“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
It may be just one of those calendar coincidences that today’s Gospel selection falls on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in 2001, but it certainly shows the sharp contrast between Jesus’ approach to hostility and the ordinary political and military response to hit back and hit back hard when attacked. It raises painful questions not just about Christian pacifism, often caricatured as helpless passivity in the face of violent threat, but also about what is an effective strategy against such threats. Has the U.S. response to mount a global “war on terror,” costing hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, been an effective response? Has a decade of xenophobic politics and the militarization of every aspect of our domestic lives made us safer?
An argument can be made that what Jesus proposed by telling his disciples to love their enemies was a more effective way to defuse conflict and disarm violent aggression. He called for the restoration of right relationship, the just resolution of underlying causes for conflict and reconciliation between adversaries based on truth and restitution. These are all recognized as the means to ending conflicts before they become violent, the essence of diplomacy. The blunt and irretrievable impact of war as a first resort or preemptive strike has seldom solved anything, creating instead cycles of hurt and revenge that fuel future wars and spawn whole generations defined by hatred and distrust.
The paradoxical nature of Jesus’ teaching is easily lost in the heat of the moment, once the drums of war appeal to national pride and the desire for vindication. Another cycle of violence begins. Ten years from now what conclusions will we draw from today’s decisions to again go to war with our enemies? "Christianity," G.K. Chesterton once lamented, "has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."