Loving Our ___ Neighbor

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Editor’s Note: This year, The Banner hosted a writing contest for young adults exploring the topic, “Christian Love in Divisive Times.” This article was one of the runners-up in that contest. To read more runners-up and the winning articles, click here.

As a member of the LGBT+ community, I am no stranger to division within the world and within the church. We have watched as our world has grown more divided over the past couple of years than perhaps ever before. We are, in fact, so divided that when people in our nation are fighting for their equality, those with privilege say, “But what about me?” Although it is easy to look at the world and point fingers at the division, an important step to fostering Christian love in our world is to look at the division within the church and created by the church. We are at fault.

Recognizing this does not discredit the good the church has done, but rather makes us aware that we are not perfect and we have hurt people. People have murdered in the name of Christ, parents have rejected their kids because of their identity on the grounds of religion, and countless more. The church has added to the divisive times we live in now. Our greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and yet we continue to hurt our neighbors who are marginalized by rejecting them and denying them of their experiences.

Loving our neighbors includes our gay neighbor, our immigrant neighbor, our homeless neighbor, our incarcerated neighbor, our atheist neighbor, our Black neighbor, our Indigenous neighbor, our Latinx neighbor, our addicted neighbor, our disabled neighbor, and the list goes on. Our neighbors are on either side of the divide, and if we are not treating them or speaking about them in ways we would be treating or speaking about ourselves, we are not showing them the love of Christ. It is not the job of the church to cast judgment upon who we believe will receive the gift of eternal life and who will not. God is the only judge, and we are just his vessels meant to spread his love. Once we as a church recognize who we are and who God is, and that we have in fact hurt some of God’s people, then we can move forward toward spreading true Christian love to an entire divided world.

As Christians, we must also note that true love goes beyond thoughts and prayers; it requires action. As it is written in 1 John 3, “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Everyone is deserving of Christ’s love, but as Christ himself showed us through his time on Earth, the church should be standing alongside those who are marginalized in divisive times. Christians cannot sit idly by while our brothers and sisters, those fearfully, wonderfully, and equally made in the image of God, are fighting for their rights to safety and equality within the United States and the world.

Sometimes Christians might be afraid of becoming “political,” but would not our Savior have been deemed “political”? In the book of Matthew, chapter 23, Jesus critiques the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, those who most certainly were involved in the politics of the nation. He knows that those in political power are hypocrites, and he speaks up about it. At the same time, Jesus steers his ministry toward those marginalized and rejected from society. In Luke 5, when a man with leprosy approaches Jesus and asks if he is willing to heal him, Jesus does not hesitate, but rather responds with, “I am willing.” When the paralyzed man was lowered before Jesus, he called the man “friend.” When Jesus met Levi the tax collector, he invited Levi to follow him. When the woman comes to Jesus in Luke 7, the Pharisees are quick to label her as a sinner. However, Christ says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The world is divided, and we must ask ourselves where we stand as a church. Do we stand where the Pharisees once stood, labeling our LGBT+ neighbors as sinners instead of friends as Jesus would? Showing Christian love during times of division means standing behind and standing up for our gay neighbor, our immigrant neighbor, our homeless neighbor, our incarcerated neighbor, our atheist neighbor, our Black neighbor, our Indigenous neighbor, our Latinx neighbor, our addicted neighbor, our disabled neighbor, our (fill in the blank) neighbor. We as a church must spread love by following Christ’s example, responding to the pleas and cries of those suffering in our world by saying, “I am willing to stand by you. I am willing to fight with you. I am willing, friend.”

About the Author

Bethany VanderPloeg is a member at Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Mich. She graduated from Trinity Christian College and is passionate about writing and social justice. She is beginning her master’s degree in social work this fall at the University of Michigan.

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Bethany does a great job of illustrating how an entire generation has been taught to view the world, the Church, the Gospel, and Scripture. Take notice peope! Our schools need to be reformed, or many more young people will be lost.

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