I preached on March 5, when the lectionary text of the day was John 3:1-17. This passage includes the beloved (or despised, depending on who you are) John 3:16.
As part of my sermon, I talked about how while I was in college, my friends from the evangelical campus ministry I was a part of tried desperately to get me to pray the sinner’s prayer and be baptized by immersion so that I could know, once and for all, that I was “saved”. (To them, it didn’t matter that I’d spent years faithfully attending a Methodist church or received 12 years of daily religion classes in the Lutheran and Catholic schools I’d attended.)
After Sunday’s worship service concluded, a man pulled me aside and asked earnestly, “How do you not hate them?”
Honestly, his question left me a bit stunned.
Exhausted from the morning, I didn’t give him a good answer… But I’ve been thinking about his question ever since.
“How do you not hate them?”
Truth be told, it never occurred to me to hate them, especially since I married one of them.
But beyond that, it never occurred to me to hate them because those people are my friends and colleagues.
Those people love Jesus and Scripture and as I said in my sermon on Sunday, they helped me do the same.
Now, I know that’s not the case for everyone. Some of those people have genuinely hurt people; their theology has left people scarred.
That grieves me. In fact, after I preached, one woman’s story left me standing in the narthex crying with her, apologizing for the hurt done in Jesus’s name.
Yet, I am convinced that God’s love for the world - which is, after all, what John 3:16 describes - means that we, too, are called to love others.
So often, in mainline spaces, we talk about this in terms of loving the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, particularly by working towards justice.
As followers of Jesus, we are certainly called to love the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized and to work towards justice.
But as I’ve continued to think about this man’s question, “How do you not hate them?” I’ve wondered if, maybe in mainline spaces, we’ve actually used social justice as a cop out.
It’s easy for us to love the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized when our system has often rendered them voiceless.
It’s easy for us to love the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized when we can choose when and how to engage with them and do so largely on our own terms.
It’s easy for us to love the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized because they’ve seldom hurt us.
It’s much harder for us to love our fellow Christians, especially those who have been privileged and who have sometimes used their power to oppress those we champion.
It’s much harder for us to love our fellow Christians, whose paths we cross so often that it's hard for us to ignore.
It’s much harder for us to love our fellow Christians, when they’ve hurt us (or those we care about) in the name of the same Jesus we love and worship.
So, how do I not hate them?
I don't hate them because as a follower of Jesus, I am called to love
- The poor
- The oppressed
- The marginalized
- The sick
- My enemies
- Those with whom I disagree
- Those who have hurt me
- My fellow Christians
- Christians who interpret Scripture very differently than me
- My neighbors.
How do I not hate them?
I don’t hate them because - like me - they, too, bear the image of a good God who loves them and calls me to do the same.