The Central Baptist Church in Sydney, Australia has erected a sign saying, “Jesus Loves Osama”—referring, of course, to the infamous leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, Osama bin Laden. At the bottom of the sign, in smaller letters, is the gospel quotation from Jesus on which the sign is based: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
A representative of the Central Baptist Church explained the reason for the sign: “We are saying that Jesus Christ loves everyone in the world, even this man….All we are doing is sharing the gospel.” Indeed, “Love your enemies” is central to Jesus’ message. Even the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who are generally skeptical about the sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels, regard “Love your enemies” as something he almost certainly said.
Yet as central as this idea is to the way of Jesus, the sign (which has also been erected outside several other churches in Sydney) has stirred up controversy in Australia. Prime minister John Howard said, “I understand the Christian motivation of the Baptist church. But I hope they will understand that a lot of Australians, including many Australian Christians, will think that the prayer priority of the church on this occasion could have been elsewhere.” Even Christian clergy have declared the sign offensive. Peter Jensen, the Anglican archbishop of Sydney, said, “There is a truth in it. But what we’ve got to say is, ‘Jesus doesn’t approve of Osama.’ It makes it sound like, ‘Oh, Osama’s doing the right thing.'”
It’s unfortunate that even representatives of Christianity have misgivings about a church expressing a central teaching of Jesus. Yet from a purely psychological standpoint, the negative reaction is understandable. After all, if we think of someone as a real enemy, how can we honestly love and pray for him? How can we have positive regard for a person whom we see as a genuine threat to us? There is an inherent contradiction between loving someone and regarding him as an enemy. Therefore, when Jesus gives us a “hard saying” like “Love your enemies,” there is a tension between what we’re being called to do and how we really feel. We may attempt to follow this injunction out of a sense of duty or for the sake of being good, but it’s unlikely our heart will be in it. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it. Surely, we think, there is no immediate benefit to us.
The author of A Course in Miracles (who identifies himself as Jesus) resolves this issue by making explicit what is implicit in Jesus’ original injunction: Loving your enemies means recognizing that you have no enemies. True, there are people in this world who bear ill will toward us and want to harm us—people like Osama, whom we vilify and want to harm in return. However, according to the Course, both our belief that we can be truly harmed and our belief that we can truly do harm are masks that cover up a glorious truth: Beyond our bodies and our personalities, each and every one of us—yes, including Osama— is a limitless, innocent, holy being just as Jesus was, a being that in truth can neither harm nor be harmed. We are each part of a shared Self that the Course calls the Christ. How can a part of my very Self be my enemy?
In the Course’s view, then, loving and praying for our enemies means asking God to help us see the Christ in those we think are our enemies. When the Christ in them is revealed to us, our former enemies become our saviors, because the Christ in them reveals the Christ in us, the Identity that we share. “The prayer for enemies thus becomes a prayer for your own freedom” (S-1.II.5:3). Now there is no contradiction in loving them. Now there is no tension between what we’re being called to do and what we really feel. And now we have all the reason in the world to love Osama, and everyone else. Loving Osama as Jesus does is not a thankless and potentially dangerous Christian duty; it is the truth that sets us free.