I think I’m like the Banksy of blogging. I sporadically spring up at times rarely expected. The difference being, Banksy makes bank while my office is in a former one. But today, I was moved to write for the first time since sometime late in the Obama Administration, for today marks 1-year since our church went digital due to Covid. What is the 1st-anniversary gift for a pandemic anyway? N95’s? Toilet Paper? A Flowbee? (ask your parents). Regardless, such a benchmark gives you an opportunity for reflection. So today, I was reflecting. In tandem with this, I read an article this morning and found personal reflection mingled with pastoral grief.
Before we get underway, I want to acknowledge that evangelicalism in the United States is a complex ecosystem with nuanced views on politics, social justice, equity, cancel culture, science, Covid, and the policies around such things (you know, the stuff that made 2020/21 the great social Tilt-A-Whirl). Evangelicalism is not quite as monolithic as cable news implies, but close. That’s why I say an ecosystem. It’s much like rainforests; they look slightly different from place to place, but everyone knows when they are looking at one. Also, like an ecosystem, it affects the larger environment around it. As a pastor, my focus is on how the world experiences the effects of our collective faith ecosystem.
In real-world speak…
would our communities say that what we’re doing, stating, posting, etc., has communicated unmistakably that above all else, we’re here to love and serve them as neighbors because, in doing so, have we truly loved and served God?
would our disbelieving or de-churched communities be even the slightest bit tempted to think, “Yeah, I don’t like their religion, but I’m sure glad they were around for this last year.”?
would they come even close to describing evangelicals as a people of selfless love in a season of cultural suffering?
would “loving” be in the Top 5 descriptors used of evangelicalism in 2020/2021?
But, deeper questions are gnawing at my heart, questions of deep spiritual consequence.
Did we as evangelicals sense…
a burden to ensure that above all else, putting others before ourselves was our priority, both in the optics of how it looked to them (since we are to be light) and in the application of how it was experienced by them (since we are to be salt)?
the weight of the First Commandment more heavily on our soul than the want of the First Amendment? Which did we quote more? Which gave us hope more? Which bothered us more when we didn’t see it applied? Which of the “Firsts” was truly first and drove our actions, reactions, dispositions, and perspectives this year?
resolve to love others well with an unmistakable calling to care, even if we looked foolish (per Paul), weak (per Peter), or perhaps worst of all, like sheep (per Jesus)?
In the article I was reading today, written by a conservative Christian publication, this was the line that struck me,
“The survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points, also found that white evangelicals are also the least likely faith demographic to consider their overall community’s health effect when it comes to deciding whether to get vaccinated. Just 48% of white evangelicals said they would consider community health effects “a lot” compared to 70% of black Protestants, 65% of Catholics and 68% of unaffiliated Americans.”
Now, I know some will find themselves pinned down on the beachhead of the word vaccinated. Others, wary of the woke culture, have already cued an eye-roll with the phrase white evangelical. While important discussions in their own right, they are not my focus here. The devil’s in the details, and he would most certainly love to sidetrack us on those topics so we overlook the real issue that may be of concern. So what’s the “buried lead” of the story? “evangelicals are also the least likely faith demographic to consider their overall community’s health effect when it comes to deciding… Just 48% of white evangelicals said they would consider community health effects ‘a lot’”
That little bit of data may have unearthed a lot about our collective ecosystem’s heart.
Think about it. A faith demographic…
whose founder modeled selfless love toward a planet of sinful neighbors and told us to follow his example (1 Peter 2:18-25).
whose number one most crucial commandment calls it to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:29-31) since to love our neighbor is evidence that we actually love God and it’s not just lip-service (1 John 4:20).
whose entire moral code is summed up in the one great umbrella virtue, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
whose final exam is explicitly rooted in what we did to the least of those around us (Matthew 25:31-46).
That faith demographic is the least likely demographic to consider their overall community… Community, a synonym for what the Bible calls our neighbors.
