Why can’t Christians agree on one thing: love our neighbors (and that this doesn’t look like “speaking truth in love”)

Dan Piraro gets is, why can’t we?

I am regularly frustrated by the plethora of examples in this world, in our society, and in our media of Christians being jerks. Just today, I read a blog article about a couple who berated a gay Obama supporter about his vote and his sexual-orientation, all the while using the language of faith to do so. It sickens me. This is not what God wants of Christians, and it’s really not helpful regarding bringing people to faith.

So, what does God want? God wants us to follow and be faithful. This is the first commandment, the first thing God had to say to Moses about how to live as God’s people and the thing God repeatedly laments people are not doing (see: all of the prophets).

How do we do this?

  • Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)
  • To lose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke… to give your food to the hungry and provide the homeless poor with shelter… (Isaiah 58)
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12, Luke 10, Matthew 22)
  • Love one another because love is from God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. (1 John 4)
  • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christs sake has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Here we have a little something from the prophets, the gospels (AKA stuff Jesus said and did) and the letters to the early church. God is a little repetitive on this point and Jesus came to try to clarify even further — because people were still missing the point. We still are missing the point. We are still paying more attention to the letter of the law than the purpose of the law. It’s tearing our churches, our traditions, and our nation apart — and yet we still don’t get it. Jesus said that the sum of all of the laws was that we should love God above all things and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Why isn’t this how we live? Why isn’t this what people see of us when we are on the street, on the news or on Facebook? By we, I mean all Christians? Why do we defer to judging (which Jesus totally says not to do), and being mean and then — the worst — disguising it as love? Why do we use “I’ll pray for you” as an insult?! What is wrong with us?!!! What are our churches teaching that leads us to be so mean, spiteful, callous, uncaring and downright awful? Cause that ain’t what Jesus calls us to be. It’s not what he taught and it’s not how he lived.

Look, I know that there are a lot of things upon which we can’t agree. And I get it, sort of. I understand that Christians who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God have a really wide gap between us. It can be really, really hard to talk over that gap. And I get that because of this literalism some people can’t believe homosexuality is a part of God’s gift of human sexuality. I get that there are a lot of things we all read in(to) the Bible and believe are Truth and we cling to them because these things are the pillars of our faith, they are what hold us together when everything is falling apart. I get it.

What I don’t get is how the main pillar we all cling to is not God’s love shown to us in Christ Jesus, how it isn’t the self-sacrificing love of the Christ who told us explicitly to love our neighbors, who told us not to judge one another and who showed love to the most despised of society. How is that not the main pillar of our faith — of all of our faiths, literalists and non-literalists alike? How is that not what supports and holds up our faith and our life day after day? How is it that we are, instead, clinging to an obscure law in Leviticus (while ignoring all the laws around it) or to some unwritten command to tell everyone about their sins, loudly and vehemently? How are these the things we are communicating as church leaders and laypeople? This isn’t rhetorical. I really want to know. How did the face of Christianity become so mean — and what can we do to change it?

Jesus’ love should be the pillar we cling to and the bridge that allows Christians to talk across the divide of literalism. Why isn’t it? More importantly, why isn’t it the way we live every day as a witness to the love that was given to us?

Some help here?

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About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

8 responses to “Why can’t Christians agree on one thing: love our neighbors (and that this doesn’t look like “speaking truth in love”)

  • annamporter

    I totally agree with your frustrations. I think that part of the problem is that some people really need strict rules and guidelines to follow and in the absence of those in the New Testament (other than somewhat “squishy” tenants like “love your neighbor as yourself”) they revert back to the Hebrew Testament which is chock full of rules and regulations–take your pick! Even though, ironically they conveniently “forget” many of the rules that perhaps are too tough to follow or just too obscure they can find plenty more that they can squeeze into their little boxes of understanding. If you like being “right” and pointing out what’s wrong with the other the Hebrew Testament and “Hebrew” God fits the bill better–all that fire and brimstone stuff. Plus, for those who are truly more of a conservative politically this Hebrew Testament mentality allows them to exercise their politics of capitalism and shun the New Testament commands about caring for one’s neighbor. It makes for a neater package and isn’t so messy.

