On this election eve of 2016 when our national psyche has apparently gone into a Level Four hurricane of emotions, some folks anticipating a Level Five upon Wednesday morning’s landfall after the electoral results are official registered, I can recall a song from my youth. It was written in mid-1964 by P.F. Sloan, who was personally bothered by the idea of the Republican Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, coming into possession of the U.S. nuclear codes. Sloan named his song, “The Eve of Destruction.” See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntLsElbW9Xo to find the original recording by Barry McGuire’s set to a 2008 YouTube.
Having just graduated from High School that May of 1964, I really couldn’t get into the whole point of being afraid like P.F. Sloan obviously was. Truth be told, I campaigned for Goldwater that year. So did Hillary Rodham (Clinton), for that matter. Now I look back on this recording at the age of 70 and realize, wow, we were not destroyed after all! Instead, the 1960’s proved very instructive to all who were paying attention. We were given opportunities to learn during that period of our history in a way we might not otherwise have been able to. Crises have a way of doing that. They provide us with dangerous opportunities. And we get to choose whether to see these as dangerous eves of destruction or as opportune eves of instruction.
My choice today is to focus on tomorrow’s critical USA election as a teachable moment in history, much like those many of us have used to survive if not thrive in the past. I tell you, friends, we’re on the eve of instruction.
Perhaps the top item on today’s instructional list may be the task of loving our enemies after the election is over. There is every likelihood this election will result in something close to half our nation’s electorate being viewed as “enemies” after all results are in. That’s a lot of enemies to have to love, no matter which side of the political or social spectrum one falls on. Very roughly speaking, half of America’s citizens will be afraid to trust the other half starting tomorrow. That goes for Christians, or at least those who call ourselves Christians despite our reluctance to follow Christ’s teaching to love our enemies. We will have as hard of time loving each other tomorrow as we will any other enemy on earth.
So here’s the challenge on this eve of instruction. It begins with Christians learning to love each other across the spectrum. Means progressives loving conservatives and the like. Christian Democrats loving Christian Republicans. Clinton voters loving Trump voters, and vice versa. If we can do that as Christian enemies after this election, if we can symbolically teach the world to sing in three part harmony as conservatives – moderates – liberals, then this truly will be the eve of instruction for our entire nation and possible world.
The one who can teach us in these teachable moments of 2016 amidst our electoral crisis is, of course, Jesus himself. Jesus not only preached enemy love, but he practiced it. We can learn by watching and then doing what he did in three very basic steps.
1. Leave what we are doing and go. That’s what Jesus both preached and practiced. Remember his Sermon on the Mount? It contained these words: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Jesus, before offering his own sacrifice on the cross, practiced going among his own enemies and engaging them in conversation. These included the social outliers of his day such as prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, and more. And they included those within his own Jewish faith such as the Pharisees who thought him too liberal and the Sadducees who thought him too conservative. In fact, by some reports Jesus headed for his fellow religionists first, even instructing his disciples to do the same. Basically, anyone who had something against him received a visit from Jesus as a way of at least offering reconciliation.
2. Listen and ask a lot of questions. Then listen some more. This is how Jesus loved his own enemies. He didn’t make a whole lot of assumptions and he made even fewer accusations about people. A typical example of Jesus loving his enemies by asking questions comes from Matthew 22. Keep in mind that his worst enemies were often the religious leaders of his time. For example, there is that time when the conservative Pharisees who opposed paying taxes to the government showed him an official Roman coin called the denarius. First thing out of Jesus’s mouth was a question, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” (Matthew 22:20). If you don’t recall the rest of that story, you may feel free to look it up at your own convenience.
Jesus was then confronted by his liberal enemies, the Sadducees, who were opposed to any belief in life after death. They concocted their own little parable of the wife who died after having married seven infertile brothers in obedience to the laws of Moses. Now in heaven, these skeptics wondered, whose wife will she be? To which Jesus replied with his own question, “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you?” (Matthew 22:31). Only then did Jesus offer up what amounted to a very different interpretation of Jewish scriptures.
3. Try helping instead of pleasing people. Jesus loved his enemies by trying to help them, not please them. If you have experience loving your own children, you will know what I mean here. Sometimes the very things we do trying to help others will displease them most. Yet, we do so anyhow out of love. Again using Matthew’s Gospel as an example, in chapter 21 we read the familiar story of Jesus turning over the money-changers’ tables in the Temple courtyard. “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:12-13). Doubtless, this did not please his enemies. However, what Jesus was urgently trying to do was help them learn the lesson of Jeremiah 7, where God declared through the prophet that the religious leaders of Judah, prior to the destruction of their (first) Temple, had turned it into a “den of robbers” (Jeremiah 7:11). Jesus was trying to help his enemies avoid the destruction of their (second) Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D.
From these three steps as taught by Jesus through various biblical examples involving his own enemies, we find out this truth even on the very eve of this year’s critical election. The real enemy that love always overcomes is not flesh and blood people, but rather the spiritual powers and principalities we call fear and the very evil that fear spawns. The real enemy love overcomes is not other people voting for Clinton or Trump or anyone else. The real enemy is our fear of those other people. That is what is overcome when we, like Jesus, practice these three essential steps.
We are living in interesting times of crisis. We have dangerous opportunities ahead after tomorrow’s USA election. I tell you, fiends, we’re on the eve of instruction!