By Brian McLaren
I’m a committed follower of Christ, and Christ taught that the greatest commandment was to love … to love God, self, and neighbor, yes, but to go farther: to love beyond those normal limits … to love the stranger, the alien, the outsider, the outcast, the misunderstand, the misjudged, and the disinherited, even the opponent and the enemy.
The apostle Paul built on what Jesus taught. Without love, we’re nothing, just a bunch of annoying noise, he said. You can have mountain-moving faith – and we might add, creed affirming doctrines – but without love, he said, it has no meaning or value. Love fulfills the law, he said, and the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.
If Jesus and Paul were right, then love is always in season.
But here in America, every four years we have national elections. And in order to win elections, politicians and political parties often scapegoat and vilify their neighbors instead of loving them. They pour gasoline on dying embers of racism, prejudice, and bigotry. In order to win for “us,” they are willing to throw “them” under the bus. And then, when the election is over, the leave the nation a mess … wounded, divided, scarred, suspicious, the winners proud and the losers humiliated. The beautiful mess is a little messier and a little less beautiful.
That’s why we need to raise a banner of love right now. That’s why the real campaign isn’t Republicans versus Democrats, or conservatives versus liberals. The real campaign is the campaign of love versus hate, prejudice, indifference, and fear.
This campaign has been uglier than most. Vicious, hurtful, and dangerous things have been said … lies have been treated as true … many boundaries of political civility and human decency have been crossed. In the face of all this noise, it’s tempting to just withdraw in disgust and walk away. But the great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil… Not to speak is to speak.” And Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
If we refuse to remain silent, we face another temptation: to mirror the ugliness and division with ugliness and division. My friend Shane Claiborne says that if you fight fire with fire, you just get a bigger fire. Or as a wise Jewish sage put it, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.”
So we need to respond to evil not with silence, and not with more evil, but with greater good. We need to respond to fear and despair not with more fear and despair, but with confidence and hope. And we need to respond to hate not with more hate, but with love.
Only love can heal what’s broken. Whether it’s in our families and friendships or our neighborhoods and nations, only love never fails.
So I hope you’ll join me in the coming months – through the election to the inauguration and beyond – to stand with love.
Love for those for those who are like us, and love for those who are different.
Love for the people we agree with, and for the people we disagree with.
Love for the winners and for the losers, for the insiders and the outsiders, for the majority and the minority, the privileged and the excluded, the powerless and powerful.
God loves everyone. No exceptions. That’s my highest ambition too, and I hope it will be yours.
That’s the real campaign this season. The campaign for love.
When you hear or see someone saying something that is unloving, don’t be silent. But don’t insult them or lecture them or get into an argument with them. Just tenderly make your stand with love. Say “Wow. I see that differently. I don’t want to ague with you, but I want to stand with love.”
When the most negative and unloving statements get quoted endlessly in the mass media, we’re going to flood social media with quotes of about love by leaders who stand and lead with love.
When words fail, many of us are going to use sign language for love … like this.
When evil abounds, many of us are going to redouble our efforts to overcome evil with good. We’re going to engage in random acts of kindness and we’re going to consistently support organizations and projects that are showing love to the most vulnerable among us … the very ones who frequently are excluded, misunderstood, misjudged, stereotyped, scapegoated, or simply ignored during political campaigns.
When we feel anger, fear, or resentment rising up in our own hearts, we’re not going to project it out on others. We’re going to process it and determine to become not bitter but better.
We stand with love will be our hashtag, but more important, it will be our heart’s desire and our deep moral commitment. Churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, and temples can take their stand and put up a banner. Individuals and families can put up a lawn sign or wear a t-shirt.
Loving protesters can take their stand, not against anyone as an enemy, but with and for love for one another, not raising threatening fists or pointing accusing fingers, but simply standing with open arms and hearts full of love.
Why love? Why now? That’s my answer. We stand with love.