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On Loving Our Enemies, Part 3: What of the Vulnerable? What of our Loved Ones?

So when you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you multiply prayers,
I will not listen
Your hands are covered with blood.
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow.

~ Is 1.15-17
Do you really think the only way
to bring about the peace,
is to sacrifice your children
and kill all your enemies?

~ Larry Norman, The Great American Novel.
And [Jesus] went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
~ Mt 26.39.
I come, then, to the conclusion of my small series on loving our enemies. In my first post, I sought to counter the mythic discourse of 'protective violence' by removing that artificial distinction that this discourse creates between my enemy, the enemy of my loved ones and then enemy those who are vulnerable. Thus, I argued that those who are enemies of my loved ones, and of the vulnerable, are also my enemies. Consequently, given that this is the enemy whom we are called to love, I argued that the language of love prohibits us from engaging in any violence.
Then, in my second post, I continued to explore our understanding of the enemy, and argued that we are called to know our enemies as friends. Thus, the language of 'enemies' does not reflect our antagonism to these people; rather, that language signifies that, by treating us violently, by abusing us, by exploiting us, etc., these people view themselves as our enemies. Hence, I argued that we come to know our enemies as friends by praying for them, by actively loving them, and by expressing interest in their lives.
In this post, I intend to respond to a few questions that hang over this discussion. That is to say, in light of these things, how do we care for our loved ones, and for those who are vulnerable? Specifically, if loving our enemies as friends requires us to abandon the use of violence are we simply resigning ourselves to passively accepting whatever violence might be inflicted upon ourselves, our loved ones, and the vulnerable?
To be clear from the outset, I believe that Christians are called to seek out the vulnerable, to come alongside the marginalized, and to pursue the liberation of all those who are being put to death by the sociopolitical, economic, and other Powers who act in the service of Sin and Death. This I think is cleary stated throughout Scripture — it is found in the Deuteronomic Law, in the Prophets, in the Gospels, in the Epistles, and in the other OT and NT narratives. Thus, by eschewing the use of violence I am certainly not counselling any sort of passivity (indeed, I trust that those who know me will be able to testify that my life, and the trajectory which I am personally pursuing, is anything but passive when it comes to these things).
Consequently, I have four points I wish to make on how we go about pursuing the liberation, and well-being, of our loved ones, and of the vulnerable.
First, we seek the liberation and well-being of these people, by confronting the Powers and the systems that undergird, and justify, the actions of those who wish to harm or enslave our loved ones, and the vulnerable. In is not enough to assert that we would seek to defend our wives if a violent person broke into our home by doing x, y, and z; rather we must ask why we live in a society that sexualizes violence, and we must explore the systemic structures that produce statistics like these: 1 in 3 women in North America have been sexually assaulted; in North America a woman is raped every six minutes, and so on and so forth. To assert that one is dedicated to the defense of one's wife, while blindly ignoring the systemic sources and problems, is misguided at best (for it confuses symptoms with causes) and contradictory and irresponsible at worst. If we are genuinely commited to the liberation and well-being of our loved ones, and of the vulnerable, we must confront the Powers who ensure that more loved ones, and more vulnerable people, will be exploited, abused, and handed over to death, with each passing generation.
Second, when confronted with crisis situations — discovering an armed intruder in our home, witnessing a robbery on the street, or whatever — we must learn to act with a little more courage, and a little more creativity. Eschewing violence does not mean that we refuse to engage with these situations. Rather, we learn non-violent ways of de-escalating, delaying,and preventing, any violence that the other parties might intend. For example, the easiest way to prevent another person from being hurt in a fight, is to place yourself between the attacker, and the one being attacked. This is a physical action — you physically intervene and use your own body as a barrier — but it is not a violent action. Time after time, I have seen this method used effectively and I myself have used this method in many situations — from bare knuckle fights between drunks, to fights involving box cutters, knives, and brass knuckles, to one situation wherein I ended up standing between a gunman and the young man he had been hired to shoot. Granted, I have had my eyes blackened a few times (mostly from wild swings — it happens when you jump between two fellas who are intent on beating the shit out of each other), but I have consistently seen nonviolent means triumph in violent situations — and, dare I say, even in situations that appeared to be hopelessly violent. Consequently, I am consistently puzzled by those who automatically wish to appeal to force, to guns, or to other violent means, in order to intervene in these crisis situations. People, let's use a little imagination, have a little faith (i.e. don't be so afraid — whichy, by the way, is the most repeated command in the bible) and see what can be accomplished when we act peaceably.
