21 January 2014

the challenge of love

In the past few days the current governor of New York made it clear that he does not believe that those who align with right-to-life advocacy have a place in that state.  Unfortunately, this is becoming more common in our culture - people looking for ways to isolate themselves from those with whom they disagree.  Not to enter into too much of a discussion of politics at this point, suffice it to say that the facts show the majority of this happens from the Progressive-Liberal agendas in an attempt to isolate those with Traditional-Conservative values.  The rhetoric has become increasingly divisive over the past few years, mostly under the guise of 'tolerance' and 'political correctness' that seem to only function as a one-way street.

I raise this issue because there are those within our culture who self-identify as the open-minded, big-hearted, affirming people of society, always looking out for the least among us.  But how can this be the case when there is so much vitriolic sentiment being sent against those who hold differing moral standards?  Why can we be accepting and affirming of alternative 'lifestyles', but not of alternative beliefs (especially when a lifestyle is the outworking of a belief)?  There is no way around this: some morality is more equal than other morality ... or, no morality is more equal than a morality.

This is not the definition of love.  This doesn't even constitute as tough love, as though the supposedly close-minded moralists need to face difficult situations to learn what true love actually is. Love does not seek to isolate and destroy those with whom it finds disagreement.  However, we have discovered that our culture is one that has become quite overrun with the belief that we are to win on behalf of love at any cost of war that might come as a price.  This is quite distorted.  What is even more disturbing still is that this culture of 'love-war' often finds its way into the church.

Conflict happens; it is a part of the human experience.  So long as human beings are broken images who are living together, there will be situations of disagreement and dispute.  The fact that we sometimes clash with one another does not mean that we are not Christians.  It is how we respond to such situations that will demonstrate our level of commitment to the cross.  And it can be easy to return fire in a situation of conflict - trust me, I have been there with both success and failure to act out my faith.  These can be frustrating times indeed, but they can also be our greatest opportunities to see God at work in our lives - especially our communities.

The challenge of love is not that we would establish our version of the gospel message through any means possible, or that we suddenly eradicate those with whom we disagree.  If we begin to accept this then we are no longer distinguished from those who are not part of God's kingdom.  The challenge of love is to broaden the effectiveness of the gospel by sharing the gospel with as many people as possible.  This is more than street-evangelism or soup-kitchen service, important as those activities might be.  To look at the way Jesus brought the presence of heaven into our world is to see one who went out to welcome everyone - even those undesirable to the religious elitists - to the table of God's grace.

There will certainly be times when we have to make difficult decisions along life's journey, even coming to remove certain people from having an influence in our lives or congregations.  Jesus knew this, and Paul reiterated it.  But these situations come at the end of working to bring God's love and truth into each circumstance, and are intended to act as tough love leading to reconciliation, rather than a pushing away of those we don't like.

Love is a great challenge, for it demands that we give up on our own sense of entitlement or winning.  For the church, the wide-open embrace of the gospel needs to be an essential component of the community of faith.  Around the table of communion there is room for all, and there is transformative power in the dynamic experience of God's love - especially in the community of his followers.  Right now the world is becoming increasingly polarized around us, which means that the church ought to have a powerful opportunity to show what God's love is genuinely about.

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