The Language of the Enemy and the Infidel: How Religious Language Will Eventually Kill You

There’s a certain vocabulary in churches when good old church folk talk about the “enemy,” and how the “oppressors” and “injustice” and “persecution” are against us on all sides.

I worry about this sort of military mindset in churches because we’re cherry-picking Bible verses to find more reasons to alienate others and perpetuate a xenophobic cycle of the foreign stranger. 

This is a culture of nationalistic fear.  It is a triumphalist self-affirming theology.

And man does it feel wonderful.  It appeals to the most reptilian black-and-white part of our flesh-driven nature.  It requires no work except to label all critics and haters and naysayers as “them.”

When the Psalms talk about “smiting the enemy” or “justice against the oppressors,” they were not talking about your boss at work or that one girl you can’t stand.  They were talking about actual invading armies that would pillage, murder, and destroy whole families.  They were venting about the futility of ever finding peace. They were talking about the unresolved tension between a broken hostile world and the God who would deliver them from their earthly distress.

Unless there is smoke rising from the debris of your burning house or you’re forced to eat your dead children, you don’t get to use the angry language of the Psalms.

I meet many Christians who are not only absorbed in this language of the infidel, but overwhelmingly infatuated with it.  It’s intoxicating to think you’re invincible, to claim that God is on “my side.”  Disagreement is called the “enemy.”  Everyone is a hater and we only like yes-men and we can’t be told we’re wrong.

We try to pass off the enemy as, “Oh I just mean Satan,” but we always have some person in mind.  We’re not really talking about spiritual warfare.  We’re just hijacking the Christianese vocab to cover our real feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and bitterness.

I’ve heard pastors say the “enemy” about their own congregation, or about that church down the street.  I hear bloggers throw around “enemy” like the world is against them when they (freely) express their opinions.  I hear this used in conversations about Chick Fil A, gay marriage, the government, and the President. I’m sure I’ve even done it here in this blog post, despite my hurting heart to quit dividing.

It’s an atrocious abuse of vocabulary, like when people casually use the word “rape” to talk about getting beaten in a video game.

I wonder: Does this language actually DO anything?  Does it work toward any purpose other than to rant to our like-minded tribe so they can all nod and agree and reinforce our bias?  Is it anything more than preaching to the exclusive members-only choir?

I have never seen “enemy” used constructively.  Certainly there are biblical laments and judgements against people who are actively enslaving and hurting others.  Your problems are also very real. But we can’t keep using this language to create conflict where there is none.  It’s not for your platform.

Jesus came to destroy these categories in the cross.  He called us all equally broken, all equally needy, and all equally dire for grace.  He didn’t just give us orders like “love your enemy,” but he reversed the very wellspring of our connective tissue by demonstrating love for his own murderers.  It was a cosmic upheaval of our instinctual competitive brutality.   Jesus bridged divides, first between you and God, and then between you and others — and he showed no favoritism among the lepers, the lame, the adulterers, and Roman officials.  He went to them all, dined with them all, died for them all.

So then: saying “us” versus “them” is just your flesh talking.  It is not from God.  Ever.  It’s not from grace or love or truth.  It’s the perpetuation of our violent broken humanity that only rehearses a tribalistic narrative that will kill everything around you, including you.  And I’ve seen it happen, over and over, poisoning our churches and families and blogs and nations.

The unresolved tension in Psalms does eventually resolve.  There’s always an exhalation, a moment of unclenching and relief.  The groaning of our souls meets the hope of a Redeemer.  Scripture does not end with destruction: but a re-creation.  It kills the enemy by turning them into beloved friends.

This then, is truly what Jesus died for.  It’s the church he meant for us.

— J.S.

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