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Love Your Enemies

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“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. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 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.”  Matthew 5:43-48.

Love can mean so many things. I might say, “I love my wife,” or “I love my kids,” or “I love tacos.” In each instance I mean something different by “love.” So what does Jesus mean by “love” when he commands his disciples to love their enemies? I think this passage offers some clues.

I have written elsewhere that the core of love is respect. By that I do not mean esteem. Respect does not have to regard a fellow person as good, but it must regard them as a person, capable of making decisions, keeping promises, and adhering however imperfectly to their own standards of right and wrong. Love regards every person as bearing the stamp of their Creator. Since every person is made in God’s image, there is within each one a template for being the person God intended. Love seeks to activate that template. Love is an advocate for the image of God within each person. Of course, there are some people who seems to us irredeemably evil, the image within them so fractured and tarnished by willful rebellion that every kindness, every good turn, seems wasted on them. Yet it is not often up to us to make that determination. Jesus calls us to love even the most wicked, not with affection or admiration, but with respect for their humanity. He calls us to treat them with the same impartial kindness that God has toward both the evil and the good, giving sunshine and rain to both, neither favoring the good with better weather nor punishing the wicked with darkness and drought.

This call goes against our own inclination and even against our sense of fair play. Should not the wicked be punished? Should not the righteous be blessed? Should we not love those who love us and hate those who hate us? How can we uphold justice in the world without opposing those who cause injustice? Indeed, we must oppose injustice yet do so in love. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a sermon about loving your enemies, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” So if we want a more just world, love is imperative; we have no option but to return love for hate.

So far this has been theoretical. How do we apply it to real enemies? How do we apply it to President Donald Trump?

I would like to propose a few guidelines by which you can measure your own behavior to consider whether it is loving. Most of us are unlikely to be in a position to actually do anything of real value for Trump or anyone in his administration. We all have attitudes and opinions, however, which we express with words. Our words reflect what is in our hearts. If it is love, then our words, even toward the President and his associates, will be loving.

The Issues, Not The Man

Stop ad hominem attacks. This includes name-calling and character assassination. Every day I see posts on my feed, not just memes but well-researched, thoughtful articles about Trump’s policies (or lack thereof), yet the comments are nothing but acrimonious names or supposed descriptions of Trump. I see him called “idiot,” “piece of shit,” “knuckle-dragger,” and  “orange cheeto,” I see speculations on the size of his brain or whether he has testicles. There is no way that such remarks can be construed as loving. You may be angry at Trump’s policies, his shameful behavior, or his many, many lies. Fine. Attack his policies and behavior, and expose his lies. It is loving to correct error and declare the truth. It is loving to advocate for the oppressed and excoriate their oppression. It is not loving to denigrate the oppressor.

Wish Him Well

Some Facebook friends have expressed a wish that Trump would die or fall ill or be declared unfit to serve as President. Some have hoped he would be assassinated. Such desires do not spring from love but from hate. Jesus implied that hate was the moral equivalent of murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Love never rejoices at the misfortunes that befall an enemy. It is unfailingly kind. Of course, the best one can wish for an enemy is a sufficient change to make them a friend. I do not know if Trump is capable of such a change, nor does it seem likely, but it is something to pray for.

Pray For Him

By this I mean sincere prayers for wisdom in governing, decorum befitting a President, and all the other graces and competencies that would make him a better President and mitigate the ridicule to which he is subject. Of course, a certain amount of ridicule goes with being President. When Obama was President, he even made fun of himself. Trump, however, desperately needs a sense of humor, and that is surely something to pray for. I know it’s hard not to want him to fail, but failure is not bad just for him; it’s bad for the United States and even for the world. So pray for his success—not the success of bad policies, but for wise policies to succeed. Pray that he will take his duties seriously and consider the repercussions of his words and actions before tweeting.

Of course, there are other things you might do, but these should give you an idea of the direction love wants to go. Love your enemies.

 

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David’s Sin with Bathsheba

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Some evangelicals have compared Donald Trump to the Bible’s King David, pointing out that despite David’s several moral failings, God still referred to him as “a man after my own heart.” So let’s take a look at a scandal that rocked David’s administration and see how he handled it.

From his vantage point on the roof of his palace David saw a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing nearby. He desired her, and since he was king, he could get what he desired. He sent for her and slept with her. Not long after, she sent word that she was pregnant. Hoping to avoid discovery, David had her husband, Uriah, returned from war. He figured that the war-weary man would be only too glad to spend his leave in the arms of his wife. But Uriah was a man of principle. He vowed not enjoy the pleasures of his wife when his comrades in arms were still suffering on the battlefield. So David plotted to have Uriah killed by the enemy by ordering his general to put Uriah where the fighting was fiercest. Everything goes according to plan, and when David receives news of Uriah’s death, he takes Bathsheba as his own wife.

David appears to have gotten away with adultery and murder.

Nathan the prophet, a position not unlike the free press in our democracy, appears before David with an odd story.

