Fleming Rutledge is a preacher and teacher known throughout the mainline Protestant denominations of the US, Canada and parts of the UK. She is the author of seven books and has received a grant from the Louisville Foundation to complete a book about the meaning of the Crucifixion.
One of the first women to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, she served for fourteen years on the clergy staff at Grace Church on Lower Broadway at Tenth Street, New York City.
Fleming and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2009 and have two daughters and two grandchildren. She is a native of Franklin, Virginia.
My Enemy, Myself
Trinity Church, Princeton, New Jersey
MY ENEMY, MYSELF
Sermon by Fleming Rutledge
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Even people who do not know much about Jesus know that he said we should love our enemies. Here is a passage from the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.. .(Matthew 5:43-45)
My work takes me to churches all over America, small churches and large churches of all denominations. They all seem to have one thing in common: they aren’t praying for our enemies. Our troops, yes; our enemies, no.
Nor do I hear the churches discussing issues like the use of state-sponsored torture. University towns like Princeton may be exceptions, but as a former member of a university church (at the University of Virginia) I can testify that such congregations have their own problems and tend to be smug about their liberal commitments. (You can let me know later where Trinity fits on that spectrum.) Speaking of the American churches generally, the issue of torture barely registers. The newsmagazines have been running cover stories on American-sponsored torture of suspected terrorists ever since the Abu Ghraib pictures first came out, but only a minuscule number of our citizens seem interested. In fact, in my lifetime I do not remember any major public question being so studiously ignored as this one. We need to ask ourselves why this is so.
Last year in my home state of Virginia, a black man named Julius Earl Ruffin was released from prison after 21 years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit. In 1982, an all-white jury convicted him of assaulting a white woman solely on the basis of her doggedly insistent visual identification of him as her assailant. He was released after being exonerated through DNA testing. The white woman, whose name was Ann Meng, did a rare thing. She wrote to him expressing her profound remorse for misidentifying him. She sat next to him at a state government hearing designed to discuss reparations for him, and she testified on his behalf. She stated that she, like members of Mr. Ruffin’s family, believed that the all-white jury identified more with her, the victim, than with the accused black man. And she said this to the government panel:
I feel a personal responsibility for Mr. Ruffin’s incarceration. However, our system of criminal justice also must bear some responsibility. There was no one on this jury who saw themselves, or their son, or their brother, when they looked at Mr. Ruffin.
That, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter. We do not care about torture in Iraq or Afghanistan because we do not see ourselves, or anyone in our families, as members of the same species as a prisoner being tortured. I read a newspaper column the other day by a politically conservative woman who said she could not get worked up about the fact that American citizens were being spied upon. The reason for her indifference, I thought, was that she had never had her own phone tapped, or a family member’s phone tapped, and in her passionate loyalty to the present Administration she could not imagine such a thing ever happening to her. She thinks of herself as invulnerable to such intrusions. Those of us of a certain age, however, can remember only too well the FBI surveillance of Martin Luther King and our own friends who had done nothing more sinister than protest against the Vietnam war.
To be able to see an accused human being as potentially our own son, or brother, or indeed as our own selves—that is the significance of the well-known saying “There but for the grace of God go I.” These words were first said by a 16th-century Englishman, John Bradford, who, when watching a group of prisoners being led off to the gallows, did not say, they are getting what they deserve.” Rather, he said, “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” This simple saying has been preserved against the odds for more than four hundred years because it expresses the deepest, most fundamental truth about God and the human race.
Have you noticed how often, these days, advertising speaks of what we deserve? Just two examples from my recent listening: “You deserve an Audi!” and “Come to Mt. Sinai Hospital for the health care you deserve.” Where did this idea of “deserving” come from? Who decides who deserves what? We now know that after 9/11 there was a secret White House rewrite of military law. Vice-president Cheney described it this way: “We think [this plan] guarantees that we’ll have [available and ready] the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.” I am not making a partisan political comment but giving a simple human gut reaction when I say that I would not want to find myself on the wrong side of this Vice-president. Yet he too is a human being like myself, equally undeserving of the grace of God and equally sought after by God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that torture was inflicting pain “while taking advantage of a relative superiority of strength.” The Christian, by definition, does not take advantage of superior strength. Columnist Andy Crouch writes, “If Christians are sometimes called to acquire power [and we often are], we should probably begin by watching our Lord abandon it.” Children need to be taught from an early age that they should never bully another person, that is, to take easy advantage of a “relative superiority of strength.” The term used by the US military forces to denote Iraqi prisoners is PUC (pronounced “puck”) meaning “person under control.” The emphasis here is on the superior strength of the captor and the impotence of the captive.
We would not have to teach this if there were not a component in human nature that delights in the suffering of others. There have been numerous reports that abuse of Iraqi prisoners was American troops “blowing off steam. This was said offhandedly, as though it was no big deal, as if it was well understood that causing pain or humiliation to another person was a handy stress-reliever. One of the soldiers who testified for a Human Rights Watch report last fall said, “In a way it was sport.” People typically will deny these tendencies in themselves, but they have not understood the dark undercurrents in the human psyche. In the Christian tradition these dark undercurrents are called by the name of Sin. When Lent comes, as it soon will, we in the churches will go through the traditional motions of confessing our sin. It would be a good thing if we as a nation genuinely came together to identify and repent of our sins. Our greatest presidents, Washington and Lincoln, called for repentance on a national scale; it is hard to imagine any president doing that today.
In the recent book, Washington’s Crossing, which describes a certain event that took place somewhere around here, the historian David Hackett Fischer describes how George Washington personally set the American policy toward “persons under control.”
