Posted by: rogermitchell | August 14, 2014

enemy-love still the only lasting hope

Despite the disproportionate brutality of the state of Israel’s response to Hamas rockets and the inhuman behaviour of the advancing IS militants in Northern Iraq, the politics of enemy-love are still the only lasting hope for peace.

Here are two reasons why:
1. The first is very unpalatable, but, in my view undeniable. Hamas, IS, and the Western representative democracies have the same foundational base.

IS is simply more extreme and manifesting its foundational violence in the now. But both IS and the West are the result of accepting the principle that says the only way to peace is by the exercise of the instruments of sovereign power in the interests of the culture and desire of me and my group over the other, the different and the alien. These instruments consist in taking territory by violence, maintaining it by our own particular version of law, and sustaining it through economics of one kind or another. In the days of Roman empire and the Christendom partnership that followed it in the formation of the West, this was the way to the current democratic ‘peace,’ such as it is, and it is superior fire power, nuclear capability and unequal advantage in the global economy that maintains it. Western representative democracies are simply overlaid on this deep structural system, and will last only as long as our military, legal and economic advantage does. Unless the deep structures of violence, law and money are replaced by enemy-love, restorative justice and hospitality then the west will be constantly challenged by extreme forms of its own image, whether the Third Reich, the Soviet Union or the IS Caliphate and however we vote, the poorest and most vulnerable of the human multitude will continue to pay the price.

2. The second may be easier to see, but is hugely challenging to live out. The poor and the vulnerable at the violent edge of sovereign power are the real leaders of the future.

This was true of the most famous examples such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela but it is true of all who non-violently resist including the tortured, raped, martyred, beheaded and crucified who refuse hatred, vengeance and violent response on the front lines of the clash of empires. When Jesus said “they will put some of you to death … but not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-18) he set the hope for the future that his own life, death and resurrection opened the way for. Those who needs must die daily are the ones with the most glaring public opportunity to overcome by love and prove whether the resurrection really can be the first fruits of a new humanity. We need their stories, and in the days and years to come they will become the foundations of a new culture of peace. This is why those who take their lead from Jesus must do all we can in prayer, giving, going to stand in the gap and non-violently resisting with and on behalf of the innocent. It is also why we must resist the status quo of violence, vengeance and affluence at the foundations of the Western system. It is why our lives wherever they are positioned have to become channels of mindset change, behaviour change and a new politics of enemy-love that can yet carry the day. This is the call of our time.

Sojourners have an excellent blog post on this (scroll down)




  1. Thank you Roger. Good and challenging. As I mentioned over in Martin Scott’s blog, no longer a need to return to historical/hypothetical situations to provide the radical context for radical love…the radical context appears to be on our doorstep right now – now the radical love part – and I admit I have no idea how to proceed!

    • I think the way to proceed is to recognize the crucial connection between the historical situations and the radical context that is on our doorstep right now. If we don’t see where the past has taken us, we won’t make the radical changes in the present that are necessary if history isn’t going to go on repeating itself.

  2. That Sojourners article is very helpful!

  3. Wow! This is so so pertinent for the moment! It’s been interesting to see the groundswell of mainstream Christian concern rising, first in what often seems perversely blind support for Israel from some quarters, then more recently in indignation for the barbaric treatment of Christian communities in Iraq. The Church’s responsibility to the ‘family of believers’ is often cited as an overriding obligation towards the latter group. But the relative silence of Christian voices – with many significant exceptions, of course – with respect to the plight of the Palestinians and Syrians and other continually abused Middle Eastern people groups is often deafening! If Western Christian concern focuses on its own (the Church, Israel and the West), where is the love of the ‘other’ – including what you’ve called enemy-love? Surely if there were to be any bias from the Church it should be towards the alien, the outcast, the oppressed, the ignored (by everyone else) the exploited and the marginalised?

  4. I often think about the apostle Paul’s statement “love … does not seek its own” (1 Cor 13:5). So much ‘Christian’ sentiment is all about our own.

  5. There are almost 50 active armed conflicts in motion in the world right now, a difinitive stream of violence and often we suppose just a few barrells is all we will need to stop murderous groups (saving those most like us) and things can get back to normal, but the failure to see that “normal” is indeed the problem and not the solution will gaurentee “peace at any price” is far more expensive than we imagine.

  6. Helping one another to see our normal through the eyes of the Other is a vital task for all of us I reckon.

  7. I’m late to the party here but have been percolating on this issue for some time so that is probably a good thing.

    While the concept of enemy love is clearly the highest and best way which is definitely Jesus example, what is the practical working out of this in organization of society? Roger, I would agree with your premise that “western democracy” is just another form of empire and ruling by force (economic or military) with all of the inherent evils of hierarchy and institution. However, do we not have to organize ourselves in some way to function in large groups? What of the management of common infrastructure such as roads, highways, hospitals, schools, etc.?

    Regarding Israel, while I am not one who blindly supports Israel in everything they do, I have been there. While far from perfect, in the Middle East they are the best example of a society that supports the alien (multi-cultural), other faiths, women and alternate sexual expressions. While the recent Gaza war was horrific, the extreme imbalance of attention this received versus other conflicts around the world would suggest something much deeper was going on beyond simple concern of violence.

    Lots of big issues here. Thanks for your ongoing provocation.

  8. Roger, I really appreciate your relentless exposure of the flawed ‘deep structural system’ of sovereign power and offering up the alternative ‘enemy love’ way. I think Matthew 5:43-48 is where Jesus most clearly articulates this, and then of course He demonstrates it in person. Now there’s a preacher/teacher – one who actually does what He asks others to do!

  9. Late to the table on this thread..but joining in anyway,

    May 2019 will be my 3rd visit to Israel and Palestine since Feb 2018 when I began to follow a thread in my own life about Palestine, following a talk at Greenbelt Aug 2017 by the charity Embrace Middle East.

    What I heard compelled me to sponsor some Olive Trees starting with 1 I then a further 58 more as celebration of my 59th Birthday in March 2018. In Feb 2018 I flew to Israel, explored the Old City and took a bus to Checkpoint 300, walked through the concrete kettling structure, and taxied to Beit Sahour Bethlehem. Here I joined an International partnership delegation for Keep Hope Alive Project and Embrace Middle East to plant my 59 Olive Trees and several hundred more. The Palestinian farmers with whom we worked, legally owned their land but were at risk of having it taken by the Israeli government if they were unable to plant it, so that the internationally condemmed settlements in the West Bank could be extended. Our work was to provide presence, labour and the means (funded trees) to peacefully resist and to remain in their land.

    Over the last year I have learnt a great deal and understood a 2 state solution may be now impossible, since the there is so little Palestinian land remaining.

    What has struck me is the creative, forgiving, peaceful resistance that I have witnessed from Palestinians, of Islamic, Christian and no faith. I have made friends, walked the land, witnessed occupation and seen the fear and hate driving decision making. The capacity to stand is remarkable and according to one friend it is the bond of loving friendship at home and abroad that makes this possible, while they wait for something to change on the international stage.

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