Loving Everybody is Powerful
by James Seaton
The summer of 2018 evoked in me a complex mix of positive and negative emotions.
I witnessed my beautiful, intelligent sister graduate from her Long Island high school. Amidst the burgers, jokes, and laughter during our family celebration at IHOB (IHOP? IHOB? I can’t keep up), I felt as close to my family as I ever have. At the same time, I was saddened to learn about the thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents at the Mexico-United States border.
I had the pleasure of immersing myself in beautiful Boston neighborhoods such as Dorchester and the South End as part of my summer internship in city missions. But I also learned about how wealthy residents have moved into these same neighborhoods and, whether they meant to or not, have contributed to increases in rent, making way for the displacement of lower income, long-time residents.
In my living situation, I experienced the embrace of a diverse Christian community of 11 students from places ranging from Singapore to New York. But I also watched the news as White Americans called the police on others with darker skin just for using a coupon or selling water.
Such is this world—a place full of dichotomies and complexity.
Love and the Church
I have often asked myself whether we, the Church, are loving well in these times. The Church—what began as a small group of people following Jesus, sacrificing their money and possessions to help others and spread the gospel, a group some predicted would become irrelevant—has developed into a body of over two billion people.
I’ve heard many stories about how the Church as the Body of Christ has been a positive agent of change. In my own life, I’ve witnessed how much I’ve matured because of the community surrounding me at my home church, the House of Judah, in Long Island. I believe that the Church has had a unique ability to tackle tough individual and broad-spectrum issues like racism, homelessness, poverty, lack of healthcare, and more. But all of that begins with one word: love.
In one of my favorite Bible passages, Titus 3:3-4 (ESV), Paul writes that he and Titus were once “hated by others and hating one another,” until the “goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared.” We now have the Holy Spirit to aid us in loving everyone—even those who are not like us or who do not agree with us.
Despite this message of hope and truth, the Church has sometimes struggled to love. Many perceive a lack of love within the Church as some Christians demonstrate hatred towards undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, remain silent on racism and police brutality, condone misogyny, and take a pro-birth but not pro-life stance.
Because of this, some brothers and sisters have decided to leave the Church. James Baldwin, a prominent gay, Black author of the 20th century who once identified as a Christian, is one example of someone who immersed himself in the Church and, after finding various hypocrisies, decided to abandon it. In a sobering paragraph in The Fire Next Time, he writes,
“The transfiguring power of the Holy Ghost ended when the service ended, and salvation stopped at the church door. When we were told to love everybody, I had thought that that meant everybody. But no. It applied only to those who believed as we did, and it did not apply to white people at all. I was told by a minister, for example, that I should never, on any public conveyance, under any circumstances, rise and give my seat to a white woman. White men never rose for Negro women. Well, that was true enough, in the main - I saw his point. But what was the point, the purpose of my salvation if it did not permit me to behave with love toward others, no matter how they behaved toward me? “
In this instance, Baldwin speaks about agape love, the sacrificial love by which we love everyone, even those who have hurt us or have a different skin color.
This summer, I was an intern at the Emmanuel Gospel Center and on Boston summer mission with Cru, a Christian campus ministry. In my time there, I experienced several ways that I and others can better love one another.
Love Others As You Love Yourself
First, to love others, it is critical both to understand and love yourself. True self-understanding starts with confronting our personal myths. In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin writes,
The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace.
What myths do we cling to, as individuals or as the body of Christ? Whom do we believe ourselves to be? Whom does God say that we are? I think that, by coming to a clear understanding of who we are, we can then treat ourselves with love and empathy.
Love Reaches Out
Secondly, it is critical to get to know people across dividing lines—whether it be friends, neighbors, or leaders of various organizations.
I regret that I have often prioritized comfort and individualism over relational development and sacrifice. I’ve preferred to stay within my room at Cornell University or the box of my schedule without making time to be interruptible or learn more about the community that I inhabit.
Love Pays the Cost
Perhaps the hardest lesson I’ve learned is that to love means to sacrifice or “do the hard thing.” To love those who hate us is a sacrifice of pride and personal will, as well as a representation of Jesus’ love for us. The great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a sermon entitled, Love Your Enemies, said,
Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it...That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men.
Loving someone who hates us or looks at the world differently from us is difficult. But the Holy Spirit equips us to complete this action in a society in which hate is rampant in various forms. “That,” as King says it, “is the meaning of love.”
I hope that we as individuals and as the Body of Christ will love everybody better in the future: the homeless veteran, the hungry child, the immigrant fleeing dangerous circumstances back home, the widow, and any other person we may deem challenging to understand and help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Seaton is a senior at Cornell University, studying communication. In 2018, James interned with EGC’s Applied Research & Consulting. His research focused on urban housing and racial justice.