This, then, leads to my third point. Acting peaceably means taking risks, and I am under no illusion that risk-taking can end rather poorly (although not as poorly as we might first imagine — cf. the story of Twinkle Rudberg, who founded Leave Out ViolencE [LOVE], after her husband was killed when he tried to prevent a young man from robbing an old woman []; perhaps Paul is correct when, in Ro 8, he suggests that we are victorious in both our living and our dying!). Furthermore, this risk-taking can end poorly both for ourselves, and for our loved ones, and the vulnerable person whom we are trying to assist. So be it; this should come as no surprise to those who are called to shoulder crosses as they follow their crucified Lord, who is, himself, the fullest revelation of God. Thus, just as the Father eschewed violence, and suffered the loss of his Beloved Son — who, in turn, drank the bitter cup, rather than calling the angels to his own defence — we, too, must sometimes drink that cup and, other times, suffer the loss of our loved ones, because we, too, must eschew violence.
The fourth point, is that our enemy, and the enemy of our loved ones and of the vulnerable, whom we have now come to know as our friend, is sometimes the vulnerable person we are called to protect. Let me return, for one last time, to the example that has run through this series — that of pedophiles. Members of all levels of society feel justified in inflicting violence and death upon those who sexually abuse children. However, because we, as Christians, have come to know such people as friends, we realise that these people are also those whom we must seek to liberate from violence. Indeed, in street-culture, it is a common observation that many of those who are street-involved are simultaneously 'victims' and 'offenders' — at one moment they are being exploited, at another moment they are exploiting others (such is life when one's very survival is at stake). Consequently, we must resist anybody when they attack others, but we must also defend anybody when they are being attacked.
I could, or perhaps should, add a fifth point — that of the systemic and ubiquituous corruption that exists within the institutions that are responsbile for exercising violence in or society (the police force, the penal system, international peacekeeping forces, armies, and so on) but these things have been so well documented elsewhere that I trust that this observation can function as a given in this discussion. Indeed, this point alone should be reason for us to distrust, and abandon, violence in all its forms.
So, I come to the end of my of my series. As a final point, I will say this. In crisis situations — seeing a woman being robbed, encountering an intruder in my home — none of his can be certain of how we will act. Many who say they would violently defend others would, in actuality, freeze or turn away. Many others, who say they would eschew voilence, would strike out before they had a chance to think. Let us hope, then, that we are practicing the disciplines that are necessary to build a foundation that will stand firm when the flood comes — disciplines like praying for our enemies, exploring creative ways of living peaceably, and learning to exhibit faith by genuinely taking risks. After all, until the rubber meets the road, how can we truly know that we have any sort of faith in God?

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  1. I was expecting a lot from this post; thanks for not disappointing! In relation especially to the third point, it’s amazing to me how many Christians think our lives should make sense apart from the resurrection (and hope therein). Two questions:
    1. Have you posted in more detail the stories of instances where you’ve ‘stepped in’ and mitigated violence nonviolently? I find that I can never have enough of these real stories to stretch people’s imaginations with what is possible.
    2. What are your ‘favorite’ resources on what you’ve elsewhere said is one of your favorite portions of Scripture, Romans 5-8? Basically, who have you read that has deeply informed how you read this text?
    Nice pic, by the way. Love her well!

  2. Michael:
    Regarding question (1), no, I haven’t posted many of those stories in detail. For the most part I try to avoid telling those stories on my blog, because I fear referencing them may be more about boosting my own ego, rather than being about the edification of my neighbour (or reader).
    On (2), I would highly recommend N. T. Wright’s reading of Romans 8 in his commentary in the New Interpreters’ Bible series.

  3. Thanks. I understand and respect your reticence to “show off” in that regard. If you wouldn’t mind me telling them to edify others and if you have time, feel free to send any such stories to michael at reallifechurch dot org. If not no worries.