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Theological Pacifier

Love your neighbor.

I’ve been hearing and seeing evidence of well-intentioned Christians making pleas (admonishments, reminders, posters, posts, yard signs, banners) about loving our neighbors. The current political state of affairs has seemingly made these messages urgent. And what better way to get the best results than to imply or state plainly that Jesus told us to love our neighbors. You know…the second greatest commandment.

Then, as part of the reward for doing what we’ve been told to do, we are given the emphatic reminder that God loves us “as we are.”

How interesting is it, that in the ways we are reminded to love our neighbors by category e.g. love your (fill-in-the-blank) neighbor, we seem to miss what else is happening underneath it all? By reminding “ourselves” to love our Black neighbors, our Latino neighbors, our immigrant neighbors, we are also being told covertly that we already automatically love our White neighbors. (Expand this thought for other categories.) Wouldn’t it be best to say, “Love every neighbor?”

How interesting is it that part of what Jesus said is actually missing? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8) Well now! That may be quite a different thing. Love my neighbor as myself? It seems it’s not enough to just love your neighbor. If we love ourselves enough to assure that we get what we need or what our families need like food, shelter, clothing, good education, healthcare, retirement, vacation, dignity and freedom, then we ought to love our neighbors in the same way. There’s no race issue in that. So either we don’t see these items as an extension of love or we don’t love ourselves and cannot therefore love our neighbors. (Or both, I guess.)

So does God love us “as we are?” Or does God love us despite who we are? “As we are” gives us permission to never be more than that. It gives us the freedom to say we need to love our neighbor without ever trying to do so. It gives us an out when loving someone gets too difficult; when the effort is stressful or when justice takes too much energy to fight for or frankly, when our favorite TV show is on.

Sometimes I think I love my daughter more than I love myself. LOL. My love for her makes me want to see her have blissful moments; to thrive in safety; to live a life where she doesn’t have to struggle so much to be heard or recognized as God’s beloved. And I do what I can to assure that it happens. So I hear Jesus telling me to love my neighbors in that way as well.

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