Love Your Enemies
This article is the final piece in a 3-part response to Ben Shapiro's "The Authoritarian Moment". The previous articles can be found here:
Part 3: Authoritarianism and the Church
Authoritarianism is a spiritual disease that takes root in governmental systems when citizens willfully ignore the truth and blindly follow a leader. History has demonstrated that this behavior necessarily leads to totalitarian regimes — the forced following of a leader or state. So far, we have demonstrated how our religious expression and our conscience are necessary ingredients for Christians to serve well within the terrors of authoritarianism. The final ingredient of this spiritual antidote is loving your enemies.
Love, Truth, and Injustice
In our previous article on conscience, we saw that the strength of our conscience is directly proportional to our desire for and our understanding of the truth. In short, you cannot have virtue if you reject truth. Our conscience leads us to act according to the truth, and the truth is the basis for genuine love of friend and foe.
The Apostle Paul states that without love, an individual is nothing but a “clanging cymbal”. If the truth without love is deafening, then love without the truth is a lie. Therefore, to love well, love and truth must be united in the believer’s life, especially in times of adversity. This is vital when a government, intentionally or unintentionally, pits brother against brother, son against father, daughter against mother, and seeks to leverage our disdain for one another to establish a godless form of government. Dr. J. Budziszewski reminds us of the solution:
"The connection between love and the common good is that love always intends the true good of others.”
In Live Not by Lies, Rod Dreher compiles various stories of Christians living through the early, middle, and late stages of communism. The Benda family lived under communism in the Czech Republic. The parents, Václav and Kamila, not only lived under communist rule, but preserved their children’s faith in the midst of intense poverty, suffering, and social isolation. One of the lessons Dreher gleans from the family is that you must stand up and support everyone’s rights; not just your own or your fellow Christian’s.
“Kamila says that obeying Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor means never failing to stand for every persecuted person, not just church goers.”
Kamila’s statement highlights an often-overlooked verse in the famous love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Paul states: “[Love] is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). Those who desire to apply any of the commands to love your neighbor or your enemies must do so from the basis of the truth. Those that reject the truth complicitly or explicitly, will not only have perverted their conscience, but will struggle to love their neighbors, their enemies, and those that attempt to stand for the truth. Truth is the basis for conscience and love.
I have a picture on my wall, given to me by my mother. It reads, "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." Americans always stated that "freedom isn't free", but have we really considered the cost of freedom not only as soldiers, but as normal working Americans?
We cannot love our neighbors if we are complicit in unjust laws, taking the easy way out for ourselves, or isolating ourselves from conflict while the rest of the world suffers. Case and point: churches in the U.S. continue to lockdown and modify their worship services for COVID while Afghan Christians are being martyred. Which faith do you think is more genuine? Which faith do you think an atheist is more likely to respect?
A Short Story: Atheists, Christians, and Loving Your Neighbor
Imagine for a moment a Christian who has been sharing about his faith to an atheist co-worker. Conversations between them have ranged from “How could God allow the pandemic?” to “Why are there so many denominations?” News begins circulating on social media and other outlets that the Biden admin will make an announcement on vaccines soon. The two employees discuss the possibility of a mandate and formulate their positions. The Christian says, “I doubt it will happen.” The atheist says, “Well if it does, f--- the government because I have a constitutional right to liberty.” The Christian responds, “Well that seems a bit harsh, I mean they are just trying to keep people safe.” To this the atheist replies, “Have you ever read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? After what I’ve read, this doesn’t end well if we all go with the flow. Besides, doesn’t Christianity have some sort of line about ‘unjust laws are not laws’ or something like that?”
The news breaks at work; employees must provide proof of vaccination to keep their jobs. The atheist refuses to comply and loses his job. The Christian knows what has happened to his friend is unjust, but he is still debating what to do. His friends and family begin pressuring him to get the vaccine; his crazy uncle tells him it will put 5g in his blood and he’ll begin speaking Mandarin by the year 2022. Rather than considering any other options like religious exemption, he opts to get the vaccine, hoping it will all just go away.
The next day at work, there is an eerie absence that he can’t shake. His good friend is gone and so is the opportunity to lead him to Christ. He begins to rationalize his position even more. But deep down, he admires the courage of the atheist co-worker. He considers going to HR and filing a complaint about how the dismissal of his co-worker was handled, but he rationalizes again. It’s “too risky” at this point. Besides, I’m already vaccinated, and I didn’t have any reactions like my crazy uncle said. To raise the issue now is a risk to my family’s financial stability.
While he won’t file a complaint to HR, he decides he will still keep in touch with his friend to make sure he’s doing ok. His friend tells him he’s surprised how hard it is to find a job, but that he’s still convinced he did the right thing. Finally, the atheist says: “You know, life is pretty tough right now. I probably could use a bit of God in my life. Where do you go to church again?” The Christian is ecstatic. God is coming through in the life of his friend! He’s going to use this whole pandemic just to lead his friend to Christ, he thinks to himself; how silly of him to feel guilty about what happened to his friend at work.
Unbeknownst to the Christian, a week earlier the church decided to enforce their city’s COVID passport mandate for all indoor gatherings. All others must watch from home if they refuse to present a passport. The Christian and atheist arrive at the church, but at this point the reader’s imagination is better than any conclusion I could write.
One’s decision to take/refuse the vaccine is a minor issue of conscience. But unjust mandates are matters of truth and love: truth in that one must reflect on their own rights to identify injustice, and love in that one must recognize it is not merely our rights that drive our decision. It’s on us Christians and our leaders to know the relationship between truth and love and act accordingly. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the atheist affirmed God’s law. When Christian leaders counsel their flock to forsake the rights of others to maintain status in society, they are leading Christians to be complicit in injustice. Christian leaders like this should start practicing their swimming technique with millstones wrapped around their necks.
