There’s something powerful communicated when we use the word “enemy“. Some of the images that come to mind when one thinks of our “enemies” might include surging ranks of malevolent armies, or legions of hostile foes. The branding of nations, groups, or individuals as “enemies” can inspire at best, distrust, suspicion, and general disdain, and at worst, hatred, zealotry, and violence. Some of the most horrific acts of human cruelty have been justified because the targets of these crimes were, “enemies“. In short, as with any label, the word “enemy” has the power to strip a person’s humanity until we see them as nothing but an opposing idea. It’s with this preface that I wish to discuss the common vernacular surrounding those deemed to be, “enemies of the church”.
My thoughts on this topic were, oddly enough, inspired by a line from The Hunger Games. In a scene from the second installment of the popular dystopian series, Catching Fire. Haymitch, before watching Katniss and Peta enter the arena for the second time, counsels them to, “Remember who the real enemy is”. This phrase stuck with me, and caused me to reflect on people or groups in my life that I, perhaps unnecessarily, consider to be enemies. One of those areas was the way in which I think and talk about people who have dissented from the church, or just oppose it’s ideals. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s something both damaging and unproductive in considering these people to be enemies.
While serving a mission in North Carolina, I often found myself face to face with many people who not only hated the theology and organization that I represented, but also hated me personally for representing them. As a new missionary it was easy to simply dismiss these people as “anti’s,” and then strut off with the righteous indignation of a thousand pioneers, but the more I interacted with these people, the more I discovered that my very attitude was undermining my entire purpose to bring these people to Christ. As I continued to serve these people, and to pray for them in personal and companionship prayers, my perspective began to change. I stopped feeling better or more enlightened than others, and instead began to see these people as equals. I began to see that others had had experiences that had brought them to their current beliefs. I started to understand that their feelings were as legitimate as mine, and it was only from this place of understanding that I was enabled to offer them the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Many of the people I taught accepted that message, and many did not, but it was the change in my heart that allowed me to leave these people with a heart full of gratitude, never thinking less of them.
I believe that the counsel from President Thomas S. Monson to, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved” can apply to the manner in which we defend church leaders and doctrines. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t defend what we know to be true, nor that we should halt our pursuit to share the Gospel, quite the contrary. It’s our duty as members of the church to uphold the doctrines of the church in all that we say and do, and viewing our friends and neighbors as equal travelers in this journey together is what ultimately will enable us to do exactly that.
Returning to the analogy of the Hunger Games, the other tributes in the arena weren’t the real enemy. The real enemy was President Snow, the unforgiving leader of the nation. The tributes were simply being used as pawns, pitted against each other in a horrific and traumatic contest for their lives. In this analogy, President Snow can represent Satan. Satan uses whatever tactics he can to pit us against each other in a never-ending conflict of opinions. This influence from the adversary comes at varying times and degrees, but it is up to us to see past the lie that other people are the enemy, and to remember who the real enemy is, Satan himself. It wasn’t until the tributes decided to work together that their situation collapsed in on itself and they were able to escape.
People can lie, but people are not lies. People can sin, but people are not sins. If we ever fool ourselves into thinking that our fellow travelers in this mortal existence have become the ideas that they profess, than we have robbed ourselves of the opportunity to both teach and to learn. People can subscribe to ideas, and defend them with fervent zeal, but people are not ideas. Ideas can be temporary. Ideas can be generated and discarded like crumpled notebook paper, but souls are forever, and for that reason alone they deserve our respect. I believe that perhaps when The Savior instructed us to, “Love your enemies,” He was in reality imploring us to see past the labels of enemy and foe, and to love that transcendent attribute of others that truly deserves to be loved, humanity itself. Perhaps He was telling us to love our enemies until regardless of their actions or beliefs, we no longer see them as our enemies at all.