George Takei is a Japanese-American actor. He is most famous for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the television series Star Trek. He is also an activist member of the LGBTQ community. In the wake of statements made by President Elect Donald Trump and his supporters on the campaign trail, Takei launched a petition to rally support for Muslim immigrants. As a child, governing authorities placed Takei and his family in a World War II internment camp, which explains his eager advocacy. He writes, “I have spent my life trying to ensure something like this never happens again. But dark clouds once more are gathering. A Trump spokesperson recently stated the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II ‘sets a precedent’ for Trump to do the same today.”
A link to his petition appeared on a Facebook page created to catalyze conversation among aspiring Christian theologians and church leaders. One participant commented, “Hilarious that a gay man would support people who believe homosexuals should be put to death.” It is not surprising that as of January 17, 2017, his comment only gained a single ‘like.’ Not many followers of Jesus share His perspective. Still, it is a tragic irony when any self-identified follower of Jesus describes one man’s attempt to love his enemies as hilarious. After all, isn’t that the fundamental message of the Christian faith? Would that same person describe the gospel itself as hilarious?
In the gospel, Jesus died to turn God’s enemies into His friends: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). Jesus also commands us who benefit from His death and resurrection to go and love likewise. Many Christians settle for loving neighbors while withholding love for enemies. Yet, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). But, how do we do that?
Consider Takei’s example. He knows what it is like to be mistreated by governing authorities. His personal experience makes him empathetic towards those threatened with similar mistreatment. His personal experience also unveils a continuity of need shared between himself and Muslim immigrants. He and his family needed advocates while confined to an internment camp. He now believes Muslim immigrants in the United States of America need advocacy as well.
This dual dynamic of empathy and continuity of need is instructive for Jesus’s followers.
1. Empathy energizes love–even for one’s enemies.
Empathy is capable of energizing love for one’s enemies. To nurture empathy as a Christian, we must remember who we were prior to hearing and believing the gospel. At one time, we were enemies of God. The Apostle Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). We were in a situation like those who may now be hostile towards us—enemies of God and objects of wrath.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). When God reconciled us, He did so to His own detriment. On the cross, Jesus endured and satisfied God’s just wrath for us. This is how we’ve been loved. And, this is how we are to love those who may be hostile towards us.
Anytime we seek to love our enemies, we do so at the risk of our own detriment. We may suffer in the process. Such costly compassion is not humorous but holy—it reflects the very nature of God Himself. Apart from God’s self-detrimental love, we would still be under wrath rather than grace.
2. We share the same need with our enemies.
In addition to empathy, we must recognize the continuity of need we share with our enemies. Whether we were manipulators or murderers prior to salvation, we needed the grace of the gospel. The continuity of need we share with our enemies is not necessarily present in how we sin but in that we sin. What sets us apart from our enemies is not any hint of righteousness inherent within us, but the repentance that God’s kindness in Christ induced from us. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
Fear is an unjustifiable reason for Christians to withhold advocacy for the equal treatment of Muslim Immigrants under the United States Constitution. Such fear is what prohibits followers of Jesus from crossing cultures in obedience to the Great Commission. If many Christians and churches are unwilling to go to the nations—even the hard nations—then we should not be surprised that God would bring the nations to them. He loves the nations too much not to.
God intends to make many of His current enemies His friends. He intends to do so through the loving, hospitable witness of His people. So rather than mocking those seeking to love their enemies apart from the gospel, let’s believe the gospel and love our enemies— even to our own possible detriment—so that they may be delivered from theirs.