For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as
yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed
by one another.
--Galatians 5:14-15 NRSV
In your scrolling on social media, perhaps you’ve the meme that looks like this:
Love your neighbor
look like you,
think like you,
love like you,
speak like you,
pray like you,
vote like you.
Love your neighbor.
When I’ve seen these memes (I’ve probably shared ones like them), I must confess that in my own spiritual arrogance I have thought the message “Love your neighbor. No exceptions.” was for others. Maybe it’s for the person who refuses to acknowledge systematic racism and sports an #AllLivesMatter on their profile picture. Maybe it’s for the person sharing conspiracy theories about Muslims trying to impose “sharia” law in rural America. Maybe it’s for the person posting they “love the sinner but hate the sin” when it comes to equality for LGBTQ people. The message is for anybody else but me, right? It’s for “them” or at least whoever I’ve decided “them” is today.
But the pretty rainbow-colored graphic says, “Love your neighbor. No exceptions.” So, maybe my mind’s propensity for creating a new “them” to look down on, to set myself against, to ignore our common humanity doesn’t line up with the idea of “Love your neighbor. No exceptions.”
I really hate it when the Gospel of Jesus Christ condemns me along with everybody else’s shortcomings. It’s so much more fun when I get to be the one looking down on others.
This past holiday weekend I had the joy of getting together with old friends. My wife and I met in college, and blessedly we have a group of about twenty friends from those days. Each Labor Day weekend for twenty-five years we have gotten together to catch up, tell old stories and have fun. Many of the folks in this group of friends don’t share my particular religious or political beliefs. That makes for interesting and sometimes heated conversations. Even when I’ve lost my cool, because I can’t believe they don’t have the same beliefs I do (mine are the correct ones after all!) these friends, who really are like family, have accepted me and loved me anyway. Our annual get togethers and our contacts in between remind me of my deep love for these people regardless of whether or not we believe the same things about God, vote for the same party or think the same way about social issues. I love them with no exceptions, and I thank God they do the same for me.
In the age of social media and partisan cable news, one of the most common questions I get as a minister is how do I stay in relationship with the family member or friend who believes differently than I do? It can be difficult when we are all firing off emails and posting comments without giving it any thought or even taking a breath. Things can get nasty and personal real quick. I know because I have gone there and regretted it.
I recommend that each of us get in the habit of never posting a quick reply to another person’s comment with whom we disagree. This is truly difficult for me. I can’t think of a time I’ve done so and felt good about it later. If something someone has posted or shared really bothers you, take a day to think about it and then message them. Maybe you need to type something out to get your feelings on screen. If you’re like me, once you get your feelings out, you realize there is no real need to send that message on.
Sometimes you may need to adjust the settings on your email or social media to “mute” a certain person’s messages. They don’t have to know you aren’t reading the stuff they are sharing and forwarding to you. You can spare yourself and them the awkward discussion of why you “unfriended” them.
Other times you may have to take the hard step of “un-friending” someone or maybe just letting that person know you need to communicate with them in other ways besides social media or email, because you can’t keep your emotions in check. I’ve had to make this move with some family members and even some close friends, because what they share or post provokes a reaction in me I don’t like. I’m pretty sure the stuff I share and post has caused that same kind of reaction in them. I’m definitely sure that what either of has posted has never changed their mind or mine.
Finally, there are those people who share such negative and personal things that it may amount to emotional abuse. In such cases, setting firm boundaries is necessary for your own well-being and health. Loving your neighbor can only happen from a safe distance with some people.
Remember the biggest companies with the smartest minds are working non-stop to keep you glued to your phone, tablet and computer. They make money—lots of it—the longer you keep using their app or watching their channel. The easiest way to keep you making money for them is to keep you outraged. There are genuine things to be outraged about in the world, but few of them are ever changed by a shared Facebook post or a forwarded email.
Our culture does not reward maintaining relationships with people different from ourselves. It rewards outrage and remaining in your own bubble. Yet, if we are really going to “Love our neighbor. No exceptions.” it has to cut both ways.
Nobody ever said this Christian-thing was easy.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.