Talking with the Enemy. (Faith Matters)

Article excerpt

IN WENDELL BERRY'S novel Jayber Crow, Jayber is a barber in Port William, Kentucky, who interacts with a variety of people as they come to his barbershop. He struggles to get along with Troy Chatham, an acquisitive agribusinessman whom Jayber thinks is destroying the land in their county. To make matters worse, Troy has married Mattie, the woman whom Jayber has secretly admired for several years.

It is the late 1960s, and divisions in America over civil rights and the Vietnam war have emerged in Port William. Troy is a fierce supporter of the U.S. government's policies, including the war. One evening in the barbershop, Troy starts talking about how much he hates the war protesters.

      "They ought to round up
   every one of them sons of bitches and put them right in
   front of the damned communists, and then whoever
   killed who, it would be all to the good."

      There was a little pause after that. Nobody wanted to
   try to top it....

      It was hard to do, but I quit cutting hair and looked
   at Troy. I said, "Love your enemies, bless them that
   curse you, do good to them that hate you."

      Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me.
   "Where did you get that crap?"

      I said, "Jesus Christ."

      And Troy said, "Oh."

      It would have been a great moment in the history of
   Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.

In the past few months I have thought a lot about Jesus' injunction to "love your enemies." I thought about how issues of war and peace are shaped by reflection on the call to love our enemies, and about Jonah's haunting tale, which presses the question of whether we really want our enemies to repent. My focus on loving enemies, along with the long tradition of just war presumptions against preemptive strikes, led me to oppose the war against Iraq. But once the war started, I began to focus on a different aspect of Jesus' injunction--the one reflected in Jayber's admission that he doesn't love Troy.

People on both sides of current debates have engaged in inexcusable behavior toward those with whom they disagree. Dale Petroskey, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, canceled a celebration of the movie Bull Durham with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins because he believed that the two actors' opposition to the war would politicize the event and somehow put U.S. troops in jeopardy. A woman on my own campus, passionately opposed to the war, accosted a military chaplain and angrily charged him with being "one of those responsible for all of the killings."

I have talked with pastors who were accused of injecting partisan politics into the church when they articulated their conviction that the decision to go to war was inconsistent with Christian convictions. …