New Thought Editorials > Loving Our Enemies


Summer 2003

Loving Our Enemies

In London, in 1945, Methodist minister Leslie Weatherhead preached a sermon on the words of Jesus, "Love your enemies" (Matt. 5:43-44). His church, the famous City Temple, had been destroyed in the early days of the blitz; and his congregation had endured terrible suffering. Weatherhead himself had served as a chaplain during World War I, so he was no stranger to the horrors of war. Still, he upheld the necessity for waging war: "One of the most terrible entails of the attack of an international criminal gang is that the only way we can prevent it from having its evil way is the dreadful method we call war." But how can we love those with whom we are at war?

Loving our enemies, said Weatherhead, means a determination to show them good will. It does not mean liking them or whitewashing them, or blinding ourselves to what they have done, or sentimentally refraining from punishing them. It does mean acting as though we still believe in them, and acting in two ways: (1) by not identifying the doer with the deed, as though they were inseparable—since we refuse to do that in ourselves—and (2) by refusing to exaggerate the evil in order to stir up hate or to feel better ourselves.

Hate, Weatherhead continued, is a toxic emotion that harms the hater. We can overcome it by the grace of God. But the state must sometimes kill; "Thou shalt not kill" is a bad translation. The Hebrew word for murder refers to "an act in which the individual assumes an authority that may belong only to the state." Therefore, concluded Weatherhead, "there is no necessary conflict between loving your enemies and killing a sufficient number of them to make the rest desist in their attempt to spread evil." When word reached the British soldiers fighting in North Africa that the campaign was ended,

the very men who had been trying to encompass the death of the enemy are seen in a press photograph giving the same men—now German prisoners—chocolates and cigarettes. . . . The determination to kill and the offer of chocolates came from the same motive, the motive of good will toward the enemy. . . . These enemies also—possessed though they may be at present by evil demons—are the sons of the same Father who hates evil more than we do, but who loves all his children.

Half a century later, Weatherhead’s words still ring true. The United States and many of its allies have been attacked by an enemy consisting of bands of terrorists from a number of nations. A coalition of nations has had the courage to endure scathing criticism and set out to free an enslaved nation as part of the process of ridding the world of these criminals, who have harmed and continue to harm many innocent people. Their campaign was an astounding success, achieving its aim quickly and precisely, with a minimum of damage and casualities on both sides. Never in the history of warfare has there been such care for civilians, such discipline on the part of troops whose goal was to liberate, not to conquer. In the face of a mob fearing harm to their mosque, a troop of soldiers dropped to one knee and pointed their weapons to the ground. They put their own lives at risk to show respect for their enemies.

Weatherhead closed his sermon with a prayer given by a chaplain in 1941:

Stablish our hearts, O God, in the day of battle, and strengthen our resolve, that we fight, not in enmity against men, but against the powers of darkness enslaving the souls of men, till all enmity and oppression be done away, and the peoples of the world be set free from fear to serve one another as children of one Father, who is above all and through all and in all, our God, for ever and ever. Amen.

New Thought is about aligning our will with the will of God. It is about seeking the highest good that can emerge from a situation. It is about expecting the best. And it is about persevering when things look darkest, knowing that the dawn is about to break.