The Christian above was wrong not to stand up for his co-worker, but we are not all given the same measure of grace. Christians that God has gifted with strength to stand must not crush their weaker brothers in their convictions. Weaker brothers must pray for those who are standing strong and support them. Strong brothers must encourage and bolster those who are taking their conscience seriously.
Mercy and Forgiveness
All judgments aside, we must also have grace and mercy for each other. Suppose Christians rationalize away their nagging conscience. Suppose they remain apathetic. Suppose the soft tyranny of America worsens for those of us attempting to live according to our conscience. What are we to do? How should we live?
We ought not panic or feast on hyperbolic images of gas chambers or theories of vaccine-induced population control and “Left Behind” pseudo theories. If you are to partake in that kind of suffering, there is nothing you can do to change it. Accept your fate and live in the now. The Gospel provides plenty of application in our current state, such that anxiously predicting the future will provide little benefit to you or your neighbors. Our current oppression is nothing compared to the tyranny of past nations or of contemporary China.
Many have already experienced challenges due to the politicization of COVID. One day your friends or family are saying they will not get the jab. The next day, they are struggling with the surreal fact that they could lose their job. We must not condemn. We must extend forgiveness and mercy. We do not affirm someone who has violated their conscience as morally right, but we do not shame the contrite. The Benda family provides a powerful example:
“Up to twenty people would show up every day at the Benda flat seeking advice, comfort, and community. And after police released the suspects, they would often return to the Benda home. Whether or not they had come through without breaking, or had given up information under duress, Kamila offered them a cup of tea and a glass of wine and encouragement. [Kamila] would tell them ‘that’s okay, next time you will do better . . .’ The dissident circle was too small and fragile to turn on one another, despite their failures, frustrations, and disappointments.”
This story of Kamila brings Christ’s words on the Cross to mind, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” At the height of being forsaken by man and the Father, Christ extended forgiveness. His life, death, and resurrection would become the impetus for a turning point in history and for the world. If you are someone who regrets your decisions in the past year, take heart. You will have more chances in the future, and you will do better next time.
Final Thoughts: Parallels of the Past
A hallmark of corrupt governments is the pitting of citizens against each other based on an arbitrary status or class. In philosophical terms, these “accidental” characteristics or “non-essential” qualities make us unique, but their absence does not make us less human. For example, social status, economic status, racial status, religious status, and health status are all characteristics that cannot make you more or less human. However, ill-willed governments exploit these differences to create opportunities for power-grabs.
In Gulag Volume 2, Solzhenitsyn describes the struggle this division creates for the human soul. In the early years of the Soviet Union, it was difficult for the average Russian to comprehend.
“No matter how clear-cut the declarations of the class teaching, openly displayed and proclaimed everywhere . . . it was impossible to picture to oneself the annihilation of each concrete two-legged individual possessing hair, eyes, a mouth, a neck and shoulders. One could actually believe that classes were being destroyed, but the people who constituted these classes should be left, shouldn’t they?”
Stéphane Courtois in the Black Book of Communism makes a similar observation:
“The Bolsheviks had decided to eliminate, by legal and physical means, any challenge or resistance, even if passive, to their absolute power. This strategy applied not only to groups with opposing political views, but also to such social groups as the nobility, the middle class, the intelligentsia, and the clergy, as well as professional groups such as military officers and the police.”
In the recent months, we have seen our academics, military leaders, police, medical professionals, clergy, and everyday employees targeted for refusing to comply with the state. Speech codes around pronouns and sexuality are being used to indirectly target those citizens who dissent. The more one reads on communism, the more terrifying our news cycle becomes.
These days, it is difficult to write on these subjects. There is a thin line between the hyperbolic conspirators and the apathetic down-players. This polarization only affirms that we are following in the steps of the most criminal states in the world. How far we get down that road is not something any one person can predict, but if leaders, friends, and families continue in their silence there are truths we can still hold on to.
This world and its evil are intense and scar the soul. But we must not forget that Christ’s scars remained, yet were used to restore the hope of his disciples. If we follow in Christ’s footsteps, we too will receive scars. But God’s redemptive power uses evil for good and takes the scars of his disciples to restore the hope of the weaker brothers. For those who have been abandoned for their stands, we must remember that Christ desires for us to imitate him. What better way to mold us into his image than to have those closest to us misunderstand or abandon us?
It is undeniable that we are facing some serious challenges within our Western countries and churches. The degree and intensity that we experience it is largely up to the collective strength of our Christian conscience. We Christians must recognize our identity is in Christ, not our political party. This doesn’t mean one cannot argue vigorously and be politically active for their convictions. But we must remember it is not the power of man that will win this moment back for the freedom of everyone and the glory of God. Freedom does not necessarily produce virtue. It is the power of Christ in us; it is that despite our weakness, He is strong; despite our failures, even in death, God can take the intentions of a Christian and redeem them for good.
The greatest threat to authoritarianism is godly people willing to defend the rights of their enemies. We would not even know the taste of freedom had it not been for men and women who risked their lives to establish it but never experienced it. As we feel the squeeze of the authoritarian boot on our necks in America and other western countries, we must recognize that freedom is expensive. It can cost us our job, our careers, our medical and legal licenses, our homes, our friends, our families, and if God wills, our lives. We have been living on an inheritance that is running out. It is now our turn to seek God, mobilize, and pay the price freedom demands for our friends, our families, and our enemies.
Resource used for this post:
Black Book of Communism -- Jean-Louis Panné (Author), Andrzej Paczkowski (Author), Karel Bartosek (Author), Jean-Louis Margolin (Author), Nicolas Werth (Author), Stéphane Courtois (Author), Mark Kramer