Jesus’ commandment to love your enemies is surely one of his most challenging (v. 44). Godly people have shown us that obeying this is possible through God’s transforming love. One such person is Ann Atwater.
Because of her own experience with substandard housing, Ann participated in a 17-week training course to learn about community organizing in Durham, North Carolina, and became an outspoken civil rights activist there. In 1971 Ann, who is Black, participated in a series of meetings on the full integration of the Durham Public Schools with C.P. Elliott, the head of the local KKK. They were truly enemies. At an earlier city council meeting, when he went on a racist diatribe, Ann pulled out a knife but her friends held her back. “I hated her guts,” the KKK leader said in a later interview.
When integration talks stalled, Ann Atwater took a transforming initiative. She pulled strings to better the living situation of the Elliotts’ disabled son in the facility that cared for him. Ann and C.P. began to talk. C.P. began to see that the system that held poor White and poor Black people down was their common enemy, not each other. He voted for integration of the schools and publicly tore up his Klan card, alienating his former friends. Ann Atwater and C.P. Elliott became close friends, continuing to work together on issues and traveling together to speak on breaking down barriers. Ann Atwater even gave the eulogy at C.P. Elliott’s funeral.
In one interview Ann said, “I just lend whatever God gives me to give out….I feel that when somebody calls me for some help, God wants me to go on record sayin’ I tried.” May we go and do likewise.
What transforming initiative could you take in the hope that God might work through your action for the common good?
God, we have a hard time loving others. Astound us with the way you change enemies into friends so that we’ll want to be part of your work. Amen.