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The Table Video

Nicholas Wolterstorff

Loving Both the Victim and the Victimizer

Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University
June 5, 2017

At times the oppression of the innocent seems to warrant aggression towards the perpetrator; Nicholas Wolterstorff and Evan Rosa reflect on how we show love to both.


Are neighbor love and enemy love ever in conflict? Where, can we go too easy on certain enemies? Can we go too easy on certain people who are doing such great injustice to all sorts of innocents?

So an organization that has really inspired me is an organization, Honduras Association for a More Just Society, run almost entirely by local Hondurans. And it really is a justice organization rather than a relief or development organization.

And what HAJ does is, well, two things. It stands beside victims of crime, and it does what it can to hold the government responsible. So there’s corruption. I’ve learned that there are two pervasive reasons for injustice in Honduras. One is corruption, of course. But the other is the lack of trust. Ordinary people don’t trust the police. They fear that if they report the crime to the police, the police who know the victimizers, the wrongdoers, will tell the victimizers, and they’ll get back at them and so forth.

The prosecutors don’t trust the police. The police don’t trust the prosecutors. And you know, I was– This is eye-opening for me. It seems obvious. But where I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, there’s general trust. If I discovered that my house was burglarized, I’d call the cops. I’m well aware of the fact now that there are probably areas in Chicago such that if I were a black person lived in those areas, I would not call the cops.

But in my part of Grand Rapids, most of Grand Rapids, I’d call the cops. So I should’ve known it anyway, but it became obvious to me that trust, trust, there cannot be justice in the absence of trust. Now, in that situation, so HAJ stands behind the victims, tries to get the government to pursue the victimzers and so forth. Your question is, can it at the same time, and how, show love for the victimizers?

Yes. For instance, the right emotion. [Nicholas laughs]

So the right emotion for the victimizer, the oppressor, is anger.

Nicholas: Yes.

Is anger a form of love?

Yeah, can be. So hard treatment can be reproof, so that’s one way in which you can love the–

Tough love.

Tough love, yes. The person would prefer that it not be tough, but sometimes love has to be tough. So it seems to me it’s possible then in such situations both to take care of the young girl who’s been raped or the fruit peddler who’s been shot in the head and so forth, but also those who perpetrated.