Here’s something I write about periodically, but I never worry about repeating myself because in the 2,000 years Christianity has been open for business, hardly anyone has gotten this part of it right.
I know I haven’t always gotten it right.
We all — those of us inside the faith and those who regard it only from a distance — need reminding that Christianity is supposed to be built around a single, guiding principle: Unconditional love.
Here’s Jesus, as quoted in Matthew’s gospel:
“One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’
“And Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and foremost commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets.”
Or try on this passage, from Luke’s gospel:
“But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever take away what is yours, do not demand it back. …
“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned.”
Jesus continues in this vein, both here and elsewhere in the scriptures, but I’m sure you already see his intent.
Christians are supposed to be different from the rest of the world, instead of being exactly like the rest of the world. In one passage, Jesus says to his disciples, this is how people will recognize you as my followers, by your love.
The tragedy is that, too often, Christians now are identified by our finger-wagging, tongue-clucking condemnation and intolerance — but rarely by our love.
I’m getting to be an old man, and I well remember the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, but I swear I think our country is more bitterly divided now than then.
Often, Christians’ smugness, tribalism and angry rhetoric contribute to the problem.
That shouldn’t be so.
Christianity isn’t supposed to be about political affiliations of the left or the right. If you call yourself a Christian, you don’t get to love only those who belong to your party and share your ideals.
Christianity isn’t supposed to be about a particular denomination. It’s not supposed to be about race. It’s not supposed to be about social class. It’s not supposed to be about good old flag-waving patriotism, about whether someone else stands for the national anthem at a football game.
It’s supposed to be about an unconditional love for God and for every strain of human being — those we agree with and those we don’t; those who treat us well and those who treat us shabbily; those who look like us and those who are very different.
Thus, if you call yourself a Christian, you can’t despise people because they’re Syrians or Mexicans or blacks or Asians or whites.
If you’re a Christian, you can’t despise people because they voted for Donald Trump or for Hillary Clinton.
If you’re a Christian, you can’t despise people because they’ve had abortions or are married to someone of the same gender.
If you’re a Christian, you can’t even despise people because they’re neo-Nazis or Ku Klux Klanners or ultra-nationalists.
Jesus’ principle is simple: You must love them all, forgive them all, accept them all, pray for them all, feed them all, clothe them all.
You don’t have to agree with them, you don’t have to particularly enjoy their company, you don’t have to vote their way — but you do have to love them just as they are.
His principle is easy to understand, yet hard to do. Too hard for me.
I’m not much good at it. Forty years into my Christian journey, I still don’t want to turn the other cheek. I don’t want to forgive or pardon.
I want to judge, condemn and rant.
At the same time, I can see that judging, condemning and ranting are exactly what have brought our country to the sorry condition we’re in.
Jesus’ instructions seem to be the only ones that make sense.
And so almost every day, as I head out to face my fellow humans, I pray, “Lord, please help me show my love for you by showing love for those who tick me off.”
Sometimes the prayer doesn’t work. Sometimes, though, it does.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.