That sentence was shared with me by a parishioner in a coffee shop in Nashville when the church I was working for was enduring a rough patch.
Two distinct groups emerged and I will spare you the reasons we were divisive about, because if I share them it might make you leave the church or hate Jesus altogether. We (unsuccessfully) were trying to keep the ship from sinking and the preacher and I tried to preach about loving one another, serving one another and those types of things but the damage was done.
I wanted to meet this parishioner because I loved them deeply and did not want to see them go and he shared his frustration and vented his displeasure. He was fuming as I would occasionally look down at my burnt-tasting coffee looking for some revelation to make the situation better. Then he said something I will never forget:
“You know what bothers me Robbie?” I looked up from my coffee knowing he was about to say something brutally honest. “If I hear one more sermon on love I think I am going to explode!”
I was completely dumbfounded. It’s not apropos for a minister to call one of his parishioners a “bleeping moron” so I held my tongue. We prayed, I hugged him, and we never prayed together again.
Fast forward more than a decade and I open my Twitter feed, look at my Facebook timeline and read the occasional news article and see that love is something that is not preached enough.
If you do a cursory search on a bible software platform you will find the word love (including its cognates) used more than 500 times in scripture. When asked to describe who God is the biblical writers seem to overwhelmingly use the word “love” when it comes to sharing God’s essence. Jesus seem to think that if you had to rank the greatest command then love of God and love of others would start the list. I could share scriptures ad nauseam, but I really don’t think you need me to do that.
Even if you do not believe in God or believe that the bible has some sort of authority in this world I do not think you would deny that love may be the highest ethos man can achieve. My friend Brad Montague is one of my heroes and is the mastermind behind Kid President. Every time I turn my Twitter on and feel like blowing a gasket I will see something amazing from that account (@iamkidpresident):
…then I am back again.
I have known Brad Montague since the Fall of 1999 and in every single encounter I have had with him he has never said something bad about anyone. Even when he and I would share our frustrations about youth ministry he did it in such a way as to actually make people feel better.
Perhaps our best mark we can leave in this polarizing landscape is to love those with whom we passionately disagree with. That is not to say we dismiss hateful comments are evil practices as “ok” and then let’s sing kumbaya.
Far from it.
Maybe the best way to love a person is to speak truth to their unjust actions. I follow Jonathan Merritt on Twitter and he has a beautiful way at speaking truth to different groups that is informed, nuanced but full of grace and love. What I do know is that as long as we fail to love someone it will always be an “us vs. them,” “me vs. you,” and “right vs. wrong” conversation. Loving someone has a way of destroying dichotomies, the false binaries this world concocts.
Don’t believe me?
I live in Tennessee and right now there is a heated Senate race between Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn. I am sure there is the same thing where you are at. Watching TV is an absolute chore watching their campaign ads. One runner can’t seem to decide who they are until they let you know the downfalls of the person they are running against.
So here’s a thought I am currently wrestling with as you read this…
More like a question…
What would it look like if our churches loved people like they could/should?
I mean really loved people. In my experience when you ask this sort of question people like to qualify saying, “But Robbie…” and then share the reasons why they think it is ok to not love certain groups of people.
Lord, have mercy.
Love people. Let’s start and end there.
 Keep in mind that I am not trying to share this claiming one group was better than the other because when a church divides everyone is to blame. I am just as guilty.