“All you need is love, love is all you need.”
— The Beatles
Like the Beatles, many Christian people seem to think love is easy. It is not. That it can simply be spoken into existence. Good luck with that.
Let’s define our terms, however.
Church nerd that I am, there’s no way I can define love without reference to Scripture. So no, I’m not talking about feel-good ditties, romantic novels, or even the admittedly extraordinary experience of you and your sweetheart falling in love.
The kind of love I’m thinking of is the love of blood, sweat and tears. Love that is born of will and manifested in determination to care about another human being.
The kind that would take a bullet (or a cross) for another.
The kind that would stick it in the face (or the Temple) of the authorities for others.
The kind that refuses to yield to the death of another.
The kind that cherishes the ones that are despised and rejected.
At this time of racial crisis, some of my Christian friends talk about love at just the level of the Beatles’ song: We can solve the problem of racism by simply deciding to love one another. And at some level that’s true. Love is indeed a decision, a choice.
But the choice to love our Black brothers and sisters is not a choice just to feel good toward them.
It’s a choice to dig into the false narratives of history we were taught and, though it causes us pain, root them out of our psyches as the lies they are.
It’s a choice to see symbols we have cherished as part of our heritage in a different light, through the eyes of an oppressed people.
It’s a choice to see that one person’s “law and order” is another’s “I can’t breathe.”
It’s a choice to read and listen to the stories of black people with empathy, giving credence to those experiences.
And oh yes, it’s a choice to use terms like “oppressed people” as we begin to comprehend.
It’s a choice to see oppression in terms of systems, not just individuals — the systems of injustice where there should be justice, of degradation where there should be support, of stifling where there should be opportunity.
It’s a choice to look into our lifestyles, our bank accounts and our possessions and see them in the light of white privilege and the advantages that system gave us, and at whose cost.
It’s a choice to consciously check the impulse to see a black face as suspicious, to discipline ourselves instead to see another human being.
It’s a choice to march, write, advocate, sing, paint murals, record videos or use whatever our place is on the telephone wire to support Black lives, Black freedom, Black humanity.
To be a Christian (or a Muslim or a Jew or a member of any of the religions) is not to stick one’s head in the sands of simplicity and tokenism. We don’t separate, because the prophets, Christ and others of our faiths’ founders and leaders did not separate, God from human life and systems — political, economic and social.
I recently saw a picture of a church sign that said, “We worship a man of color murdered by keepers of the law.”
Many find that offensive because they don’t acknowledge that Jesus was unjustly executed by authorities who feared his deeply unsettling message of God’s preferential love for the oppressed poor. (Sound familiar?) They prefer the narrative that Christ voluntarily gave his life to save them, individually, from hell.
I can’t tell anyone what to believe. And believe me, I fail at living up to my own standard.
But I can say that if we want to root out destructive, unjust, evil racism from this country, we need more Christian people, and people of all faiths and no faith, to understand what true love requires of us in this moment.
It’s a lot more than a feeling.