young man “spared” from lynching, by imprisonment. I only wish Harper could have gone further in highlighting Cameron’s life. Having lived most of my life in the Milwaukee metro area, I have heard so much about Cameron—an extremely studious man and founder of the Black Holocaust Museum, a one-of-a-kind exhibition. Cameron was an exemplary man. He should be much more well-known than he is, and for much more than that he escaped a lynching. He was (and still is, as his heritage lives on) a very important man for Milwaukee residents.
Heartless Housing Policy
I was very happy to read the recent article “Raise Your Hand if You Live in Subsidized Housing,” by Neeraj Mehta (June 2017). It helps to uncover how we “allocate resources to people we value” and shows the inequality of how we subsidize housing in America. From my work with Hearts for Homes in Macomb County, Mich., it is clear to me that negative biases and stereotypes of low-income renters justify inaction on the part of policy makers and middle-class Americans. With the numbers of homeless children on the rise, at a time when employment is the highest since 2001, we still easily blame the poor as “not being responsible” or “having bad spending habits.” However, we seem unable to acknowledge or take responsibility for a housing system that requires many families to pay more than half of their income in housing expenses, putting many at risk of homelessness.
Mt. Clemens, Michigan
Reading Danny Duncan Collum’s piece on Reinhold Niebuhr (“The Niebuhr We Need,” April 2017) and viewing the new documentary by Martin Doblmeier sent me back to my own review of America’s cold war theologian (“Apologist of Power,” March 1987). I write to commend James Cone’s chapter on Niebuhr in The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2011). Cone argues that Niebuhr’s theology of the cross was so abstract that it never occurred to him to recognize the most obvious representation of the former in the latter. Though still faculty at Union Seminary, Cone was not interviewed for the film.
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Letters to the Editor
A Plateful of Good Stuff
“Game Changer?” by Rose Marie Berger in the December 2016 issue really challenges me as a Catholic. We are called to be a peace church. We are disciples of a nonviolent redeemer and liberator. I want to be nonviolent. It would mean that I have to love nonviolently. I cannot call anyone names. I should love the members of the other political party and work for unity. I should be a listener. I should advise military people to be conscientious objectors in violent affairs, and maybe more than that. I will love the veterans, as I presume they did what they did according to their conscience. I have a plateful of good stuff to do. Help me, dear Lord.
Rev. Anthony Kroll
Sauk Rapids, Minnesota
Those Who Have Ears ...
In the days following the ugliest election in my life (I was born in 1945), I have seen few, if any, commentaries on how this election impacted the children of America. Our kids hear our fears and anxieties, as well as what they hear on TV or radio, but they are not able to deal with and process those fears as are adults.
What is our Christian responsibility to help our children deal with and overcome the fear and anger they feel when they hear the president-elect denigrate minority groups and promote violence against those who disagree? This is truly a teachable moment in every house of worship, and not just for adults. Our kids are suffering, and we cannot let the words of a narcissistic bigot go unchallenged. I agree with everything Jim Wallis said (“Ministers of Reconciliation,” December 2016), but I urge us not to forget the children.
Ministers of Inspiration?
I was thrilled to receive my first issue of Sojourners magazine and find Jim Wallis’s article titled “Ministers of Reconciliation.” I am grateful for the reassuring inspiration I derived from his words.
Rev. Dale Morris Lee
A Heavy Hand
In your November 2016 issue, David Gushee writes of Americans yelling at each other about abortion and our polarization on the subject (“The Abortion Impasse”). But he shows his own polarization with the sentence, “Having actually held dead 18-week fetuses in my hands ... I think it is indeed a travesty that abortion is permitted in non-emergency circumstances as late as that.” I ask him: Have you ever held the hand of an 18-year-old girl dying of sepsis from a backstreet illegal abortion? I have. When abortion is not legal or the financial cost is too high, the poor seek out the unskilled—which can take weeks—while the wealthy go to other countries. Until we have a country that cares for and about all its citizens by lowering our high infant mortality rate and doing away with guns, wars, death penalties, and cop shootings, why should anyone worry about abortions? I think the answer is: It is a way to subjugate women. As Gloria Steinem says: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
South Hamilton, Massachusetts
New & Noteworthy
Tuxedos on Ice
Need a cold distraction from summer heat? Love penguins? Want to be inspired by rugged scenery and a field biologist’s enthusiasm for his work, despite harsh conditions, endless counting, and climate change? The documentary film The Penguin Counters is now out on iTunes and DVD. First Run Features
Find What’s Missing
In the picture book Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons, biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine and children’s book author Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso imaginatively retell three of Jesus’ parables. Suitable for kids 4 to 8. Includes afterword for parents and teachers. Illustrated by Margaux Meganck. Westminster John Knox
An American Story
Amir Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America is a compact overview of how Muslims have been an intrinsic part of American society, politics, and culture since the colonial era. Released last fall, but timelier than ever as anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions grow. Baylor University Press
In Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope , Albert Y. Hsu explores the hard emotional and spiritual questions survivors face. First published in 2002, this newly revised and expanded version includes updated resources and a discussion guide for suicide-survivor groups. IVP Books
New & Noteworthy
Wherever You Go ...
