On Having Enemies

Our first Theology Research Seminar of 2017 welcomed Dr Alistair McFadyen, Senior Lecturer in Theology, University of Leeds, and author of Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin. Dr McFadyen spoke on the topic, described as “cheerful” by a faculty member, of “On Having Enemies: Terror, Torture, Theology & Policing.” McFadyen brought humility, humour, and a practical edge to bear on our theological conversation. At one point he described the cross as “pretty awful” and at many points he reflected on the implications of our discussion when exercising his role as a police officer in West Yorkshire. It was a thought provoking and engaging morning.

McFadyen’s paper responded to the lack of theological literature on the topics of terror and torture. More particularly, based on the few works which are available, he observed the absence of any talk of enmity. McFadyen noted that the public imagination is often engaged by narratives which dehumanise or demonise the other. In response to fear and hate, as well as both perceived and real enmity, the voice of resistance seeks to put “us” in the picture and overcome polarising dichotomies. The counter-narrative advocates for the vulnerable, promotes protective love and solidarity, and erases all enemies. All are victims.

Wrestling with strong reverberations of “love thy enemy,” McFadyen sought to overcome the assumption that love is the antithesis of enmity and that loving means denying the presence of all enmity or erasure of all enmity. Rather McFadyen asked, “How should Christians have enemies?” and “How might love qualify a relationship with an enemy?” He rebuked a “zero sum” avoidance of having enemies in favour of pursuing the humanisation of enemies. He advocated for a Christian practice of enmity shaped by love which resists harm and creates space for worship. For McFadyen the social good of the kingdom is a far larger vision than absence of torture. The practice of such loving enmity is complex and requires an understanding of human motives, accepting responsibility, and confession on all sides.

Following his presentation, McFadyen engaged with our questions. He offered clarifications and many examples of his practical “cop friendly” approach. The discussion ranged from the cross to human rights, from domestic violence to the vision of the kingdom, from sacrifice in popular discourse to abuse as impairment of worship. McFadyen modelled his approach to “ministerial theology” and his refusal to compartmentalise theology from the reality of life.

Overall, McFadyen presented a fruitful proposal with great scope for further exploration both in terms of his larger theological framework and its application. At a time where the narrative of fear and dehumanisation shouts loudly, today is the day to richly and theologically understand (and act on) Christ’s call to “love thy enemy.”

Rebekah Earnshaw
(Views expressed in this post are my own and not those of St. Mary’s College.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *