We are proud to highlight and congratulate the winners of our Young Adults Writing Contest in this issue (pp. 32-34). Unfortunately, due to space, we can only publish the top two winners, but all three winning entries are published online. We received 25 entries from writers between 16-25 years of age on the topic of “Christian Love in Divisive Times.” It was heartwarming to read how young people are concerned and thinking seriously about the current divisiveness within and outside the church.
Ideological tribalism seems to have taken over our world. Tribes in and of themselves are necessary and good. But it becomes an “–ism” when we give our tribes greater loyalty and importance in our lives than we should. In our North American cultural landscape, our tribalism is mostly marked by rage, resentment, and revenge (borrowing a phrase from author Karen Armstrong). So-called progressive and conservative tribes alike are quick to be outraged at wrongs. They just get angry at different things. Both harbor simmering resentment at perceived slights and mistreatments. And both, it seems, would love to punish the other by various means.
Lately, the “cancel culture” trend seems to be one such means of revenge or punishment. Cancel culture refers to the practice of withdrawing support for public figures and/or companies who have done wrong. It often extends to totally boycotting any product or work from such figures or companies, as well as public shaming on social media.
To be clear, cancel culture is not only the domain of left-wing progressives, although the term is currently associated with them. A form of cancel culture has been around for ages, even before the term existed. Some Christians, for instance, have canceled or boycotted public Christian figures for not having the right theology or doing or saying the right things. Remember the Christian outcry against Amy Grant back when the popular Christian artist got a divorce? Or, more recently, the Southern Baptist pastors who threatened to boycott their own conference because the organizers included a woman pastor as a speaker? In other words, the posture of rage, resentment, and revenge cuts across various tribes and has been around for a long time.
In this cultural climate, Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself remains as radically challenging and difficult to follow as ever. By answering the question “Who is my neighbor?” with the parable of the good (but hated) Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus essentially taught that our tribal enemies are also our neighbors. Hence, we are called to love not only those who think or act like us but also those with whom we disagree and with whom we might even feel animosity.
It is challenging for me. Am I called to love a racist as myself? Am I called to show love to those who may attack, even viciously, my ideas, beliefs, or even my character? This is very hard. But loving our enemies does not mean we accept everything they say or do.
The late Lewis Smedes wisely drew this distinction: “Love is the power to suffer evil for a long time, but it does not drive us to accept the evil we suffer” (Love Within Limits, p. 7). Love calls us to accept unjust persons in love, but not to accept the injustice inflicted by unjust persons. This is why the prophet Micah calls us not only to “love kindness” but, in the same breath, also to “do justice” (Micah 6:8). In our Christian discipleship, we will struggle with this tension.