In my view, good multi-faith engagement is a multi-faceted process that should involve a number of different aspects and considerations. As a part of developing my own efforts in this regard, I am continuing to interact with a number of different sources and ideas. One of these is the book The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament (Westminster John Knox, 1992), edited by Willard M. Swartley. What follows below is not a book review, but rather some observations I came away with as a result of reading this book and incorporating it into my work.
As the title indicates, it addresses one of the distinctive teachings of Jesus, the love of enemy. In my view this is crucial for incorporation into evangelical perceptions of and encounters with adherents of other religions. Many evangelicals are doing good things with other religions that draws upon love of neighbor, and that’s important, but this must also incorporate love of enemy at times. The reason is simple: according to survey data from places like LifeWay and Pew, many evangelicals have a dim view of other religious adherents, and even think of some as the enemy, particularly in regards to Muslims. It seems strange to me that if some evangelicals view Muslims as the enemy vis-à-vis the lens of terrorism and ISIL, rather than keeping them at arm's length out of fear and disgust, we should tap into the practice and teaching of love of enemy. This book provides good food for thought that we can apply in this regard.
For me, several chapters in this volume stood out. First, William Klassen summarizes much of the discussion of the topic in “’Love Your Enemies’: Some Reflections on the Current Status of Research” that is helpful as a background and foundation for the rest of the volume.
Walter Wink presents a good socio-historical analysis of Jesus’ teachings on “active nonviolent resistance” in a chapter titled “Neither Passivity nor Violence: Jesus’ Third Way (Matt. 5:38-42 par.).” Wink understands “Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence” as a facet of ”his proclamation of the dawning of the reign of God.” In his discussion of Jesus’ teachings on this in the Sermon on the Mount, Wink believes that, “These sayings are, in fact, so radical, so unprecedented, and so threatening, that it has taken all these centuries just to begin to grasp their implications.” But rather than advocating pacifism, Wink makes that case that Jesus was advocating active nonviolent resistance, “a third way, a way that is neither submission nor assault…” Richard Horsley provides some pushback in a responsive chapter to Wink, but in a counterresponse Wink buttresses his initial case.
John Donahue, a Jesuit, discusses “Who Is My Enemy? The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Love of Enemies.” This chapter includes challenging discussion of the Samaritans and the familiar parable related to them as they are found in the Lucan context of discipleship. Donahue reminds the reader that in the first-century Jewish context, Samaritans were “both foreigner and enemy.” It was thus scandalous to Jesus’ original hearers of this parable to find a Samaritan as the central character and “hero” of the story. According to Donahue, “Luke forcefully says that those who are called enemy and scorned as outsiders are fulfilling fundamental religious attitudes expected of Jews and of followers of Jesus.” Near the end of his discussion Donahue also includes material that dovetails with some of my current research on the science of dehumanization. He says that Luke 17:18 uses a term to refer to Samaritans that means “’of another kind,’ that is, not fundamentally sharing the same humanity.” A little later he connects this concept of dehumanization to repeated instances of this in human history. He says that, “One lasting value, then, of the Samaritan stories of the New Testament is that they challenge continually the tendency to dehumanize people by classifying them as enemies.” Donahue concludes his chapter with an application to us today that presents both a challenge and self-critique, particularly for American evangelicals:
“The question that faces the Christian churches today is whether they can plant the alternate vision offered by the New Testament into the minds and imaginations of people today.” … “Sadly, however, Christianity has often thrived more on the polarization between insiders and outsiders, and on crusades against enemies, than on an inclusive and reconciling vision.”
The editor of this volume, Willard Swartley, contributes his own chapter, “Luke’s Transforming of Tradition: Eirḗnē and Love of Enemy.” This is a helpful analysis of Jesus’ proclamation as seen through the lens of Luke’s gospel with its emphasis on peace and justice. Swartley’s argument is that “Luke wants his readers to see that Jesus entire mission was one of bringing peace.” Swartley makes an interesting connection of this to Luke’s discussion of the Samaritans and the land associated with the Canaanites and the Conquest narratives of the Old Testament:
“…Samaria matches geographically the place where Joshua’s or Yahweh’s first battles against the Canaanites occurred. Thus another powerful link to and transformation of Israel’s ‘conquest’ tradition comes into focus. But now, rather than eradicating the enemy, the new strategy eradicates the enmity.”
Later in his conclusion Swartley picks up on this again in light of Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as journeying prophet:
“…the journey motif functions primarily, we propose, to signal the reader to hear Luke’s story of Jesus in the central section against the memory of the older story – and, among other things, see what happens to the enemy (Canaanites and Samaritans) in the center of the land story. … “Luke ‘converts’ stock strands of enmity, from Jewish perspectives, and thus shows concretely what love for the enemy entails in socioethnic terms.”
In light of this, Luke’s gospel presents a challenge to evangelicals, not only in terms of how we should perceive and engage others who might parallel Jewish stances toward Samaritans, and here Muslims immediately come to mind, but also in reference to our often easy acceptance of literal interpretations of divine genocide in the Conquest narratives. Jesus’ message and journey of peace upends our assumptions on many levels, from perceptions of the other to hermeneutics to the politics of Israel and the land of Palestine.
The love of enemy and nonretaliation as found in the example and teachings of Jesus, as well as other places in the New Testament, are essential for Christian discipleship in relation to our engagement with other religious traditions. This book is very helpful for Christians who want to think through the issues in self-critical fashion and incorporate its insights into their daily lives.