After the battles in New York, thousands of American prisoners of war were treated with extreme cruelty by British captors....Some [Americans] escaped, and their reports had the same impact as those of American prisoners of the Japanese in the second World War II
[But] an American policy on prisoners emerged after the battle of Trenton. George Washington ordered that Hessian captives would be treated as human beings with the same rights of humanity for which Americans were striving. The Hessians...were amazed to be treated with decency and even kindness....The same policy was extended to British prisoners after the battle of Princeton. Washington ordered one of his most trusted officers...to look after them: “You are to take charge of  privates of the British Army...Treat them with humanity and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren.” [Note the use of the term unfortunate brethren].
Congress and the Continental army generally adopted [this] “policy of humanity.” Their moral choices in the War of Independence enlarged the meaning of the American Revolution.
The argument of those who support torture as a means of extracting information is that since 9/11 we are dealing with a different type of enemy, an enemy that does not deserve to be treated as George Washington treated the Hessians. But this is not a new argument. This idea that the human race can be divided up into the deserving and the undeserving is a universal notion. Making distinctions on this basis is something we all do from birth, and the distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous is built into religion. That’s why St. Paul’s declaration in Romans 3 is so irreligious and radical: For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
So now it is time to make the transition from American values to the universal Christian gospel. From the standpoint of Christ Jesus, any talk of “deserving” is treacherous territory. Everybody seems to love the hymn “Amazing Grace,” but not everybody understands what it means. The very meaning of the word “grace” is “undeserved favor.” If it is deserved, then it is not grace and it is certainly not amazing.
Amazing grace can be understood fully only from the standpoint of the Christian gospel. The teaching of Jesus about love for the enemy makes no sense at all if it is detached from his death and Resurrection. If it were not for Good Friday and Easter, we would be justified in putting his teachings in a nice gilded box that we could bring out for admiration on ceremonial occasions and keep respectfully on a shelf the rest of the time. We cannot make Jesus into a nice religious teacher. Without the Cross, we could not take his teaching seriously. The Christian faith rests on a unique, unrepeatable event which has fundamentally altered the way we understand reality. The Cross shows us that in Jesus Christ we see God exchanging his divine life for the life of his enemies.
Who were these enemies? Trinity Church and guests, a few minutes ago I was a stranger to you and you to me. But now in the power of the gospel we are one. Listen to Romans 5:
While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die even for a righteous man [let alone an unrighteous one!] But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners [unrighteous and undeserving], Christ died for us....While we were [God’s] enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son... (Romans 5:6-9)
And in I Peter we read,
Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh [on the Cross] but made alive in the Spirit [in the Resurrection]...(I Peter 3:18).
Do you see how this is inclusive of everyone? Peter and Paul show how we are all recipients of the undeserved grace of God. This is what makes us brothers and sisters beyond any distinction that we can dream up.
What would you want done with the body of your brother, or your father, or your sister? It is remarkable that we have this Epistle lesson appointed for today. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?...So glorify God in your body (I Corinthians 6:19). Paul is teaching the Corinthians about bodily life. The Corinthian congregation was very “spiritual.” They thought that bodily life wasn’t important to God; it was the “spirit” that counted. Paul’s letter to them is a reprimand and a corrective. God is not to be glorified in vague, mystical, amorphous ways but in the actual, bodily life of Christian disciples. The body is the person, a very Hebrew idea.
But there is more. Here is the complete text:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
You were bought with a price. What price is that?
The price was the life of the Son of God, who exchanged his perfectly righteous life for the universally unrighteous lives of sinful human beings. When I look at another human being, even if he is my enemy—especially if he is my enemy—I am looking at a human being for whom Christ died and for whom he was raised from the dead. That is the only way in which the teaching of love for the enemy can be understood.
Anyone can do good things for their friends. All good soldiers will die for their comrades in arms. That has always been the rule of the battlefield. There is nothing specifically Christian about it. The way that we embody Christ is by refusing to do bodily harm to our enemies when they are disarmed and in our power. That is the Christian gospel in action.
To my brothers and sisters in the Spirit: may the same Spirit, the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us the eyes to understand, through these passages from the Word of God, that it is us, we ourselves, who have been the enemies of God. Before we can begin to conceive of love for our own enemies we need to be able to think of ourselves this way: there but for the grace of God go I. The man who stands judged and condemned is my brother; nay, he is I myself. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
 There is a fine prayer for enemies in our Episcopal Prayer Book, but I have never heard it used except when I requested it myself. (I have since been told that the National Cathedral uses it.)
 Mark Danner, who spoke at the conference on Friday, has for many years been a burr under the American government saddle, but he has been a very lonely voice. He gets published, but he says that it seems no one is listening.
 Tim McGlone, “State Urged to Pay for 21 Lost Years,” Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 2/4/04.
 I failed to keep a copy of this. It might have been in the New York Post, or a Southern paper.
John Bradford (1510-1555). Cited in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
 Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 185. Bonhoeffer’s point about taking advantage is conspicuously missing from the Justice Department’s definition of torture, but it is crucial. (This infamous August 1, 2002 memo on interrogation was written largely by John Yoo of the UCal Berkeley law faculty. To be considered torture, says the memo, techniques [what a word] must produce suffering “equivalent to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” This has been widely and repeatedly quoted, as for instance in The Washington Post 12/26/05).
 That is the whole point of C. S. Lewis using a lion, traditionally the most lordly and powerful animal, as a symbol of Christ.
 “Always in Parables” column, Christianity Today, February 2004.
 “Torture in Iraq,” The New York Review of Books, November 3, 2005.
 David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford, 2004), 378-9
 The Corinthians passage is specifically about sexual morality, but there can be no doubt that it applies to all bodily life.
 The phrase “disarmed and in our power” is important. I am not necessarily recommending a thoroughgoing pacifism. There may be times when an armed and threatening enemy must be stopped by physical means.