Campaigning for Love
And now, we find ourselves at Eastertide. A time when what we feared was dead and gone surprises us, bursting forth as new life wherever we look. It’s a time when we’re confronted at last with the realities of what Jesus told us but we found so difficult to grasp: love is all we need. It is the tomb—the dark earth—from which new life will emerge—the wellspring of all our hope.
At least that’s what we Christians believe. Or say we believe. And really, isn’t it as simple as that? Sure, one can point to all kinds of examples in the Old Testament that suggest an angry, vengeful God, ready to wipe out all our enemies if we but ask for it in faith—or even, at God’s own pleasure, to inflict all kinds of misery on us in order to test our faith, or as punishment for our lack of faith. But in this man Jesus—God among us—we are shown a new thing. We are led to a different understanding of God. All we need is love.
Why is it then that we have such a hard time with such a simple concept? Granted, the “creature” part of who we are lends itself to self-centeredness, but being created in God’s image ought to confound that tendency. What do we really mean when we sing “they’ll know we are Christians by our love”? Are there conditions we can place on when, where, how, and whom we love that we can defend as legitimate? Is loving without condition actually an impossible task for us mortals?
Difficult? Without question. Impossible? It doesn’t have to be.
It seems that discussions and debates around matters of faith—especially matters that intersect with our mandate as Christians to love unconditionally—have become more and more public for the last couple of decades. I don’t know whether that gradual increase in volume is due to the age in which we live, or is merely a figment of my own perception, due to the age I’ve attained. What I do know, though, is that this election cycle seems to have brought discussions, debates, and arguments related to religion to a fever pitch. I’m afraid that in some ways, it threatens to divide us to an extent we have seen only a handful of times in our history.
I myself am a bit dubious about politicians of any ilk invoking their religion as part of their stump speeches, or worse, as part of their official platform. Ours is an increasingly pluralistic society when it comes to religion; pluralism (a natural byproduct of freedom of religion) is a foundational principle of our government, enshrined in our Constitution, and any direct appeal to a tenet peculiar to one religion or another endangers us all.
On the other hand, I am also a bit leery of any politician who exhibits no apparent religiously-mandated moral compass. There is an arrogance, I think, in believing one can navigate the complex human, environmental, sociological, and political issues of our times without a genuine sense of divine calling—of humble obedience to a power and purpose much greater than oneself. Such arrogance, were it ever to occupy the most powerful political position in the world, could be nothing short of catastrophic for humankind.
Surely, many of us are wondering—fretfully—where the love is in all the campaign noise. We don’t hear love invoked much. We hear a lot about ways to exclude people we don’t like—and people we think don’t like us—but speeches about how loving our enemies and perceived adversaries in word and deed can change hearts and minds? Not so much. In fact, as many Christians from both the past and the present could likely affirm, I suspect that any politician who started weaving references to the power of love into his or her speeches would very quickly become yesterday’s news.
OK, so I realize some consider such thinking Pollyanna-ish. And I understand how easy it is to dismiss it as naïve—somehow out-of-touch with the real world and the way things really work. But as I see it, those are not so different from the reactions Jesus’ contemporaries probably had as he tried to persuade them of love’s power in the midst of Roman occupation and oppression. Or, for an example a bit closer to home, they are not so different from the reactions we know Dr. Martin Luther King experienced as he preached the power of love to a minority oppressed in their own homeland, many of whom—at least at first—understandably felt that violence was the only way to escape their oppression.
Where is the love in our political discourse? Do we believe in its power ultimately to overcome evil, fear, distrust, ignorance, to temper our disagreements over policy, and to lead us to compromises that honor every person’s place as a child of God? Or not? As I see it, we Christians have a golden opportunity in this, the most contentious of election seasons (in my memory, at least)—an opportunity to speak loudly, not in favor of or against this, that, or another matter of policy, but in testimony about the power of love to help bring our nation together and to help heal a broken world. It is, after all, what I understand us to be all about.