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.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that lately, I’ve been frustrated. As the world has fallen into disarray, I’ve caught myself in a constant state of disappointment—partially due to our current circumstances, but on a deeper level, because of how Christians around me have reacted to them. I’ve watched in dismay as people I’ve always considered good and kind have refused to wear masks or socially distance, putting their own comfort over the safety of those around them. I’ve seen these same people remain silent on the systemic oppression of our brothers and sisters of color, speaking up only to condemn protestors demanding justice and bristling at anything that might implicate them in the sin of racism.
In a time where divisive issues are impossible to avoid, it’s tempting to simply avoid discourse altogether. It’s easy to label others “wrong” and then move on. But as I’ve reflected over the past few months, I’ve been humbled to realize that our responsibility to demonstrate Christian love applies not only to our response to the issues, but also to the dialogue surrounding them. To condemn those around me for their actions is also a failure to love in the way of Christ.
I’ve found myself wrestling with two questions. First, what does it look like to love those around me in a time of pandemic and injustice? And second, what does it look like to love those with whom I disagree regarding the latter? To begin to address these questions, we need to define “love.” Thankfully, 1 Corinthians 13 provides us with a detailed description of Christ-like love that applies beyond the marriage ceremony even to the way that we disagree with those around us. Paul writes:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:4-6)
As I re-read this verse, certain characteristics of love stand out as particularly relevant in the context of division.
Christian love is patient and slow to anger. Time after time, Jesus is patient with his well-meaning but confused disciples. When they question his ability to feed the 4,000, he isn’t offended, but calmly proceeds to feed them, too (Matt. 15:33-36). When they mistake the metaphorical bread of life for actual bread, he doesn’t get annoyed, but explains further (John 6: 25-40). On a grander scale, we see God’s unfathomable patience in how he continues to love and pursue the people who constantly sin against him. Likewise, we are called to exhibit patience in our own interactions with others. Rather than lashing out defensively, we need to listen; rather than growing frustrated, we need to work to understand and be understood. By resisting anger and choosing patience, we inspire more productive and God-honoring conversation.
Christian love is not proud and does not dishonor others. When it comes to divisive issues, every conversation feels like a battle to be won. There’s a stigma around changing one’s mind: concession is viewed as weakness. But clinging to our pride does a disservice to ourselves and others. Not only do we lose the chance to grow, we disrespect fellow image-bearers in our refusal to listen. Addressing division in a Christ-like manner means approaching conversations with humility and respect, not with the goal of “winning.”
Christian love rejoices with the truth. With the increasing polarization of everything from politics to pandemic, we often gravitate toward information that verifies our truth, avoiding anything that contradicts our preconceived notions. Discerning the facts can be messy; thankfully, we’re not required to have all the answers. We are, however, required to seek the unbiased truth with a spirit of humility and justice: Micah 6:8 commands us to “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” As we seek truth in times of dissent, our ultimate intention should not be to prove our point or serve our own interests, but to pursue God’s justice and mercy.
Finally, Christian love is not self-seeking. Our culture tends to glorify personal liberty and individualism. But we are called to be counter-cultural, choosing instead to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our world is rife with opportunities to be good Samaritans, going out of our way to care even for those we don’t personally know. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, this means putting others’ safety first—even when it’s inconvenient. In the context of the fight against racism, this means speaking up against injustice even when it doesn’t affect us personally or makes us uncomfortable. And in the context of division, this means rejecting society’s us-against-them, win-or-lose dichotomy, embracing instead patience, humility, truth-seeking, and selflessness.
I recognize that these principles are far easier on paper than in action; as I write this, I continue to struggle to apply them in my own life. One of my biggest challenges? My senior prom. After our official prom was cancelled due to the pandemic, parents organized their own dance out of state, where restrictions don’t apply. Because of the high risk this event poses, I made the frustrating decision not to attend. As I’ve watched all of my classmates prepare to celebrate without me, it’s hard to keep my disappointment from manifesting as spite. The temptation to post passive-aggressively on social media is strong. But instead, I take a deep breath and remember that throwing shade from my moral high ground is proud, self-seeking, and only makes our division on the issue worse.
Christian love isn’t easy, especially in times of conflict. But even as we struggle through the world’s chaos, we can take heart in the knowledge that Christ has overcome the world. With this assurance, we must strive to show the love He has shown us to others, regardless of who they are or whether we agree.
About the Author
Adeline Larsen is a member of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Oak Forest, Ill. She is a recent graduate of Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, Ill., and will begin studying at Barnard College of Columbia University in the fall.