I was raised conservative evangelical. I could say many things about that aspect of my upbringing—one being that I memorized a sizable chunk of the Bible as a kid.
Of the thousands of words I memorized, there was one three-word phrase from a line Jesus said that I was often stewing on: “love your enemies.”
Whenever the adults would discuss that line, it was always accompanied by talk of how outrageous it would have been to the people Jesus said it to. I didn’t understand why.
The concept of an enemy was pretty abstract to me in the first place, but it didn’t seem like it would be too hard to love them.
I pictured enemies as people with guns trying to hunt each other down and kill each other because their governments disagreed with each other. There wasn’t really anything personal about it: just humans stuck as part of different machines that happened to be at odds. Why wouldn’t we be able to love each other? The hard part wouldn’t be love—it would be refusing to do what your government told you to do.
Naive, I know.
Being completely uninterested in joining any sort of military, I knew it was highly unlikely that I would end up in one of those situations. So I figured I just didn’t really have any enemies.
Still, it seemed wise to keep an eye open. Jesus talked about enemies as something that I should expect to have. I didn’t want to end up with enemies at some point, and fail to love them before I even realized what was going on.
It took me my whole life to realize that I’d been living among enemies the entire time, and that I was allowing them to destroy me.
What is an enemy?
I’d learned to think of an enemy as someone who makes it obvious that their mission is to destroy you.
But I’d failed to recognize the strategic advantage of traps and hidden agendas. That just because someone acts like they’re on your side, that doesn’t automatically ensure that they are.
An enemy is anyone who wants to destroy you. I understood that much.
The scary thing I missed is that intent to destroy isn’t always overt
I had enemies all around me who had convinced me that they were there to build me up. Being the naive kid I was, I believed them. And then, their destructive agenda, cozied up inside a trojan horse of righteousness and love, rolled inside me and did its work.
It tore me down until, as a young adult, I came to believe deep in my bones that it was so impossible for me to be good that the world would be better off without me in it.
How I survived that is a story for another time. The point is, I was almost destroyed. And this destructive message continues to infiltrate countless others.
Let’s talk about what my enemies do. This is what I oppose.
What do my enemies do?
My enemies undermine people through toxic teachings disguised as righteousness and love.
They teach people that who they are needs to be revised according to their strict and systemically-approved interpretations of right and wrong.
This means they’re always keeping people off balance: you can never be good enough to escape criticism. There are endless ways to show a person that who they are is unworthy. This is undeniably destructive, but it gets hidden behind supposedly positive concepts. Concepts like “spiritual discipline,” “accountability,” “speaking the truth in love,” and “repentance.”
They withhold approval and love from people who aren’t exactly what they’ve decided is OK. This keeps people in a state of powerlessness. Always trying not to mess up; always trying to be good enough. Meanwhile, the person or institution withholding approval maintains all the power.
They spread the message that people unlike them—or people with different interpretations of the rules—are evil.
This keeps the helpless people they’re oppressing under their influence. They might otherwise escape
All of this undermines a person at their core, teaching them that “goodness” is unattainable to them. That they are failed humans unworthy of love. At best, they have to hide who they are and pretend—at worst, they have to self-destruct.
Love my enemy; stop my enemy
My enemies nearly destroyed me because I made myself vulnerable by letting them convince me they were helping me. But they didn’t succeed. As painful as my experience has been, I’m grateful for
I’m even more committed to loving my enemies than I was
But loving them doesn’t mean making myself vulnerable to them. It doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to what they’re doing, or falling prey to their manipulation. It doesn’t mean covering for
Regardless of what they believe about their actions, they’re not loving, and they need to be stopped. So if they send me the message that I’m unworthy of love, I’ll send them the opposite message back: not only am I worthy of
P.S. I’m not saying the church is my enemy. In fact, the church has long held that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil …”. I think those spiritual forces of evil have set up incredibly powerful base camps within the church, even taking parts of it over entirely.