If you’re like most Christians, you might think that loving your political enemy means a “no politics” rule at Thanksgiving dinner, or a refusal to disclose your political affiliation to your friends and family. But is this Biblical? Is avoiding confrontation the best route to take?
Loving our enemies applies to people with completely different political ideologies than our own. I know, I know—this is a hard pill to swallow. There is so much circulating contempt toward our brothers and sisters on the opposite side of the political aisle. Sweeping generalizations brand Republicans as cold, uncaring and concerned with money over people, while Democrats are pegged as sensitive, unpatriotic and immoral. How do we combat these stereotypes and engage with politics in a way that honors God and others?
Let’s explore some questions about what it means to truly love our political enemies.
1. How should Christians approach politics?
As Christians, we must operate with the belief that man-made systems are affected by man’s sin, and as a consequence, they are flawed. This means that our political system is not inherently holy or righteous, and to believe that we as Americans could create a political party reflective of Jesus’s true heart and desires is simply naive. We must be careful, then, to not take our political cues primarily from a particular party, but consider each issue biblically. Agreeing with every aspect of a political party is a sign of idolization.
It is not wrong to identify with a particular party, but we must know that ultimately, our identity is in Christ. We must prioritize our convictions over our political party’s platform.
We should seek to please God, not our party’s ideas of how we should vote. It is not wrong to identify with a particular party, but we must know that ultimately, our identity is in Christ. We must prioritize our convictions over our political party’s platform.
Some Christians believe engaging in politics is a worldly concern and beyond Christians’ scope of responsibility, since our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. Justin Giboney, the founder of the And Campaign, argues instead that “politics presents us with a great tool for loving our neighbor.”
We can therefore use the political system to engage with our neighbors and to take care of others the way God has called us to as Christians. Scripture says:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
God shows us time and again throughout the Bible just how much he cares for the “outcasts” of society and how he wants us to show his love to people. Politics can be a great means for doing so, but our religious convictions should have the final say in how we view the political realm.
2. We know we should love our enemies—but what does the Bible really say about it?
The fact is that we are called to love our enemies, period. This means we have little excuse for posting quippy memes on Facebook that attack the other side’s character. Here’s what the Bible says about loving our enemies and our neighbors (which, conveniently, can be one and the same):
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” (Luke 6:35)
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)
“And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:47)
It is hard to love my relative when he says something about racial tension in America. It is hard to love my Facebook friend when they make light of people living in poverty. It is hard to love my neighbor when they hold different convictions about abortion than I do. It is hard to love my friend when they refuse to care about the same causes I am passionate about. What is easy is holding their views against them. It is easy to write them off as ignorant, uninformed or immoral. It is easy to unfriend or unfollow someone I disagree with.
Friends, we must do better to accept our calling to love our political enemies. If we do not accept the call to love our political enemies, no amount of bickering will reconcile us to each other. If we avoid sensitive conversations for the sake of “keeping the peace,” we will only harbor resentment against our neighbors by keeping in quiet disagreement. Either option damages our relationships and does nothing to improve our country. Ultimately, we are failing to keep God’s greatest command.
3. What is Biblical love?
What is “love?” It isn’t a warm-and-fuzzy feeling that comes from infatuation. Rather, love is more than just an emotion: love is a choice. Love is consistency. Love is an action. God is Love. So, what does the Bible say about love?
That good ol’ Corinthians passage, a favorite at weddings, sums it up:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
I don’t know about you, but talking politics with someone who disagrees with me makes me irritable. I do find myself boasting and basking in self-righteousness. Political arguments are often “won” by whoever is loudest—but loving those who disagree with us can’t mean we try to win arguments by yelling. It also can’t mean that we pout when we don’t get our way, then quickly point fingers when the other party’s ideas fall apart: “See! We told you so! Now do it our way, because we are so much smarter and better!“
Where’s the grace in that?
4. How do we listen to understand?
To love someone, we must know them. To know them, we have to listen to and seek to understand them. I myself am guilty of assuming character traits about someone based on their political identification, age or appearance. However, if we are constantly putting people in boxes, how can we expect them to grow beyond the confines of that box? I know, it is much more fun to talk about ourselves than it is to listen to others—but we gain so much perspective from listening to people explain where they are coming from. This means we must listen to people who look, speak, act and believe differently than we do, believers and nonbelievers alike.
To love someone, we must know them. To know them, we have to listen to and seek to understand them.
The book of James says this in few words:
“My dear brothers and sister, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)
When we talk over people or dismiss them, we are not loving them and we are not following Scripture. We are instead letting our pride demean another image bearer of God. We can start by having important, difficult discussions. We must remember that a conversation is not a debate we need to win.
This passage from 1 Corinthians reminds me that even if we know every angle to every issue, the precedents of court cases, or implications of certain laws, we must root our conversation in love and in accordance with God’s will:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)
We all want a safer country, less people living in poverty and a good economy. The problem is that we often disagree on how to accomplish those goals. To truly love our political enemies like God calls us to, we must acknowledge our differences of opinion, speak in love about them and strive to better understand them. We cannot become so wrapped up in a particular party’s ideology that we are unable to love people who disagree with us, and thereby dishonor God. The world wants us to believe that our political opponents are our real enemy, but this is not true—we have a common enemy, and Satan uses political division to further alienate God’s people from one another. We must combat this by seeking unity—by loving people we disagree with.
Do you struggle to love those you disagree with politically? In what ways can we combat our tendency to divide on political issues, for the sake of our witness, our faith communities, and the gospel?