In Why Am I Here?, by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen and Akin Duzakin, a picture book for ages 5 to 9, a child ponders the many different places she could be: a huge city, an isolated forest, a war zone, fleeing to a strange land. A book that encourages empathy and acknowledges the big questions that kids ask themselves. Eerdmans
Faith for the Struggle
Shannon Daley-Harris, religious affairs adviser for the Children’s Defense Fund, offers scriptural meditations to inspire and sustain advocates and nurturers in Hope for the Future: Answering God’s Call to Justice for Our Children. Includes questions for faithful response. Westminster John Knox
No Easy Road
Activist and artist Anthony Papa writes about the challenges of rebuilding his life after serving 12 years for a nonviolent drug offense, his work to change oppressive drug-sentencing laws, and memories of prison in This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency. 15yearstolife.com
Life Out of Death
“I did not understand how people changed so much: Some became executioners, others became victims,” writes Holocaust survivor Magda Hollander-Lafon in Four Scraps of Bread, a slim volume of piercing, simple-yet-profound reflections on her journey through hell and back. Notre Dame Press
Having Our Cake?
IN THE TERM that begins this fall, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The nine justices will decide: Is a baker with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage obliged—by anti-discrimination laws—to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?
But underneath the frosting, the case exemplifies a much broader conversation in which religious liberty is pitted against civil liberties. In this ongoing fight, sides are often split down partisan lines, with conservatives championing religious liberty and liberals defending civil rights.
This religious-freedom-vs.-civil-liberties split is frustrating to many. After all, religious liberty isn’t just for conservatives; the First Amendment offers important protections to all people of faith, from Muslims who seek permits to build mosques to Christians who are conscientious objectors to war. At the same time, we care deeply about civil rights, especially in an era when so many Americans face discrimination because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. In a nutshell, we want to support religious freedom for all while also protecting the civil liberties of LGBTQ folks and other minorities. But is that even possible?
Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer Oliver Thomas is optimistic, but not naive. In “Clash of Liberties,” he explains how religious liberty laws morphed from bipartisan efforts to ensure religious liberty for all into tools used by conservatives and liberals alike to press their own advantage. If we’re serious about protecting both, Thomas writes, we’re going to have to do something that’s easier said than done: lay aside our ideological differences and work for the common good.
Letters to the editors from Sojourners readers.
We Cannot Rest; We Must Rest
HERE'S A PARADOX: If justice delayed is justice denied, we cannot rest while anyone suffers; at the same time, we can’t work tirelessly for justice without rest. It’s the kind of pesky conundrum we face just as we’re settling in for a night of sweatpants and Netflix: The prophets in the Bible decried those who sit on fine couches while their neighbors go hungry ... but does that mean it’s wrong to re-watch the entire season of Queer Eye when we could be doing something more productive?
In this issue, Baptist minister J. Dana Trent uses the fourth commandment (“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.”) to reframe our quandary. Through this commandment to practice “ritual rest from our labor,” writes Trent, “we opt out of tyranny and opt into care for one another.” At its heart, Sabbath rest isn’t a pause from justice work; it’s a way of disrupting a culture of what Walter Brueggemann describes as “endless desire, endless productivity, and endless restlessness.”
New & Noteworthy: May 2018
From Stage to Screen
Pulitzer Prize finalist Anna Deavere Smith brings her critically acclaimed play Notes from the Field to the screen. Based on hundreds of interviews with students, teachers, parents, and administrators, the production brilliantly highlights the disturbing U.S. school-to-prison pipeline. HBO
Love for Creation
Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World presents practical, faithful responses to environmental issues. With scientific data and comprehensive biblical theology, Douglas J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo invite readers to explore their relationship with creation and the Creator. Zondervan