As someone who has always had strong opinions, the command to love my enemies—namely those who hold different opinions or beliefs—has always been a challenge. I certainly know I am not alone! My parish recently invited James Martin, SJ to speak on his book Building A Bridge, which seeks a path for greater compassion, respect, and sensitivity between LGBT people and the institutional church. Martin’s message is first and foremost about extending love and worth, on both sides. But his visit has fuelled a backlash from some in the church with hateful, homophobic, and vile messages on social media. There is a great deal of unhealthy anger abounding. There is fear among these people that the Church is going to hell, that Martin, in speaking lovingly about LGBT people, is sending souls to hell. Without listening first to his message or engaging in dialogue, they expend enormous amounts of energy throwing stones and feeding their pain. And in seeing all this anger, I find myself beginning to feed on that and notice my own unhealthy anger.
All of this conveys to me a certain lack of freedom. Freedom, in Ignatian terms, means a healthy detachment, a being “at a balance”. It doesn’t mean a lack of caring, but it denotes an implicit trust in God. With a nod to Julian of Norwich, freedom is thus a trusting in God that all will be well. An obsessive concern about the salvation of others or living in the fear that the world is going to shambles, indicates a lack of trust in God’s work, a God who abounds in mercy and love, who says not to be afraid. Richard Rohr says, “The Christian image of a torturous hell and God as a petty tyrant has not helped us to know, trust, or love God. God ends up being less loving than most people we know.”
The Law and Order God
Studies have shown that religions do well (i.e survive) historically when they have a punitive and punishing God. In other words, when religions stoke fear and God’s love is conditional, people are controlled and kept in line. This is the “law and order” God. It’s a hard image to change. It’s an image that creates a dualistic theology of us versus them. It’s about protesters and counter-protesters. It’s black and white. It’s heaven or hell. The people who throw theological and ideological stones often claim orthodoxy and Truth. But they fail to understand Truth as a mystery, instead seeing it as a list of divinely-ordained answers to our faithless questions. Pope Francis says, “When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road” (Gaudete et Exsultate).
True love of others, whether it’s a friend or an enemy, means allowing God to do the work and being free enough to let that person take their own path. Can we lovingly surrender others into God’s hands? This does not mean we have no role in God’s work. We are, after all, Christ’s hands and feet. But we are just one part of the body, not the whole body. We must ultimately surrender to the One fully in control. “Love trusts, it sets free,” says Francis. “It does not try to control, possess and dominate everything” (Amoris Laetitia). Those who utter vitriol around issues like homosexuality often claim that their motivation is out of love. “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” they say. Notice how “hate” is first? The underlying goal is convincing—forcing or controlling—the “sinner”, often by fear, into a “converted life”. This is not how love works. There is no freedom here. Anthony de Mello says, “The moment coercion or control or conflict enters, love dies.”
Even the people who speak hate I must love. And if I don’t, if I try to force them into my way of thinking, I fail at loving my enemies, I fail at truly trusting in God that all will be well.
“Salvation is not about what happens after we die, but what begins when we realize God loves us.”
– James Mulholland and Philip Gulley
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