Recently an old hymn popped into my head that I sang countless times growing up in school chapel and church. “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” goes like this: “We will work with each other, we will work side by side. And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…” As the lyrics played in my head, returning with ease from the hundreds of times I have sung them, one thought has stayed with me long after: Will they know we are Christians by our love?
The world is so heavy right now. This is not unique to human history. A quick review of world events through time has seen plagues, famines, war, genocide, and numerous other sufferings across the ages. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and demoralized when we look at the news. Many of us are not immune to our own personal tragedies and hurt. At a time when humans need connection and community more than ever, many are finding it hard to come by.
A quick scroll of any social media site is often filled with visceral words and demeaning memes. Partisan news sites find monetary success in sowing discourse and villainizing those who view the world differently. Some of the most currently successful podcasts and authors are finding wild success in demonizing and diminishing anyone who has a life experience that does not align with their own. While it is not just Christians who use insult and defamatory language, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. This is a problem.
To be clear, this type of behavior isn’t altogether new. What makes it in many ways more damaging today is its ability to spread to the masses through modern technology. As Christians, we belong to a fallen world, and although we have been saved through our faith, we still often fall short in living out our Christian values. There are numerous historical examples where Christians have failed to act how God calls us to. For example, many of the participants in the attack on the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama, were churchgoers. Ask anyone who has turned away from the Christian faith why they left, and the answer is often not because of what God calls us to do. Rather, it is often the seeming contradiction of those who call themselves Christians to live their life in a way that models the Christian faith that turns people away.
Christians, like our country and world, are not a monolith. We do not see all policy proposals, current events, and philosophies of government the same. In fact, that was God’s design. God did not intend for us to all be the same. One of my favorite Christian children’s books is God’s Very Good Idea storybook which uses biblical foundations to help kids understand that God designed us to be diverse and wants us to celebrate (and VALUE) our diversity. It is important for those of us who call ourselves Christians to ensure that we are treating those around us how God calls us to: with love and respect.
To be clear, life is hard. Policy choices have consequences. My goal is not to diminish that. It is hard to live in community with one another when the divisions seem so hard to overcome. It is much easier to make our circle smaller and only align with those with similar life experiences and worldviews. But that doesn’t help the world know our faith and experience Christian love in the community. In fact, it can prevent others from building a relationship with God and developing a faith that, if you are like me, has been even more important these last few years.
In a world that is often chaotic and divisive, the one thing we Christians can offer is a different response. We can choose to acknowledge the value and worth of every individual because that is what God desires. It is not easy. There are friends and individuals with whom I see the world very differently, and there are times when it is really hard. Growing up, I attended a parochial school and church where I was often made to feel deficient because my family belonged to a different political affiliation than most families there. At times it was very alienating and didn’t feel like a reflection of God’s love.
Here are some tangible ways to show the world we are Christians by our love.
- Don’t just offer kind, supportive words. God’s love for us was supported with action. This means showing up for others in real, tangible ways—Cook the meal. Make the donation. Attend the rally. Send the card. Never underestimate the blessing a small act can be to someone.
- Treat others as you would want to be treated. God calls us to treat others with respect, kindness, and dignity. Have you ever changed your opinion because someone yelled at you and berated you? It doesn’t matter if we say we are a Christian if the way we treat others doesn’t reflect it. Right now that could mean not sharing that meme or retweeting something that doesn’t align with how we should treat others.
- Meet people where they are. God met us where we were, a broken and sinful human. This does not mean you have to agree or condone actions you don’t agree with, but humiliation and devaluing aren’t how God meets us. It can be uncomfortable and hard, but God calls us to do hard things.
- Listen to one another. In a world where individuals tend to be shouting over one another more than conversing with one another, be a listener. God tells us time and time again that He is there for us and that we can come to Him with anything. Show others you care about them and their story by truly listening to them, even if it is different from your life experience. Search for areas of common ground. Let others know their story matters.
The older I get, the blessing of faith becomes more vital and pivotal to understanding the chaos of the world around me. Christians, let us be living examples of God’s love. Let them know we are Christians by our love.