What if Americans decided to love their political enemies?

·4 min read

As the calendar turned its last chapter, many of us evaluated the year that was and anticipated the year to come. Let me suggest one goal for 2022 that seems counterintuitive in a culture that rewards the opposite: loving your political enemies.

Now, before you stop me and tell me how bad and extreme the other side is, you must know that I know. I’ve seen the worst kind of vitriol, division and anger from both the right and the left. It’s bad.

Yet, it is liberating to hold your convictions without compromise while also looking across the divide to see the humanity of the other. Even if, and perhaps especially if, this respect is not returned.

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For Christians such as myself, the basis of this ability to love those who disagree with us is rooted in two unique ideas. First, we believe that every human being is created in the image of God and possesses dignity and worth. Second, we have as our example Jesus, who while being unjustly crucified, urged forgiveness for his captors.

Kindness, then, is not a tactic to be tried and dismissed on a whim, but a way of life.

Of course, loving our political enemies shouldn’t be confused with approving ideas we abhor or passive acquiescence to injustice. In a democracy like ours, Christians have a duty to bring their faith to bear on our public life. Jesus’ command to love our neighbor is expansive. It doesn’t permit us to retreat from the important debates about the flourishing of our communities.

Confidence can breed civility

And yet, even as we fight for what we believe, as we oppose those who hold views with which we disagree, we can act with a quiet confidence that refuses to accept the lie that vitriol leads to victory and that courage cannot coexist with civility. The loudest person in the room or online is often not the most brave.

So what does it look like to love your political enemies?

First, it means interacting with the substance of their arguments instead of caricatures. If we have full confidence in our positions on important issues – and as a conservative, I believe our vision for human flourishing is best – then we should be unafraid to interact with the best of other worldviews.

Second, we should hold our core ideas firmly but be willing to see and acknowledge good arguments made by those who disagree. Often, people agree on a problem but arrive at different solutions. We might be open-handed when it comes to various approaches, if we genuinely desire to come to the best possible solutions.

Third, love means refusing to allow political differences to sever friendships, to let important cultural fights so dominate every area of life that we no longer know how to live among and alongside people with deep differences.

People are more than their opinions

Love means refusing to reduce people to their one bad opinion. Love means being friends with people who deeply disagree with you. Love means respecting a person without affirming their beliefs.

To obey Jesus’ command to “love our enemies,” political and otherwise, seems like a cop-out. To practice this kind of otherworldly love will invite scorn from those invested in partisanship and purity tests. You’ll often get labeled a sellout or a squish by whatever tribe is trying to claim you at the moment.

Yet there is a real courage in the ability to resist the tribalism of the age and love those with whom you find little in common.

This is what the Apostle Peter is getting at with his seemingly contradictory command to the first group of Christians, increasingly marginalized in the Roman empire. Peter, who tradition says was martyred for his faith, urged Christians to both "be ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you," while also proceeding with “gentleness and kindness.”

In other words, love – Jesus’ love – allows us to speak to the absurdities, injustices and lies of the age with a distinctly Christian accent. According to Scripture, then, cruelty, disrespect, boorishness is not a sign of strength but a mask for weakness. Toughness is measured not by the size of your epithet but by the size of your heart.

As we look ahead to the wide-open expanse of another new year, we should consider developing new habits, taking on new challenges, mending some broken relationships.

We might not accomplish all the goals we set for ourselves, but one thing we can do, with God’s help, is practice love toward those whose ideas we find most frustrating.

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He's the author of several books, including, "A Way With Words," and is a regular contributor to USA TODAY.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2022 goals must include love of those from different political parties

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