Lately I've been thinking a lot about a certain Bible verse: Matthew 5:44 – "I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." These words were attributed to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which I believe is one of, if not the, greatest talks on nonviolence or ahimsa in history. (Of course, that's from my western perspective and limited knowledge of non-western texts and teachings.) I got to thinking about it partly because I got into a rather unpleasant debate regarding feminism and gay rights on another blog, because for several months I've been studying the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and because I want to be the most effective force possible in my activism for LGBT rights, and I believe this is the way to do that. And I've been thinking about it because so often I fail to achieve my goal of doing just that – I want clarity about how to love my enemies – those who oppose equal rights for LGBT people.
So what does it mean, to "love your enemies?" That's a pretty strong statement, and the follow-up is no weaker: bless, do good to, pray for, those who hurt you. Turn the other cheek. How radically different is this from most of what I see in the world.
It's clear that "love," in this case, is a verb. It requires positive and proactive action on our part, a conscious decision, and determined persistence. In an essay titled "Love Your Enemies," Mrs. Eddy said, "We must love our enemies in all the manifestations wherein and whereby we love our friends; must even try not to expose their faults, but to do good to them whenever opportunity occurs." That raises the ante a bit, taking it to a new level. Certainly we must counter lies and misconceptions, and assert our own truth with determination and persistence. How do we do this without exposing the faults of our enemies? Perhaps by keeping our statements as completely impersonal as possible?
This gets really challenging in the heat of, so to speak, battle. How can you do good to and love someone who has just said words about you intended to wound and destroy? How can you not feel anger, and fear, and the hate that rises so easily from them? Once again I found some pretty useful words from Mrs. Eddy: "Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them;" "The mental arrow shot from another's bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it. It is our pride that makes another's deed offensive, our egotism that feels hurt by another's self-assertion;" "Who is thine enemy that thou shouldst love him? Is it a creature or a thing outside thine own creation? Can you see an enemy, except you first formulate this enemy and then look upon the object of your own conception? What is it that harms you?" Hannah More said, "If I wished to punish my enemy, I should make him hate somebody."
In this context I want to take my activism to this new level; active love of my enemies, even more than just passively eliminating the anger and fear from my own heart and wishing them well while still opposing them. It means finding ways of doing good to them, while simultaneously holding unconditional love in my heart, completely without rancor or judgment, and while also resisting the injustice. Indeed, it makes my resistance stronger.
I don't expect to be perfect at this; it is a goal to strive for, but I'm still completely human, subject to pride, anger, ego, misjudgment, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, mistake, and all the other foibles humans are subject to. I'll make mistakes. But I am convinced that returning always to this guidepost will lead me to a more effective activism; this seems to be the guidepost that directed Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. And if I'm not successful, at least I'll be happy doing it. After all, "'Love thine enemies' is identical with 'Thou hast no enemies.'" (MBE)
I'm not a Christian Scientist, but I wish that The Christian Science Church would put Mrs. Eddy's essays, "Love Your Enemies" and "Taking Offense" online, and I could direct those of us who fight for equal rights for LGBT people to read them. Regardless of the religious undertones, these are strategies, I believe, for effective action. Our anger, justified as it may be, benefits no one; indeed, it does active harm to our own side.
If there are any activists out there who access my blog, I'd be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this post.