  • liliesinthefields

    Hi there. I have some sympathy with what you’re saying. I used to get very angry about the behaviour of some people in the church. I would gently say though, that we’ve got to be careful that we’re not then becoming just the same as them, in judging and condemning their behaviour. It is impossible to know what is in their heart. Sometimes people do genuinely ‘speak the truth in love’ and it isn’t always appreciated, but we can’t know what they’re really intending or what God thinks about it. And as we point fingers at them, we become like them. I don’t think Jesus was always without judgement either, such as telling the woman caught in adultery, ‘go and sin no more’. As I have softened to other believers who think differently, I see how similar I was in behaviour. The only thing I can do is seek God’s love more and ask for help to know how to truly love, whether it is those outside the church or in. It’s the narrow path, I believe 🙂

    • ERW

      I hear what you’re saying — and I agree. I have experienced people who were genuinely speaking the truth in love without judgement. I have had friends tell me that what I am doing, even who I am, is wrong in a way that displayed their genuine love for me. In most cases, these people told me the concern once and left it at that. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about brothers and sisters who hide behind the phrase/concept of speaking the truth in love and use it as a way to pass judgement on others. Things like this: http://cargocollective.com/TheRockTheRipe/Homophobic-Harassment-on-Flight-346
      But for me, it is bigger than those examples, it is the general tone of discussions between those coming from a literal point of view and those who are not — I don’t get why we can’t at least find Jesus’ love for us and everyone else as common ground. Why we aren’t all spending more time thinking about how Jesus loves everyone and how that doesn’t open up hearts of compassion in all of us. Why is it that, in some, the knowledge of God’s love manifests in fear and anger, or at least doesn’t seem to break through it? I’m rambling now. So, I’ll stop.

      • liliesinthefields

        Yeah don’t get me wrong – I know bad things are done in the name of Christ. I guess Jesus warned us in the parable of the wheat and the weeds. I guess I’m saying the danger is that when we focus on the weeds, or start judging who is weed and who is wheat, we can become like the weeds ourselves, a real trap of the enemy I think!
        I’d take the Bible literally too – and lots of amazing people do, like Corrie ten Boom and Jackie Pullinger, for example. I don’t think it’s the literal interpretion that’s the problem, it’s the bits one chooses to focus on, or not considering the Word as a whole, and in the light of Jesus’ teachings. But I’m slowly learning that I’ve got to love those who are different from me spiritually as much as anyone else. Hard, though 😉 Bless you!

    • jpserrano

      So what does it mean to take the Bible “literally?”

  • liliesinthefields

    Well when I say literally, I mean that when it records Jesus saying an instruction, e.g. healing sick, giving money to poor or being humble, that ‘he meant what he said’. I really liked a testimony from Dale Recinella, who went from Wall Street lawyer to Death Row chaplain and campaigner. This was a process that was guided by the statement ‘Jesus meant what he said’. Similarly, people who have made amazing differences to the lives of the poor and oppressed are guided by taking the Bible literally. I don’t know if you’re a Christian, but if not, I’d take a look at the gospel of Luke. What if everyone took this for guidance? Fundamentalism has a bad name: I’m keen to reclaim it, just choosing different things to consider fundamental, such as Jesus’ direct commands. Though he still warns against personal sin and offers a solution, I’m not saying it’s all about social justice. Often the people who’ve been most transformed through social work have been those who have also found a living faith through it.

    • jpserrano

      I am a Christian. I also think Jesus meant what he said.

      But, I am not sure that one can rescue the “literal” understanding from fundamentalism. I think the most helpful way to interpret the Bible is with a historical-critical method rather than a propositional method. To do the later is actually to impose on the scripture a foreign reading that was never intended because they had not concept of literalism as we know it today.

      I do think it’s a literal understanding that is the problem. No one actually reads the Bible “literally.” It is lie many tell themselves in order to have something to hold on to, but it is a lie.

  • liliesinthefields

    I’ll just repeat, that my observation is that the fruit of a literal but holistic interpretation of the Bible has seemed greater than those I know who take a historical-critical method. Theology sadly is often used to avoid commands in scripture, rather than listen to God. As evidenced by, Jackie Pullinger, Corrie ten Boom, and others.

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