On Having Enemies
Sincere church folks cringe askance when i confess that ihave enemies. the notion that a cleric treats certain individuals as enemy doesn’t sit well in their assumptive spirituality. a godly leader ought to get along with everyone. in moments of resolve, i cordially note their disapproval and move on. in moments of doubts, their opprobrium pumps hard recriminations into my soft soul. nevertheless, in the remains of my day, my enemies remain.
King David had enemies. as if taunting them, he prayed to God: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. he pleaded God to: Consider how many are my enemies, and with what violent hatred they hate me. another occasion, he referred to them as adversarial evildoers. then he extolled God never to allow his enemies triumph over his failings. (Psalms 23.5, 25.19. 27.2. 30.1) in Psalm 35, his vociferations dripping with assured righteousness, he sought his conflicts as God’s with a litany of grievances against his enemies. if the great king had foes than this pauper of a pastor can have a few too. So i justify myself.
I define an enemy as someone who effects an adverse, graceless environment in which my wellbeing and growth are frustrated. because of who we have become, people become enemies when they oppose what we are. when we cut a path to get to where we need to go, people threatened by it may sabotage our endeavors. our character, competence or convictions may addle others into senseless animosity. after my homily, a conferee pulled me aside to posit that my “sermon was unbiblical.” he gaffed that if a sermon is not Christocentric it is heretical. later that year, her truer intent against me reared out. she and others instigated to force me out of the church so her friend could be its pastor. i pivoted out of the church in great anguish. from that moment, I considered her an enemy.
After i was appointed the program assistant director, soon it became obvious that the director didn’t want me. some said he was threatened by me. whatever, he didn’t include me in the day to day running of the program. by year’s end, i quietly resigned. unrelated to my departure, the annual student evaluation voted this director the worst professor. in time, he left the school. before his office door closed behind him, he sputtered a spiteful letter to many churches baselessly accusing me of plotting his dismissal. many, including some friends, believed him. i held my peace and didn’t defend myself. but since i considered him an enemy.
Shortly before 9-11, i announced my resignation from an organization to return to theological education. shortly after 9-11, a disgruntle colleague’s conflict with me escalated into a departmental discordance. my failure to build a supportive ministry team was glaring during this crisis. many in the team didn’t stand by me. and i didn’t manage myself nor the crisis well. By that spring, i was spent. Three months before my scheduled departure, i announced to the group that it was my last week as director. there were much second guessing and hard feelings. some thought the worst of me and some defended me to this day. when i walked away, i didn’t consider this troubled colleague nor some team members my enemies. they did what they thought right but didn’t purposely impede my leadership. much of my regress was my doing.
Jesus says that we must love our enemies and pray for them. obviously we can’t be impervious to this imperative. loving our enemies is just as weighty as loving God, our neighbors and one another. some claim that it is impossible to love our enemies and dismiss Jesus’ commandment. my unfinished thoughts are not so confident. to love my enemies, i don’t have to like them nor hang out with them. when possible, i even avoid them. when others egg me to spew malice or slander at them, i restrain to talk at all about them. i also realize that no matter how hard i try or how earnest i pray, there is no forgetting what they did. these painful memories don’t feel very good. to love my enemies, i settle for this – it is nearly impossible to love them with my heart. my collective emotion is simply too negative to feel any love for them. but I can choose to do the loving thing. if they are in need, i will reach out to them in good will. if they want a favor, with all my determinative cognition, i do them a favor.
When my son got married, his bride’s family invited someone who happened to be my enemy. my son offered to un-invite him. my limited sensibility demurred and asked to keep the guest list as it was. i certainly didn’t enjoy seeing him at the wedding. but that was my problem, not his. another time, the mother of an enemy died. she happened to be my children’s sunday school teacher. expectedly my wife wanted us to attend her funeral. with mixed sensitivity, i greeted him with condolences and then sat through a long service in sobriety. on both occasions, i felt i did the loving thing. to love my enemies as Jesus has intended, that was the best i could do.