The question I raised last week – why do people like Osama bin Laden hate the United States so much? – has generated considerable response, mostly outside of my congregation, but also some from within as well as within my own family of origin.
We should welcome the creation of a dialogue on such an important matter. By thinking together through the tough, intricate, nuanced issues that surround most political and policy matters, “we the people” can deepen our understanding of these matters and allow knowledge to affect our power to vote, lobby or march as we choose on behalf of our well-considered convictions.
Occasionally I am invited to elaborate my thoughts or to consider another point of view. I am usually willing to do so within my limits of time and understanding.
Unfortunately, the responses too often resort to name-calling and dismissive retorts that make no real effort to address uncomfortable questions or to consider another point of view.
But the conviction remains within me that unless and until we are willing as citizens of this nation to examine the geopolitical landscape from the point of view of the “enemy,” we are limiting our ability to create the conditions for peaceful coexistence.
To dismiss bin Laden or al-Qaida as insane, or to prematurely conclude that the problem is intrinsic to Islam with reference to passages from the Quran that instruct killing infidels (we should note that similar instructions can be found in the Bible) is to miss an opportunity to grow. The same is true if we denounce the murderous ways of terrorists and dismiss their grievances.
Might it be that refusing to consider the grievances of our enemy is real insanity – continuing the same unexamined course of action and expecting a different result?
Few of us are foreign-policy analysts. I’m certainly not. We are all limited to the information provided us by the news sources we choose to listen to. This is why a collective conversation, possibly including conversations with our enemies, is so vital to wise decision-making.
My motivation for asking the question comes as a Jesus follower who is called upon to be a peacemaker.
Jesus’ admonition to “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” is a serious call to self-examination in the course of addressing conflict.
It does not deny the real possibility that the neighbor also has obstacles to seeing clearly or that the neighbor also has some remedial work to do before peace is possible. It does instruct us, however, to first focus on our own misdeeds.
Jesus told his followers, “You have heard it was said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'”
I know of no record of this specific instruction to love selectively while hating enemies.
Likely, Jesus is naming the universal attitude we humans use against those who oppose us – vilify, distance, dehumanize, demonize. He then gives what may be his hardest command, “But I say to you, Love your enemies….”
A key component of love is a willingness to examine how my actions affect others.
Love requires us to ask how our U.S. military occupation in many parts of the Arab world affects whether we are perceived as friend or enemy.
How do our geopolitical actions that ensure continued access to the oil owned by Arab countries affect our reputation?
How do the disproportionate deaths of Muslims compared to American deaths through military actions and suicide bombings over the past 30 years create a growing resentment toward our country?
And as uncomfortable as it is to bring up, does the U.S. support of Israel in the face of decades of Palestinian grievances contribute to the hatred levied at us?
Some will react to these questions by accusing prematurely that they are designed to “blame America.” Why would I want to falsely blame anyone? How does falsely blaming in any way help to promote peaceful coexistence?
Like the larger issue, these specific questions are not easily conjugated, but must be considered with maturity, patience, humility and void of an intent to score partisan political points. In the end, our goal must be the desire to learn the things that make for peace, as Jesus implored.
No other goal is worthy of our efforts.
Joe Phelps is pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
A minister in Louisville, Kentucky, for 21 years as pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Phelps is now Justice Coordinator for Earth and Spirit Center. He leads, along with Kevin Cosby, EmpowerWest, a black-white clergy coalition calling for recognition, repentance, and repair of injustices to black Louisvillians.