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.
On May 25, 46-year-old George Floyd was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis. His death newly inflamed the hundreds-of-years-old racial conflict in America. In cities across America, protests erupted, and families, separated by the COVID-19 pandemic, began once again to debate politics. As a teenager living in this country, I have grown up hearing stories like this, and it is heartbreaking every time—not just the raw grief caused by death, but the way that many delegitimize that grief by surrounding it with politics.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless more Black Americans comes in addition to a multitude of additional issues in our time. Whether it’s climate, a pandemic, race, gender, gun rights, or political party allegiance, we are living in a time where it is easy to become divided. Every day reveals anew creation’s groaning, and our vast departure from God’s originally intended shalom. It has become easy to constantly conflict with and even dehumanize our neighbors, our fellow congregants, our classmates or coworkers, and even our own family members, but Christian faith calls us to a different way of life.
As we cry out to God to fix our broken world, communities, and systems, we can slip into the trap of starting to see people not as fellow image bearers, but as the opinions their group espouses. When anger clouds our vision, we often forget that every person has their own intricacies and experiences that led to their beliefs. And though we might not love their beliefs (especially when they conflict our own), we must continue to listen to, respect, and love them. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. teaches us, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
None can deny that our world is messed up, and we need change to come. However, with those near us, we must show that we are fighting a system, we are not fighting individuals. Our faith calls us to love all those around us, but let me clarify. Love does not mean letting others trample on our values. Love does not mean allowing injustice to continue to reign. Love means fighting for what we believe, while acknowledging that it’s possible to have an opposing belief. Love means risking something of our own to bring benefit to someone else. Many times, love means fighting our hardest and shouting our loudest to see systems changed, but love can also be quiet and steadfast. It means recognizing when to listen, when shouting at someone or arguing with someone is not going to change any of their opinions except their opinion of us.
Christian love also means trusting God with the battles we walk away from. When we begin to think things like, “But how will they ever learn what is right if I don’t tell them? Isn’t it my duty to speak the truth even when it’s hard?” we must check ourselves and pray. The work of changing hearts and minds does not belong to us. It belongs to God. If we believe it is our responsibility to change this sin-soaked world, we will be beat down, bone weary, and broken-hearted before we even begin to try to make a change. We must have confidence that God will intercede, that the work of bringing redemption to brokenness is his.
When we evangelize, we trust that if we plant a seed in someone’s heart, it is up to God to grow it (rather than thinking it our duty to create faith). In the same way, we must trust that God will help us bring about his will in the world and in ourselves. When we rely on him, we can calmly state what we believe to be in accordance with God’s will in response to a divisive issue, and then back off. If it is God’s will to change the heart of the person we have spoken to, then good. God worked through us to plant a seed, and he will continue to grow and nurture it. God is in control, and we should trust him with our work just as we give him glory when we see results.
Christian love is a balancing act. How do I show love to “Neighbor A” who is suffering from an issue while also showing love to “Neighbor B” who doesn’t believe that “Neighbor A” is truly suffering? Prayer should always be our first step. God can then help us discern what additional action to take. We can provide conversation and company by just sitting with and listening to someone’s suffering, trying our best to follow God’s guidance and empathize without worrying what it means to do so.
We can offer education about an issue and provide information and resources to those who want them, as well as educating ourselves. We cannot, however, let what one person believes interfere with standing in solidarity with those who are suffering. We don’t even have to agree with someone in order to love them. After all, Luke 6:32 states, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. … Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” When someone with a story of oppression, tragedy or need, stands in front of us, let us not stop to wonder whose side they are on or what they stand for, but let us extend God’s love to them, for we are all his image bearers.
There is no perfect formula that can be applied to every situation that allows us to always show God’s love. If there were, this conversation would not be happening. More often than not, however, it’s not important that we love everyone perfectly. What is much more important is leaning into God’s Spirit and letting him guide us in our attempts to love all those around us, despite our differences.