The comfort we find in Christ is not a passive repose in our favorite recliner. Even in the English language, comfort is an old word hearkening from the Middle Ages and referring to needed moral and physical strengthening. Comfort is active. God gives us comfort because we are too weak to go on, and his comfort enlivens us. God’s comfort is power. It’s not meant merely to make us feel better. It’s meant to make us more like Jesus.
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27–28)
Over two decades ago, on an unusually hot July evening in Syracuse, New York, I stood on Pastor Ken Smith’s porch and knocked on the door. I had been doing this for months, dining with my enemies.
I was a lesbian feminist activist English professor at Syracuse University. I thought I was doing research on this odd tribe of people called Christians, people who stood in the way of full civil rights for gay people like me. Ken was the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. On that July night, Ken opened the door and warmly embraced me and welcomed me inside. Dining with my enemies was a fascinating experience. It made me feel like a bona fide liberal.
I knew I was on enemy territory. But I didn’t believe that I was the enemy. How could I be? I was on the side of social justice, reparations for the disempowered, racial reconciliation, and equitable inclusion for all.
Identifying the Enemy
For years — and before I became a believer and Ken became my pastor — I enjoyed the company of the Smiths’ table fellowship. I sat under Ken’s family devotions and joined in the Psalm singing. And then, at this July dinner, I realized it. I wasn’t the victim dining with my persecutors. I wasn’t at the enemy’s table. I was the enemy.
I thought I was on the right side of history. It was my undoing to finally realize that it was Jesus I was persecuting the whole time. Not some historical figure named Jesus. But King Jesus. The Jesus who was this world’s sovereign King and would become my Lord. My Jesus. My Prophet, Priest, King, Friend, Brother, and Savior. That Jesus.
I don’t like thinking about the fact that I was the enemy who hated, the enemy who cursed, and the enemy who abused. But it’s true. And instead of hating me back, Ken Smith assembled such a wide team of prayer warriors that I likely won’t meet all of the believers who prayed for my salvation until heaven.
From Cursing to Cursed
As soon as the Lord claimed me for himself, I had the opportunity to model what had been given to me: to love, do good, bless, and pray for those who curse me. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Everyone from the lesbian partner I broke up with, to the graduate students in Queer Theory whose Ph.D. dissertations I could no longer supervise, to the LGBTQ+ undergraduate student groups I could no longer support felt the stunning betrayal. I had changed my allegiance. Were their secrets still safe with me? I was disappointing almost everyone I loved because I believed in Jesus — the real Jesus who reveals himself in the Bible. My treachery to my lesbian community was only bearable through my union with Christ.
In such circumstances, union with Christ is the source of a Christian’s love that overcomes hatred: spiritual, unbreakable, irreplaceable, and eternal. It springs from the power of Christ’s resurrection, in which every believer abides. Conflict with others is never pleasant. It is disarming, disillusioning, and depressing.