On a typical Thanksgiving I would have been in the house with my family, putting the final touches on the meal. We might even have talked about religion and politics as we worked, but not in a bad dinner conversation kind of way. For the better part of a decade, we had all read the same theologians, admired the same pundits, and echoed each other’s opinions on social issues.
On the Thanksgiving two weeks after the 2016 election, however, I stood alone on my deck and wept. Five years earlier, God had begun using a series of major life events to resurrect long-buried aspects of my story. In the process, I had come to see the world very differently than my family did—and come to see certain family members as something like wrong-headed adversaries.
Now, where I saw catastrophe, all they could see was me “overreacting.” I felt alienated and disoriented.
As I struggled to make sense of my predicament, Jesus’ cryptic warning to his disciples came to mind: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ ” (Matt. 10:34–36).
Initially it seems ironic that Jesus, whom we hail as the Prince of Peace, announces that he will disturb the peace. But I’ve learned that what he disturbs is an artificial peace, one achieved through conformity and uniformity—foundational characteristics of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–4). Since it depends on establishing and maintaining sameness, this peace can’t offer a violent and divided world healing or reconciliation, not even when it’s embraced by people who happen to identify as Christ followers.
Before God disrupted the uniformity of my household, I had been comfortable identifying as a “model minority” who fit in with white, upper-middle-class, politically conservative evangelicals. I had willingly subordinated my God-given ethnic identity for this adopted identity. I was satisfied with a sense of self divorced from my Taiwanese heritage, satisfied with being a second-generation American who had achieved the American Dream. I had associated the traumatic experiences of my childhood with my parents’ culture and had responded by creating as much distance as I could between my identity and theirs.
In 2014, a period of medical and mental health crises resulted in a two-year journey that closed that distance, helping me uncover the historical roots of my family’s brokenness. I learned that generations of my family had endured oppression and trauma, including Japanese imperialism, ethnic segregation, US air raids, radical regime change, land and asset theft by people in power, mass murder, a lengthy period of violent political repression known as the White Terror, and decades of martial law. In previous generations, my own ancestors had themselves been colonizers, part of a mass migration of Han Chinese fleeing poverty who settled on Taiwan, the island that Austronesian aboriginal tribes had inhabited for several millennia. Their arrival resulted in large-scale loss of cultural identity for many aboriginal tribes.
These revelations caused me to read the Scriptures anew. For the first time, I saw my parents, grandparents, and even the Taiwanese aborigines reflected in the masses of first-century, peasant-class Jews struggling to survive under both oppressive Roman imperialism and the corrupt practices of their wealthier, more powerful Jewish counterparts. I read Jesus’ teachings from the perspective of downtrodden people who long for deliverance and justice, rather than from the perspective of a comfortable American pursuing personal spiritual development.
This shift in perspective pulled me toward the helpless and harassed in my own city: people experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness, immigrants in anxious mixed-status families, traumatized refugees, entire neighborhoods still suffering the lingering economic effects of Jim Crow and white flight. As I connected with these people, I came to believe they were those whose treatment Jesus used as a litmus test for determining who his true followers were (Matt. 25:31–46).
My relationships with these neighbors brought an entirely different level of spiritual accountability into my life. I realized the ways I had hoarded wealth or indulged in hedonism, ways all too common for Christians in my own socioeconomic class. My new friends’ faith in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles rebuked my habit of complaining about trivial things. I felt convicted about my racial prejudice (John 4:9), classism (James 2:3, 4), and sectarianism (1 Cor. 3:3–9). It seemed nothing in my life came out clean.
New Politics, Old Dilemma
Suddenly, the politics I had espoused for several decades didn’t address my marginalized friends’ urgent concerns. These were people with legitimate grievances against dominant groups insensitive to their plight. But my former political framework often placed them squarely in the category of a troublesome, inferior people who deserved scorn, suppression, or expulsion. Now that I knew and loved them, I realized they weren’t primarily interested in causing trouble; they longed for deliverance and justice—much like my own family once did.
It was impossible not to empathize as I listened to their stories. Their deprivations became personal concerns; their enemies became my enemies. I crusaded on social media and at the dinner table, cheered on by a new network of people who felt the same.
Soon, my passionate about-face incited friction with family members and longtime friends. Some sent scathing messages. Others withdrew from my life. There were moments when it felt like even my husband and mother-in-law had become my enemies—the kind whose fundamentally different sympathies and allegiances created an unbridgeable chasm, despite our shared faith in Christ. I had become good at denouncing things. But this habitual disparaging wore on people who couldn’t easily unfriend, unfollow, avoid, or abandon me.
I didn’t want to admit that I’d had fallen under the spell of self-righteousness. Much had changed inside me, and yet I still considered certain people deserving of scorn, suppression, or expulsion; they were just different people.
Jesus’ Third Way: Enemy Love
Many things about the Christian faith are a mystery, but not how we’re supposed to treat our enemies:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. . . . If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43–48)
But why would we love people who seemingly work hard to earn our hatred? Hatred can feel like a weapon of righteousness defending people being crushed or a tool that helps the dispossessed hold onto a sense of dignity. It’s not difficult to understand why people in Jesus’ day parsed the word neighbor in Leviticus 19:18 to justify nurturing contempt toward or doing violence to their oppressors (Matt. 5:43).
The unavoidable truth, though, is that the cost of not loving our enemies is far greater. As I’ve observed the effects of mounting tribalism in my life and in the world, I’ve recognized that Jesus was imparting an ancient wisdom—one that applies both to playground disputes and high-stakes conflicts.
Recently, as I helped my eight-year-old daughter process pain and anger over recurring conflict with a friend of hers, she kept proposing snarky comebacks and asking me, “That would be a good burn, wouldn’t it?” The impulse to retaliate is present in us from childhood. I’ve never seen it lead to relational restoration.
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Source: Christianity Today