Now, I can imagine right now some will be quick…
to take offense.
to reject the conclusion.
to add disclaimers.
to write a retort.
to stop reading and punch an angry emoji into the comments section.
to point out that this is only about “community health effects” (while adding something to the effect of “alleged” or “over-hyped” or “politicized” to the front of the phrase), and that such a topic is not a tangible way to measure if we genuinely love our neighbors.
But God seems to disagree!
Don’t miss me here; I’m not seeking to squeeze public health policy into a command to love our neighbors. God did that for us; I’m merely attempting to take the Bible at its word. The law to love your neighbor comes from a book of the Bible that is explicitly about “community health effects” on our neighbors. How coincidental is that? Leviticus may read like a kid playing with a sensory box in a petting zoo with its 247 laws about disease, diet, discharges, and polycotton blends, but it’s also the birthplace of the “love your neighbor” command (Lev. 19:18). And its 3300-year-old decree to make love tangible toward our neighbors in real world ways still stands. It’s on the lips of Jesus. It’s in the letters of Paul. And it’s seeking to find a home in a 21st-century Christian internet article from a Pew Research poll. God was clear in Leviticus that not considering your neighbor’s well-being (due to leprosy, mold, scaly skin, bodily fluid, disease from sickly animals, [insert your favorite communicable disease here]) was a failure to love them. The failure to consider another is the failure to love.
If I consider myself more than you, regardless of the inventory of reasons, excuses, justifications, rights, laws, problems, or rationalizations, I’m deciding – by intentional will or partisan blindness – not to love you as God instructs me. And thus in the process failing to love God since he tells me to love you. I’m sunk instantly on God’s top-tier expectation.
Paul said a proper display of authentic love is when people “in humility consider others more significant than themselves.” (Phil. 2:2-3). Therefore my friends, a failure to love our neighbors may be the gravest of our collective sins since love stands at the pinnacle of our Lord’s priorities.
That last line is not for dramatic effect, but sober reflection. When the church in Ephesus was about to lose its love, Jesus started packing his bags. They were doing all sorts of good conservative religious stuff, but without love Jesus said there was nothing worth sticking around for (Rev. 2:1-7). Regarding a lack of love, Paul said worse.
We, as evangelicals, are very good at identifying the sins of our society, but perhaps our efforts would be better rewarded by addressing our sins against society. That’s why I’m not all that invested in the pro/con debates between pro vs. anti-mask. Pro vs. anti-vaccination. Pro vs. anti-lock-down. Pro vs. anti-[fill in your blank]. What I am interested in is that each of us, as evangelicals, looks deep and prays hard so as to be confident that whatever positions we take, we take them because we find those to be the most biblical and unmistakable way we can let the world know, “we’re considering you as more significant than ourselves” for that’s what “loving a neighbor” is all about. If our positions clearly communicate to others, “I care about your …” I think that’s what God cares about. If our positions clearly communicate to others, “I care about my …” I think that’s what God is concerned about.
Jesus was emphatic that “the world will know we are his followers by our love.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if the world agreed?
Since this has swollen to the length of a book, I might as well offer a reflective epilogue for the one poor completionist who stuck it out. As the article came to an end, I felt a deep-seated pause in my soul. One of those “I don’t want to take another step” pauses that occurs because you don’t want to face what may be the most challenging possibility of all.
Not simply that, perhaps…
we haven’t loved a disbelieving world as well as we would like.
we became diverted by self-interest even though we desire self-sacrifice.
we let our fears or frustrations disrupted our intentions.
we inadvertently became more caught up in the passions of amendments over commandments.
we became too focused on our personal rights vs. God’s gospel objectives.
we are all too human and failed to live up to the ideals of love and want to do better.
But, when confronted with the idea that perhaps we don’t consider or love our neighbors as we should… we’re more bothered at the accusation than the possibility.
Or worse still, we hear it and frankly don’t care.
The state which lets you know Jesus has long since left the building.