Today’s cultural landscape seems designed to divide us. News and social media practically push us to one end of the spectrum or the other, on whatever issue. This is binary or dual thinking because it offers only two choices, even for the most complex layered issues. We stampede over people in our rush to be right.
Christians—with Jesus in common—likewise trample people in their quest to be right. They too choose sides in complex questions. (Gender roles, providing for the poor—not to mention or how we treat our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community.)
We know we’re called to love people, to include people, to welcome the stranger, and to hold off judgment. These are basic Christian tenets no matter what theological differences we have. But in our division-driven culture, we seem intent on fighting over differences instead of agreeing on common ground.
Catchphrases come in handy to reconfirm what we already believe instead of openly thinking something through. “I didn’t say it, God said it.” “The Bible is very clear.” “God created male and female.” “This is black & white.” These flatten complex human issues into easy grabs but they don’t heal hearts. They entrench our position but they don’t help us connect with someone else’s humanity. And they make God small.
LGBTQ+ or otherwise marginalized people know these words are used to flatten them as human beings with their own life and viewpoint and lived experience. Platitude comes from the word for flat.
Many Christians know they should love without judging (welcoming gay people into our churches), but also want to hold fast to their deeply held belief (that homosexuality is a sin), so they lock onto illogical, limited thinking that forces them into a corner. They grab a dissonant catchall phrase like a weapon: “Love the sinner hate the sin.” No one is capable of such a thing of course, because it doesn’t make sense. ANYONE on the receiving end will tell you that. Phrases like this only make the speaker feel good while it marginalizes the listener, yet again.
This is not the first time in history that people’s deeply held religious beliefs have crossed with living, breathing human beings who see things differently.
What is a Christian to do? Take this easy test...
Go back to Jesus' command: Love God, love others. How does that look? Love that feels like love. Being treated the way you want to be treated. Going out of our way to help people.
1 Corinthians 13 brings this idea to life. “Love is patient, love is kind…” Even if I follow every commandment of the law and doing it exceptionally well, if I don’t have love—if I’m not steeped in overriding love as I do those things—then I’m just clanging around. Just puffing smoke. Doing no good.
According to St. Augustine, no matter what interpretation of scripture you arrive at, no matter how clear you think the Bible is being or how faithful you think you are being to the words on the page, if your interpretation (and therefore way of life) doesn’t adhere to the greatest commandment – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself – then your interpretation of scripture is wrong. Period.
So that’s the easy test: Does what you’re doing show up as love? Those things you do with your deeply held religious beliefs—are they received as love by the other person?
Because that’s proof of the test: would that person say you’re loving them? They get the final say because they are the one on the receiving end.
If not, it’s back to square one.
Augustine expands on 1 Corinthians 13. “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” That sounds exactly like Jesus.
If you’re going to say you follow Jesus, you’d better be characterized by overriding love. Overriding love that looks like including, embracing, helping, not judging.
That’s what the world needs now.