For the Safety of our Enemies

Arden Mahlberg

Veterans Day 2021 – I just drove past a memorial to soldiers from our state who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organizers placed a white cross for each of our citizens who died in those wars. I guess it is presumed that they were all Christians.

Several years ago, I spoke with one of the organizers of such a memorial to all the American troops who died in Vietnam and Iraq. It was a massive display of white markers, in this case, not crosses. I asked him if they included markers for the enemy dead and civilians who died in the wars. “We never thought of that.” But he wished that they had.

I have been in countless church services where we prayed for the safety of our troops. Never, “We pray for the safety of the enemies of the United States.” This despite Jesus telling us to “love” our enemies. As Biblical scholar Karen Armstrong clarifies, this injunction. It technically means that we are to treat our enemies to the benefit they would have if we had a peace treaty with them. At the time of Jesus, that included the “love” clause of protecting our enemies from harm.

This is an especially important principle to promote now. Steve Bannon and Donald Trump have called for the punishment of legislators who voted for the infrastructure bill. They would have supported if it had been done by a President of their choice. People are harassing and punishing officials who uphold the validity of the last election.

In the current context, to pray for the safety of our enemies and vow to protect them from harm draws a clear line with the religious right. They believe they are contending with a cosmic enemy, Satan. From that point of view, to pray for the safety of one’s enemies and vow to protect them is to do the Devil’s work.

The same is true when Christian and Muslim communities protect each other from harm. To the fanatics, they are aligning themselves with The Enemy.

May we have the will to protect our enemies from harm!