There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him. (2 Samuel 12:1-4)

What is interesting about this story is that there is nothing in it about adultery or murder. Instead, it is a story about abuse of privilege and power. David is outraged. “The man who did this should die!” Nathan then confronts him with the truth of what he has done. In doing so, he continues to emphasize how David has abused his position to take what he should not have taken.

At this point David had options. He could give commands to silence Nathan and continue to deny and pretend that nothing happened. Just ravings from a fake news site. He could start his own misinformation campaign, smearing Uriah in the alternative press and using his own popularity to suppress dissent. But David does none of these things. Instead he admits everything and repents.

Just here, then, is where I see a difference between David and Donald Trump. David lost his sense of perspective and began to feel that his position as king, his wealth and power, entitled him to whatever he wanted. One could even make a case that his taking of Bathsheba was rape since to resist or even protest against the command of the king was to endanger one’s own life. David’s power was great enough that Bathsheba dare not refuse him. In any case, the narrative lays all the blame on David and none on her. Yet when confronted, he immediately confesses his sin and repents. Will Donald Trump repent? Will he acknowledge having done wrong by abusing his position as President to further enrich himself? Will he repent when proof comes to light of his campaign’s collusion with the Russians to fix the election? Only time will tell, but I do not see it in him. He is not like David after all.

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Why Gun Legislation Does Not Matter

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Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, plenty of Facebook friends have weighed in on the need for gun control or gun safety laws. Some have been well-reasoned. Most have been incendiary and polarizing. Against them and equally polarizing have been defenders of the second amendment, most adamantly refusing to admit a need for any kind of regulation beyond what we already have. Except for passing on a few moderate articles, I have stayed out of the fray. But now I feel I can contribute something in a small way.

Significant change in gun control is not going to happen. The Constitution does not allow it, and the Supreme Court has consistently held that the second amendment, whatever its authors may have intended, means that individual citizens have a right to own guns. Some changes are likely, but they will not be significant. Here are the changes I expect to see along with reasons why they are unimportant. The stated aim of most of these proposals is to decrease the likelihood of another Sandy Hook. None of these proposals can actually fulfill that aim.

  1. Ban on assault weapons. This is likely to happen simply because it happened before. It did not make a difference then, and it will not make a difference now. Any ban is likely to take the form of a ban on sales. It will have no effect on assault weapons already owned. Estimates put the number of assault weapons in the US between 3 and 4 million. The transfer of such weapons by sale would become illegal, but since there is no way to enforce a ban on private sales, they would likely continue anyway.
  2. Restrictions on magazine size. This may happen because it is reasonable. No one who owns a gun for sporting purposes or for self defense needs a 30-round clip. (Of course, it is possible to imagine scenarios where a large clip would come in handy, but lets stick to reality.) Limiting magazine size, however, would not be an effective deterrent to someone determined to quickly kill a lot of strangers. It takes only a couple of seconds to eject an empty clip and install a new one. Those couple of seconds might be a window of opportunity for a trained officer armed and able to respond, but for unarmed people cowering behind any available cover, they are meaningless. In addition, there would be sales of extra capacity clips—legal or not—to circumvent the law.
  3. Background checks. Background checks have a lot of popular support because we obviously don’t want to sell guns to known felons or folks with a history of violent mental illness. The problem here is the sheer number of guns already in existence. Access is not a problem either for criminals or for the mentally ill. Forty-seven percent of households reported owning a gun in 2011. Twenty-nine percent own more than one. With more than 300 million guns already in private hands, chances are good that the next Adam Lanza already lives in a household with multiple guns.
  4. Waiting periods. The idea behind a waiting period is to prevent heat-of-the-moment shootings. You learn that your girlfriend is having an affair with your best friend, so you run out to K-Mart and buy a pistol and shoot them. If you have to wait seven days before you can take possession of your new gun, chances are you might re-think your future and decide on a less final solution. The problem here is that mass shootings usually require careful planning and preparation. A short waiting period is no deterrent at all if what you aim to do is prevent mass shootings.
  5. Registration. This is perhaps the most contentious potential regulation. It is also the one most likely to make a difference. Gun rights advocates fear that this is first step toward confiscation. Require registration of firearms in order to build a federal database of gun owners. Then when the time is ripe, use the database to seize the vast majority of civilian-owned weapons. Gun control proponents scoff at this scenario, pointing to licensing and registration of vehicles as an analogy. If a registration law does go into effect, it will likely affect only new sales, not existing ownership, not only because of the power of the pro-gun lobby, but because enforcement costs for implementing a law requiring registration of existing firearms would be too high. Moreover, many people would no doubt refuse to comply. In any case, a national firearm registry would not act as a deterrent to someone planning a mass shooting.

Gun violence is an intractable problem in the US. On the one hand, we have a long tradition associated with the second amendment that guarantees citizens the right to gun ownership. On the other, we must acknowledge that easy access to guns has made America less safe rather than more safe. Gun rights proponents are fond of saying that the only effective deterrent to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun. That is wild west thinking, good guys and bad guys, bang-bang! you’re dead. But for many of us, and especially for those of us who do not own a gun, the good man with a gun is the police officer or soldier who is paid to protect us. In truth, the only effective deterrent to a bad person is a good person. The gun is peripheral.

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