Love Thy Neighbor?

I recently wrote about Jesus and Politics and, since these are blog posts and not doctoral dissertations, I didn’t go into a lot of detail on examples of how people twist faith for political gain.  Honestly, you could write a book, and many have, on interpretations of scripture or misinterpretations of scripture.  I do, however, want to cover one topic that I believe gets twisted, and I may do a couple more of these in the future.  

In Matthew 22, Jesus famously says that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  For the most part, all of us are guilty of ignoring this commandment. We make plenty of excuses as to why this person doesn’t deserve it, or that group is unworthy of our love. Those on the one side tend to attempt to justify it, but they don’t really make excuses for it.  They are guilty of it, but they tend to be ashamed of it at the same time.  Those on the other side, combine this sin with another, pride, to take great pleasure in their hatred of certain people or groups.  The justification is that it’s good to hate those who hate (whether or not those people they target truly hate is another conversation for another day).  These people will then throw Jesus back in your face, because they think that holding certain opinions is evidence of love, and they love everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Just ask them, they’ll tell you.  

Before we delve too far into this, we need to answer a few basic questions:

1.     Who is your neighbor?

2.     What does it mean to love them?

3.     How do we show compassion to those who are not our neighbors?

Who is your neighbor?

Is there any Scripture, Old or New Testament, that says, “Thou shalt love every person on Earth?”  If there is, I’ve never even heard of it, let alone read it.  In the context of Scripture and in the context of life, our neighbors are those people in close proximity to us.  Those people in our sphere of influence.  They are the people we might come into contact with today, or this week. While this means that not all seven billion people on Earth are your neighbors, it’s really no less daunting because this means that not only are your actual neighbors, your neighbors, but that person you see in the supermarket is your neighbor.  The guy who works in the gas station is your neighbor.  Your co-workers, the people at the gym, the folks at your church, all of them, and more, are your neighbors.  Just because it doesn’t mean everyone on earth, it’s still a lot of people.  And, as I’ve written before, love is an action verb, this means there are a lot of people you have to do things with or for.  You cannot just think good thoughts, you have to act on this love.  

I think one of the reasons people claim to love everyone on earth is it makes it easier to be a jerk to that person in traffic, or be rude to the waiter at the restaurant.  Perhaps it’s people over-compensating for the “proximity effect”.  By that, I mean, when you hear of a disaster halfway around the world that kills 3,000 people, you feel sad for a moment, but when you heard about 3,000 people dying on September 11th, your heart broke because it hit closer to home.  I am 100% guilty of this myself.  The thought of 3,000 Americans dying in a terrorist attack, all these years later, still brings back the heartache I felt that day.  When I see a story on the news about an earthquake or other natural disaster, or even more distant due to time, the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I feel sorrow, say a quick prayer and then move on about my day as if it didn’t even happen.  The victims of those circumstances were no different than the victims of 9/11 in the eyes of God, but, I am not God.  I am human, and I have limitations.  I just don’t have the capacity to love a stranger the way I love my daughter, or to love a person halfway around the world the way I love the folks who live two doors down.  God has that capacity, but I don’t.

What does it mean to love your neighbor?

After establishing who are neighbors are, the question is, how do we show them love?  Well, there’s a thousand different ways depending on the situation, so I won’t go into details here, but just cover the basics.  Be kind to everyone you see.  Don’t judge people, even if they’re not kind to you.  Be patient with people.  Observe the Golden Rule, how would you want to be treated in a given situation? If in doubt, read what Paul had to say about it in Romans 12:9-21.  You can’t beat his words of wisdom.  Again, you must act

How do we show compassion to those outside our sphere of influence?

There are numerous ways to accomplish this as well, but first and foremost, we must remember every human being, from conception, is a child of God no different than we are.  We can condemn actions or ideas, but we must not condemn the people themselves, lest we too be condemned.  Whether the person who we feel ill will towards is a Muslim suicide bomber, an American “white nationalist” (more on that soon), or any other person, we must remember no person is beyond redemption or God’s grace.  

When opportunities arise to help those far away, whether that be sponsor a mission trip to Uganda or donate a few bucks to earthquake relief in India, we should help if we can.  However, we cannot allow these small actions to justify patting ourselves on the back and then ignoring those folks we come into contact with every day.  Our duty is to those closest to us first, then to others, if we’re able.  It’s not about time and money, it’s about love.

In conclusion, WWJD?

