love your enemies,
pray for those who persecute you…
Matthew 5: 44
Sometimes we think that if we love we will have no enemies. But loving enemies, loving the stranger, may bring us enemies, may cause us to find ourselves opposed to those who seek to demonize the enemy, the stranger.
Love can bring us conflict, but this conflict can be healthy.
As Frederick Douglas (who died on February 20, 1895), said in an 1857 speech: As Bruce Adams wrote in “Building Healthy Communities,” commenting on Frederick Douglas,
I am not trying to abolish conflict. There is great value in healthy conflict. And the dangers of group-think are real. Conflict can inspire creative leadership. Where there are fundamental conflicts over values, they should not be ignored in a sentimental yearning for consensus. The problem in our communities today is not that we have conflict, but that we manufacture conflict and exaggerate differences to the point where it is very difficult to make meaningful change. Too often we abandon basic civility and cannot disagree without questioning the motives of our adversaries. Our standard as we debate should be similar to doctors’ Hippocratic Oath: “Do no harm.” Disagree, but don’t tear the community apart as you do.
I often find it hard to really feel good about disagreeing with someone. I sometimes prefer “peaceful coexistence,” even in the face of a serious disagreement. But real love is not afraid of conflict. In fact, real love – which includes real respect for the other – should welcome conflict and find ways to make of conflict a step to greater community.
This week I spent three days in the Gracias, Lempira, jail for a workshop on Alternatives to Violence where we tried to learn how to facilitate workshops on that theme, finding ways to deal effectively and lovingly with conflict. It was not easy and is not easy. But experiencing the workshop with five persons in jail refreshed my spirit and gives me the hope that I can truly love the enemy in the face of conflict – even the enemy within!