The Church and Love: Not Mutually Exclusive

​The other night my wife posted a quick note in a closed Facebook group to which she belongs. It had to do with an anonymous letter I received at our home in opposition to a public stand I took regarding some of the hate and division this recent election has revealed. Bear in mind the note I received wasn’t nasty or even mean-spirited. But it was anonymous. So, in keeping with long-standing practice regarding anything sent to me anonymously, I tossed it in the recycle bin. 

That’s not very interesting, and is actually commonplace for people in my profession. But what made this noteworthy is the response my wife received from her Facebook post. She had briefly stated that I had received an anonymous note, and that it was in response to my stance of inclusivity for all, love for all, and welcome to all in a sermon the previous Sunday (the sermon). She said how sad she felt that a message of love for all was met with fear, and that this response is far from in isolated incident. Many who espouse that all are worthy of love are ridiculed, harassed, and isolated. While I only received a brief note, others have received far worse. 

The response she received was surprising to both of us. Within about 10 minutes (and mind you, she posted this about 10:00 at night) there were about 50 return comments of support and care. We are Lutheran (I’m an ELCA pastor) yet encouragement came from across age and theological perspectives. Within a half hour of her post, more than 100 comments were made (not counting the “likes”), all of them positive and supportive. 

Several Jews asked her to keep up the necessary work of love. A former Pentecostal (now atheist) wrote that if she’d heard messages of love for all people in her church growing up, she may not have left the faith. Others longed for more people to stand in and for acceptance. Still others recognized how hard it is to publicly proclaim that all are to be loved. One or two bemoaned their own church’s failure to take this kind of a stance and wished there was a “loving church” nearer to them. Several asked my wife to pray for them, their church, and their clergy. On and on she read these comments, astounded at the depth of the encouragement and heartbroken by the longing for acceptance.

It seemed clear that my wife had struck a cord in her Facebook group. The simplicity of loving all people apparently is not broadly heard outside of certain circles. The longing for someone to say “you are loved right now, just as you are” was palpable. We went to bed moved, misty, and determined.

If the message of Jesus is to “love God, love your neighbor,” we don’t seem to be doing it very well. At least there are lots of people who don’t think so. Or who haven’t been experiencing that from church people. If one small Facebook post is any indication, we aren’t doing our job. 

What’s hard is that most congregations and congregational adherents believe they are showing love. We really think we’re doing a good job because we aren’t hateful, are fairly polite, are upset by violence and racism, and bothered by all kinds of phobias, including those singling out Islam and LGBTQ. People are yearning to be loved and cared about. Even though there are churches in their neighborhoods, they don’t believe the people inside would really love them. 

So here’s the message: what we’re doing is not enough. Love, care, compassion, grace, generosity aren’t quiet by nature, and certainly not private. Rather than patting ourselves on the back because xenophobia is irritating, perhaps we need to be seen publicly standing up for immigrants. Instead of feeling justified because we find those who take advantage of the poor distasteful, perhaps each of us should be broadly recognized as standing up for those who are economically challenged. If we are annoyed by homophobia or persecution of Muslims or sexism, maybe it’s time our love-in-action on their behalf was identifiable in our neighborhoods. 

If we aren’t known for being loving, perhaps it’s because we only do it quietly and safely. If people longing to be accepted aren’t turning to the church, I’m guessing it’s because they don’t believe they will find acceptance among us. 

If love isn’t shown, it isn’t really love. Love is active, risky, and relational. If those in our congregations’ neighborhoods don’t know we love them, it’s time we showed them. What can you do to get outside the doors of your church building and love your neighbor? What will that look like? Who are they and what’s going on in their lives? How can they know they are loved, by us, right now, just as they are? People are asking for acceptance, wanting to know they are considered worthwhile, longing to be loved. Doesn’t that sound like something we are called, equipped, and sent to do? 

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