WWJD, or What Would Jesus Do? Is a good reminder to wear around your wrist to do the right thing. However, remember to actually ask yourself the question.  Would Jesus sit in judgment of a person, or would Jesus show kindness to that person? Would Jesus treat this guy poorly because the last person he had contact with was a jerk to him?  Let God judge when it’s all said and done, but until then, don’t bogart the grace.  God gives us grace and it’s up to us to share it and there’s no better way to show God’s love and grace than to act it out for others to experience, whether they deserve it or not.  Maybe especially if they don’t deserve it.  

Jesus & Politics

One of my favorite bands as a teenager was Everclear.  I loved their energy and Art Alexakis’ deeply personal and powerful stories.  I still feel like they are one of the most under-rated bands of the 1990’s, although I will concede the criticism that much of their music sounds alike (but so does many of my other favorite bands from that time, i.e. Social Distortion, Bad Religion, etc.).  However, Mr. Alexakis started to lose me when he went political.  Most artists, when they go political, lose me.  I have no issue with an artist’s personal opinions, but I don’t care for it to show up in the music itself, at least overtly.  

In 2008, Everclear released a song called, “Jesus Was a Democrat.”  If you’re an audio masochist, you can follow the link, but I advise against it.  This was in response to the previous twenty years of Republicans claiming to have a monopoly on the politics of faith, which, in reality, didn’t mirror the teachings of Christ any more than the idea that Jesus would have been a lefty using the government to do the charitable works that he commanded us to do in our personal lives.  And we know Jesus wasn’t wearing a “Taxation is Theft” hat when he was walking around performing miracles, so that pretty much rules out the fact he would have been a Libertarian as well.  

So, what were Jesus’ politics?

Well, that’s not an easy question to answer, which makes it one that people want to simplify and mold to their own perceptions.  No doubt Jesus was a political figure, much like being vocal about being a follower of Jesus is a political position in 2019.  However, as Andrew Brietbart apparently once said (I cannot confirm this, I have just heard it), “politics is downstream of culture.”   I believe that Jesus, and the teachings of Jesus, are upstream of culture.  I believe a Christian’s first duty is to be a Christian, and then, a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or whatever else next, as it fits into your faith.   

The world is not black and white.  It’s not that simple.  People want it to be simple so it’s easier to comprehend and easier to assign people to your side or the opposition, but it’s just not that way.  They find it impossible to imagine that you would want to protect our Southern border and still care about the people who are flooding across.  They find it impossible to imagine that you care about unborn children and care about what is best for women.  Contrary to what many people think, right, left and otherwise, the world is not a series of mutually exclusive situations and decisions.  

The issue with faith and politics is really just a manifestation of an issue that pervades all of politics: people will mold authoritative sources to fit their worldview, rather than mold their worldview to those authoritative sources. We see this all the time whether it be memes that misquote, or take out of context, things said by the Founders or other presidents or things like, “the Second Amendment only applies to muskets.” And we all know people will cherry pick statistics and use them out of context to make their point.  Sometimes, even when the truth is the polar opposite of their argument, that argument looks compelling because they’ve twisted the truth to sell the lie.  While we live in a world of rampant moral relativism, it’s not a new thing to the human condition, it’s just on technological steroids now.  

Personally, I have no issue with your faith, or lack thereof, informing your politics.  It’s really impossible, if you think about it, for something that deeply personal to you to not influence your worldview.  Where I have a problem with it, especially when it comes to Christianity, is trying to use Jesus to push your narrative (which the left tries to do every bit as much as the right).  One, if you don’t have the facts and logic on your side, you’re not convincing anyone, even many Christians such as myself.  Many of us will also know if you are quoting Scripture out of context and will not be fooled by it.  And two, as a Christian, Jesus never forced anyone to believe in him or to follow him, he convinced them through his words and actions.  Even when they nailed him to a cross, he didn’t force anyone to do anything.  If you force someone to do something, it’s not real. You’re always worried about those folks you forced rebelling against you.  However, if you convince them to do something, you’ve got yourself a fellow believer who will stand and fight beside you. 

I love Jesus, but please stop telling me how he’d vote or feel about a political issue.  

NOTE: When looking for a photo or meme on Google images to suit this post, over 90% of the memes I saw were left leaning memes using Jesus to attack the right. Some of them had some merit, but most of them were obviously written by people who had never actually read the Gospels or the rest of the New Testament. Some, yet worse, were blatantly putting words into Jesus’ mouth that he never spoke. Again, this is why using the love of Christ to motivate you to take political action is a good thing, but claiming he would endorse you and your statements is something else altogether.