I was asked to write a guest article for the Springfield Times, our local newspaper, which was published on March 10, 2016 –
I am 44 years old and I cannot remember a time when our culture has been more divided. We only seem to have perpetuated this “us” verses “them” mentality that continues to further separate us from one another – republican vs. democrat; gay vs. straight; Christian vs. Muslim; rich vs. poor; black vs. white; Duck vs. Beaver fans (kidding on that last one), etc. These polarizations are quite real today and the barriers to understanding “them” (whoever they may be) are higher than ever. There are sociological reasons for this as we tend to gravitate toward people who are just like us. Generally speaking, we have more in common with the people in our inner circle of friends than we have differences. While we find comfort and safety with those who tend to share our values and mindset, if we do not intentionally get to know and affirm others who are not in our circle, we will only remain suspicious, uncertain, fearful, and perhaps even angry with those outside of our circle.
The words of Jesus two thousand years ago are just as pertinent today as when He first spoke them. In the Gospel of John 13:34, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another.” These words might be familiar to us today, but we have to realize that this message was revolutionary in the first century when Jesus first uttered them. In a culture just as divided back then, if not more than today, no one was preaching about loving and accepting others who were “different” the way Jesus was. Within His own inner circle of twelve, Jesus had disciples who came from diverse socioeconomic and political backgrounds. Yet Jesus modeled love and acceptance and asked His followers to do the same.
The beauty of this teaching of Jesus is in its universality. Not only should followers of Jesus embody this ideal, but even non-religious people can. Truth be told, sometimes non-religious people embody this ethic better than religious people. But I did it again as I set up another dichotomy – religious vs. non-religious people. It’s such a part of who we are and what we do that we almost can’t help but to label people. Labels are not inherently bad, but if labels keep us from loving one another, then they become counterproductive. As a father, a pastor, and as one who strives to grow as a person and follower of Jesus every single day, I’m teaching my kids, my congregation, and myself to seek to embody this love ethic of Jesus. May we truly learn to love one another; loving all people without preconceived biases and partiality.
John M. Hanna