The Christian Call to Civility: Love One Another

[A version of this originally appeared on Huffington Post]

We've just gotten through Halloween, and the mask of sanity and civility seems to be slipping, revealing a horrifyingly ugly reality underneath.

In the wake of several heart-breaking young gay suicides comes an Arkansas school board member whose epithet-laced, grammatically mutilated Facebook posts essentially encouraged gay youths to kill themselves. (He has resigned with an apology.)

That's horrific enough, especially given this person's educational responsibilities. But then the leader of one of the major conservative Christian organizations proclaims that gay suicides are only natural since homosexuality is "abnormal" and therefore leads them to despair.

Meanwhile, the last few days of the midterm election campaign got really ugly in a number of places. Witness the attack by one conservative candidate's supporters on a progressive protestor. The victim was set upon by several folks, including one man who stepped on her head (giving her a concussion) and a rather large woman who walked right over her midsection.

And then there's the man who was taken down by several Virginia police officers -- while videotaped by his powerless son -- because he was protesting at another conservative rally.

More generally, it's become blazingly apparent that extreme political views that wouldn't even have been whispered just a few years ago have become proud campaign slogans. And as a result the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized are maligned and threatened.

It almost seems as though all pretense of civility in our nation is evaporating in the heat and light of an increasingly divisive atmosphere fueled by a rabid 24/7 media. 

So does all this mark the start of a malicious new world order, or is it the last barking snarl of a dying corpse?

As our society under God continues to progress in its acceptance, and even celebration, of one another -- despite our race, our gender, our orientation, our religion or even our politics -- those who hope to maintain their "superiority" feel threatened and fearful. They are losing in the grand scheme of things, and with their backs against the wall they are fighting for their way no matter what.

As a person of faith, I join in the chorus of those who call us all to a higher ideal. I believe we can be better than this.

I admit I get caught up in it all, and my righteous indignation flares. But then some of Jesus' words beckon to me, and I realize the great responsibility that people of faith -- those who are involved in churches, synagogues, mosques -- must bear in this situation.

Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 NRSV)


Notice he has to say "love one another" three times.

So what would this look like?

When the world looks at you and your community of faith, what do they see? Do they see a family loving one another, serving one another, learning from one another, challenging and encouraging one another and welcoming all who would wish to attend? Or do they see a group of people fighting over who should be in charge, getting feelings hurt, failing to deal with essential issues, getting sidetracked on minor squabbles and ignoring the rest of the world? Is that the way it's supposed to be? I wonder what Jesus would say.

Maybe he already said it: "Love one another." He doesn't qualify it by race, political party, or denomination. Those who follow Jesus are to follow his example and love in the same ways he loved the 12 by teaching and healing; being present to others; being utterly honest and guileless; expressing his -- and our -- truest, deepest feelings; and serving others humbly.

Jesus says that when the world sees the love members have for one another in the community of faith, they will know that we are followers of God. This isn't to say we won't ever disagree with others, but that we should work out any disagreements in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding. Is that still possible? I think -- I hope and pray -- that it is.

The disciples certainly were a mixed assortment of personalities, interests and styles, yet Jesus was able to work with them and to give them this challenge, a challenge that stands for us today.

It goes to the core of who we are as followers of Christ, or as people of faith more broadly. It shows us that if we have trouble loving others, perhaps we have not fully encountered and received and experienced the love God has for us.

Once we've accepted our place as God's beloved, nothing can stop us from loving others. If we choose to.