It’s about six months until the next major U.S. election, and of course political nastiness is already kicked into high(er) gear. The U.S. national capital is roiled with ongoing bitterness. Here in my own state of Missouri, the governor is fighting at least a couple felony indictments related to an adulterous affair and campaign improprieties. It’s sad and disheartening to realize this is apparently the new normal in American political life. This would appear to be as good a time as any to turn to the words of Jesus in the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John:
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. –John 15:9-17 NRSV
You’ve got to be kidding, Jesus–right? What’s love got to do with the way the world really works?
A few years back the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decisively to make marriage equality the civil law of the land. And yet bitterness continues in the public’s mind. The LGBTQ communities, naturally, are pleased if not thrilled. And so are a good many others–polls show a majority of Americans. But, of course, there’s another constituency, especially Republicans, conservatives, and what’s still referred to as the “Christian Right” who are anything but happy. Some things never change: conservative and fundamentalist preachers like Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson continue to say really dumb stuff. The new tactic is to throw up a smoke screen of “religious liberty,” wanting to make the issue one of discriminating against folks, like cake bakers and wedding photographers, who claim the legal right to discriminate solely on the basis of their own religious beliefs.
Everybody has a right to their own viewpoint, of course, as well as the freedom to worship God as they feel led and see fit. I understand the way people use a literal reading of the Bible in support of their view that gay marriage is ungodly, wrong, and a sure pathway to the destruction of “normal” marriage. Just why same-sex marriage is a greater threat to the sanctity of marriage than, say, infidelity and serial divorce remains a mystery to me. However, I contend there’s more than one way to read the Bible, and a literal approach is often not the most appropriate or helpful. Context and culture play a big part in discerning a specific “word” of God, which is generally the first step in broader meanings.
It won’t be easy to change course, to stop (metaphorically) beating one another over the head with our religious/political discourse. But if the kingdom of God is to flourish on earth as it is in heaven, then it’s worth our best efforts in response to divine love. And why should we bother? The letter writer of First John has this to say:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. –1 John 5:1-6
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.