Enemy-Loving Candidates

March 23rd, 2012

Presidential candidates often get asked questions checking whether they oppose the right people or ideas and if they oppose them enough. Socialism? Check. Illegal immigrants? Check. Iran? Check. The theme seems to be "if you hate the same things I hate, I'll vote for you."

I think candidates who claim to be Christian need to be asked how they intend to love their enemies. I have always wondered why they’ve never been pressed to answer up to that specific edict. How, for example, would they express their compassion in a tangible way? Candidates who consider themselves followers of Christ in present and past campaigns have evidently not volunteered to offer an explanation perhaps because they’ve never been asked to do so. They’ve had a free pass. We expect our leaders (especially if they claim the Christian label) to uphold certain standards of morality and religiosity, but are heads of state exempt from this particular command of Christ?

Here’s the good news. The Jesus seminar, those brilliant biblical scholars who have spent decades analyzing every verse in the scriptures contend Jesus never uttered “Love your neighbor.” It turns out the phrase comes right out of the Old Testament. But they’re pretty certain he did proclaim “Love your enemies.” So, candidates are not necessarily under the gun to have to love their next door neighbors but they’re not off the hook when it comes to loving their enemies.

Here’s the other good news, Jesus evidently didn’t specify how long we have to love our foes. What if it’s possible to plunge to unconditional enemy-loving once in the span of a couple of hours—just long enough to talk face-to-face and see political rivals and enemy nations as fellow human beings? What if state officials only had to give it a shot and be assured they could walk away forever from their adversaries after a brief, honest, vulnerable, deep-seated, unconditional bonding experience?

Presidents of any religion seem to put more energy into not revealing their deepest and most candid feelings while in office. Ralph Keyes, in his book, The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear, states, “As president, Ike (Eisenhower) made an art form of syntax. This was no accident. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said when press secretary James Haggerty expressed concern about a ticklish question that might be asked at a press conference. ‘If it comes up, I’ll confuse them.’”

Keyes goes on to suggest that “We’re all born with an ability to get our message across. The ability to baffle is acquired. . . . Saying exactly what we mean can be risky. That’s why we so seldom do” (p. 100).

When I came across that last quote, naturally I immediately thought of the single encounter theme with which I’ve been obsessed in my writings. What if national leaders were required to love their enemies one time in some concrete way? What if they had to unload their inner-most feelings with each other? How would they go about that?

Even presidents possess those tricky inner drives that can get them to love deeply and/or get them into deep trouble. What if gutsy heads of state—the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys—risked revealing within a two-hour condensed encounter their deepest feelings of compassion, anger, rage, fears and lust in their lives. What would it be like for presidents—whether they’re tyrants or dictators, democratically grounded or otherwise—to mutually open up with their enemies on what’s deep inside them? Vulnerability is an antidote to hostility. When we reveal who we truly are in moments of all-out truth-telling, we can hardly act tough and aren't likely to be in the mood to spit, scratch, cuss, or bear arms.

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