Antifa, Jonah, and the Call to Love One’s Enemy
The horrendous racism, bullying, and violence displayed by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, is fostering dialogue on how best to respond to hateful and destructive ideologies. But for members of a controversial group known as Antifa, the time for dialogue – if it ever existed – is over. For Antifa, alt-right violence must be met with greater violence, lest hate and bigotry prevail. This controversial approach to combating white nationalism contributed to thousands of dollars’ worth of damages at UC Berkeley during a protest of former Breitbart writer, Milo Yiannopoulos. Many drew moral parallels between Antifa and the fascism they oppose.
For some, criticizing and condemning the actions of Antifa is easy. But might I suggest such armchair denouncements come easily only from the comforts of privilege and distance? As a UVA hospital chaplain, I experienced the pain of Charlottesville victims firsthand; it was real and it was profound. As I gazed into the eyes of a man bloodied by the vehicle of a murderous white-supremacist, I could not help but wish – if only for a moment – for the realization of Antifa’s goal. But as a follower of Christ, I could no more pursue this wish than any other sinful desire.
Or could I?
Doubtlessly God desires social justice. And what of the conquest narratives (Joshua 6-12)? Is there not a tendency within the Church to justify this violence? Are Christians not guilty of venerating Joshua’s role in the ostensible genocide of the Canaanites? If so, is this not linked in part with the wicked Canaanite worldviews that, if left unchecked, would bring pain and destruction upon God’s people (cf. Deut. 20: 16-18)? As such, should we not consider Antifa a type of “Israel”: conquering the wicked worldviews of the modern-day Canaanite? And if Canaanite women and children deserved death, what do murderous white supremacists and neo-Nazis deserve (cf. Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:6; 20:16-18)?
The answer is love.
Christ commands His followers to love not only the kind, generous, and tolerant, but also the selfish, bigoted, and hateful. Indeed, the subversive message of the Gospels is that of radical love and forgiveness for ALL:
Sinners AND saints.
The Lovable AND the unlovable.
Antifa AND Nazis
Thus, the question for the Christian is not “Are Antifa and Neo-Nazis morally equivalent?” but rather, “Do all human beings deserve love?”
For the Christian, there can be only one answer. That in turn raises the question, “What does it look like to love a Nazi?”
Loving one’s enemy is no simple task: it’s painful, counterintuitive, and often feels like losing – a struggle displayed well within the Book of Jonah.
The Book of Jonah is, among other things, a poetic depiction of the human struggle to love those deemed unlovable. Indeed, when Jonah – a name meaning “dove” – is called by God to facilitate Assyrian repentance in Nineveh he travels in the opposite direction (cf. Jonah 4:2).
The Assyrians, like the Nazis, were monstrous. Inscriptions from the time of 2 Kings 18 (the backdrop of Jonah’s story) display Assyrian soldiers driving sharpened poles through conquered Israelites at Lachish to be waved around like flags. Women and children were enslaved and raped, and severed heads were used to record the number slain. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, once boasted:
“I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives (as one cuts) a string. Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain, like grass. (Their) testicles I cut off, and tore out their privates like the seeds of cucumbers.”
Where is the capital of Assyria?
Now place yourself for a moment in the shoes of Jonah as he is commanded, by God, to visit Nineveh. Ask yourself this question: If your entire family was slaughtered, raped, brutalized, and hung on poles to be paraded around like a flag, would you want to visit the perpetrator’s capital city and preach about a good, kind, and forgiving God? Probably not. Indeed, your response to God would likely mirror what Jonah expressed in Jonah 4:1-3: “I know you are a kind, compassionate, and forgiving God…but I don’t want the Assyrians to experience ANY of that; they’re too cruel…”
But that’s just the thing, isn’t it? None deserve Him. Neither you nor Jonah nor Antifa nor white supremacists – none, by their actions – have earned the love of God. God’s love, the love He commands His followers to share as freely as He shares it, is a gift.
Thus, the story of Jonah is about how even your worst enemies are eligible for the kindness, compassion, and love of God and how He calls each of us to serve as a type of Jonah: a dove with a beautiful message to be delivered to ALL.
So, what does it look like to love a Nazi? Probably a lot like what loving an Assyrian looked like to Jonah: it sucks. But violence only begets more violence, and God is in the business of restoration, not retribution. Thus the rallies of neo-Nazis and white supremacists must never be a call to arms unless the “arms” one plans to equip are those Christ calls us to extend in embrace. It may be tempting to follow Antifa and Jonah toward destruction but God implores us to follow a different path: his path…a path ending with us on a cross, proclaiming, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34).
Dear Antifa: Let us drop our swords and open our hearts.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.