Following the Radical Jesus: Why are Christians so bad at loving the “other?”
by Rick Love
“Christians do very well as compared to the rest of society. They are neighborly, forgiving and caring for the poor....” So writes Bradley R.E. Wright in his book, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (p. 179). Bradley’s book is a welcome corrective to so much negative stuff written about the church. This is good news.
But even this positive book acknowledges that Christians, on the whole, still don’t like people of other races, religions, and sexual orientation. Christians struggle with loving the “other.”
Why are so many Christians so bad at loving the “other"? I see three major reasons:
1) We focus on the death and resurrection of Christ to the point that we lose focus on his example and teaching.
Why are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John called 'gospels'? Because Jesus IS the gospel! Not just his death and resurrection, but his birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection are all part of the good news. Our gospel needs to be as comprehensive as the gospels!
But in the name of the great commission, too many Christians downplay the great commandments. We feel that our only job is to share the gospel, and we somehow forget two hugely important facts about the great commission.
First, the great commission says we are to teach others “to obey all that Jesus commanded” (Matthew 28:19). Following Jesus involves obeying his commands, chief of which is the call to love.
Second, the great commission includes imitating Jesus: “As the father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Jesus preached the gospel (of the kingdom). So must we. But he also demonstrated God’s love to people who were unloved in Jewish society: women, lepers, adulterers, demonized, tax collectors and Samaritans, just to name a few.
Remember the three kinds of people that Bradley R.E. Wright said that Christians fail to love? Those of other races, religions, and sexual orientation? Jesus’ loving engagement with the Samaritan woman (John 4) demonstrates how Jesus related to someone who was all three. The Samaritan woman was considered ethnically inferior, a religious heretic, AND sexually promiscuous. Yet Jesus lovingly and truthfully engaged her.
In my experience, the majority of Christians act more like Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees, than they do like Jesus. Pharisees were antagonistic toward sinners. They demonstrated love for God by hating sinners. And their devotion to God manifested itself through hostility.
By contrast, Jesus demonstrated love for God by loving sinners and manifesting hospitality. Jesus hung out with the wrong crowd and even earned the nickname, “friend of sinners.” Jesus modeled inclusive love.
2) We see life in terms of “us vs. them” instead of embracing God’s common grace.
God’s common grace means that…
- All people enjoy the blessings of the physical world
- All people have the ability to do good
- All people have a general knowledge of God or a sense of the divine
- All people are culture-makers
Embracing common grace is revolutionary. It helps followers of Jesus see things differently. We see the image of God in others, we discern the footprints of God in culture, we build bridges and respect others, and it helps us partner with others for human flourishing.
3) We think that God’s peace purposes are only for Christians, when in fact we are called to live in peace with everyone.
The biblical commands to “love your enemy” (Matthew 5:44) and “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18) show that peacemaking is not just for Christians. The pursuit of peace knows no barriers. The scope of peacemaking is comprehensive. Jesus expects us to pursue peace with family, friends, neighbors, atheists, Muslims, democrats, gays, and republicans.
Peacemaking pushes us beyond our comfort zones and outside the walls of our churches. It challenges us to live out the peaceable ways of Jesus with our neighbors and our enemies. No borders. No boundaries. Everyone.
I love how Brian Zahnd summarizes these issues:
"Let’s get this clear – loving the homosexual is no more an endorsement of homosexuality than Jesus’ refusal to stone the adulterous woman was an endorsement of adultery. Because Jesus would not stone and adulterer did not mean Jesus was pro-adultery. Because Paul addressed the pagans of Athens respectfully did not mean Paul was pro-paganism. As we learn to sincerely love and respect secularists, homosexuals and Muslims, it does not mean that we advocate secularism, support gay marriage or endorse Islam. It simply means we are attempting to be authentic followers of Christ” (Unconditional? The Call to Radical Forgiveness, p. 146).
Our love for the “other” proves that we are following the radical Jesus! What do you think?