My blog, “Schism Is a Failure of Love and Leadership,” sparked considerable discussion. Many thoughtful questions and challenges merit continued reflection on my part and additional discussion across the church. (https://shiftingmargins.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/schism-is-a-failure-of-love-and-leadership/
On the surface, the call to love seems piously superficial and naïve. One respondent indicated, my suggestions are more like “a sermon than a practical solution to our current divisions.” I would argue that sermons are “practical.” Otherwise, we dismiss the “Sermon on the Mount” as impractical and naïve.
The comment reflects a serious problem. Legislative mandates, organizational directives, and juridical penalties have come to have more authority than liturgy, theological reflection, and spiritual discernment. Our liturgy, theology, and discernment have tended to become instruments of legislative coercion, bureaucratic maneuvering, and judicial threat.
It is appropriate to revisit Jesus’s farewell discourse in John’s Gospel. Two statements of Jesus have largely been ignored: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) and his prayer “that they may all be one” (17:20).
Admittedly, we suffer from a cheapening of the term “love,” thereby reducing it to sentiment that “we just get along.” “Getting along” isn’t a bad thing in this age of vitriol and polarization. However, to love as Christ loves us is far more radical than being “nice” to one another.
What does it mean to love as Christ loves us? From the words and actions of Jesus, love is more than a sentiment. It is a revolutionary and dangerous way of being in the world. Loving as Christ loves may very well get you killed!
To love as Christ loves us means to shift the margins of our concern and preoccupation from the centrality of the privileged and powerful to the vulnerable and powerless. Throughout the biblical witness, God’s preferential presence and mission are among the “orphans, widows, and sojourners (immigrants).” (https://shiftingmargins.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/shifting-the-margins/)
Jesus moved the center of God’s reign to include the outcasts, the poor, the sinners, the children, the sick, the imprisoned, the infirm, “the least of these.” To love as Christ loves us is to join him among those whom Charles Wesley called “Jesus’ bosom friends.” It means to see and nurture the divine image in everyone and to challenge the systems, policies, and practices that diminish the inherent worth and dignity of all God’s beloved children.
Love is an action more than a sentiment or emotion or intellectual construct. Love seeks, includes, nurtures, gives, helps, supports, serves, corrects, and promotes the wellbeing of the beloved. It is inseparable from justice and the dogged effort to overcome oppression, exploitation, and cruelty.
According to John’s Gospel, Jesus’s priority was that his disciples would love as he loves and that they would be “one” in expressing that love in the world. What would it mean for us to respond to those priorities?
It would mean at least this: we and the church would turn our attention and presence to the most vulnerable, neglected, powerless, and despised in our congregations and communities. They would be the center of our concern and presence. Preoccupation with church growth, preserving doctrinal purity, labeling one another as “progressive” or “evangelical,” and denominational triumphalism would move to the margins. The love of Christ would become central and would make us one!