Published by Herald Press on July 20, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Does Jesus’ call to love our enemies mean that we should remain silent in the face of injustice?
Jesus called us to love our enemies. But to befriend an enemy, we first have to acknowledge their existence, understand who they are, and recognize the ways they are acting in opposition to God’s good news. In How to Have an Enemy: Righteous Anger and the Work of Peace, Melissa Florer-Bixler looks closely at what the Bible says about enemies—who they are, what they do, and how Jesus and his followers responded to them. The result is a theology that allows us to name our enemies as a form of truth-telling about ourselves, our communities, and the histories in which our lives are embedded. Only then can we grapple with the power of the acts of destruction carried out by our enemies, and invite them to lay down their enmity, opening a path for healing, reconciliation, and unity. Jesus named and confronted his enemies as an essential part to loving them. In this provocative book, Florer-Bixler calls us to do the same.
There is a misconception that practicing non-violence means being a doormat and letting people walk all over you. Along with that is the misconception that pacifists preach a utopist Gospel that sees everyone as a friend. Neither of these are true and Melissa Florer-Bixler makes that point well in How to Have an Enemy: Righteous Anger and the Work of Peace. The question isn’t whether or no we have enemies, but who our enemies are and how they should be treated.
Florer-Bixler begins by recounting the story of the Christmas Truce in WWI. For the uninitiated, the Christmas Truce is a real event where opposing forces in WWI laid down their weapons to play football (soccer) and sing Christmas carols. Look at how these enemies became friends! But, as Florer-Bixler notes, they picked up arms the next day and returned to war. She then compares this to a church that participated in a communion service on Election Day in America. No matter political leanings or preferred candidates, Christians then came together to be united in Christ. Which sounds good, and it all well-intended. But, she writes, “It turns out this kind of unity—the kind that was achieved in ritual but not replicated in life—was a myth.” Unity is more complicated than that. Indeed, superficial unity usually only serves those in power.
It’s a bold and paradigm-shifting introduction to readers hoping for easy answers or hoping for vindication in righteous anger. She holds the values in tension, rightly noting that a superficial unity is no unity while calling believers to do the hard work of righteous opposition. Love your enemy, after all. As How to Have an Enemy unfolds, Florer-Bixler combines historical anecdotes with contemporary stories. She brings her theories into practicality, writing about division in the evangelical church over issues of healthcare, government, and social justice. She writes from a Mennonite perspective, commonly called the left wing of the Reformation, a group that’s theologically evangelical but not the kind that you see dominating Republican politics. As such, her words about how to handle division and dissention within your own “tribe” are quite important.
Her chapter on “undoing family” is probably the most powerful and contentious that follows that theme of opposing those like you. It’s so important because I’m seeing so many young people be divided from their families and their evangelical upbringings because of their desire to advocate for equality. And yet, “family values” and “the nuclear family” have long been a foundational part of a lot of Christianity. How to Have an Enemy reminds us that following Jesus can undo our closest relationships as we rearrange our priorities to put him first. Jesus is calling people to a new family: “He calls us out of systems of primary loyalty to our kin and binds us to those to whom we have no natural relation and from whom we can extract no economic benefit.” Being a part of God’s kingdom not only challenges ideas about who our enemies are, but who our friends are as well.
How to Have an Enemy is a powerful, convicting book tackling important issues ranging from LGBTQ+ rights to racial reconciliation to economic justice. She moves our idea of “enemy” away from individuals to systems. She calls for us to love those who are our enemies and uphold unjust systems. She asks us to have enemies as Christ would have them: to call them out with prophetic boldness but also pray fervently for their inclusion in the Kingdom. This is a needed message in a world that is weary of fight. Whether it’s COVID, racial justice, or political leanings, the conversation from both sides has become hateful and vitriolic. Florer-Bixler calls us to do better, to be angry in Christlike fashion, and do the hard work to bring peace.