For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism to environmental destruction, subordination of women to stigmatization of LGBT people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, clergy pedophilia to white privilege. What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes and is dedicated to beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life? . . .
.. For centuries, Christians have presented God as a Supreme Being who showers blessings upon insiders who share certain beliefs and proper institutional affiliation, but who punishes outsiders with eternal conscious torment. Yet Jesus revealed God as one who “eats with sinners,” welcomes outsiders in, and forgives even while being rejected, tortured, and killed. Jesus associated God more with gracious parental tenderness than strict authoritarian toughness. He preached that God was to be found in self-giving service rather than self-asserting domination.
.. For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an “organized religion”—a change-averse institution or set of institutions that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation. We Christians have repeatedly adapted our message, methods, and mission to the contours of our time [for example, the Second Vatican Council within Catholicism]. What might happen if we understood the core Christian ethos as creative, constructive, and forward-leaning—as an “organizing religion” that challenges all institutions (including its own) [as Jesus did] to learn, grow, and mature toward a deepening, enduring vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, enemy, and creation? . . .
.. If we are to be truly Christian, it makes sense to turn to Jesus for the answer.
Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was the most radical of all. Love was the greatest commandment . . . his prime directive—love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled. The new commandment of love [John 13:34] meant that neither beliefs nor words, neither taboos, systems, structures nor the labels that enshrined them mattered most. Love decentered everything else; love relativized everything else; love took priority over everything else—everything.
First, all ethics is situational ethics. Ethics is shaped and defined by the situation in which it occurs. The Bible is full of ethics that only apply because of the unique situation (it is a highly specific situation when Jacob is applauded for wrestling an angel). Second, morality can be Role-Based. The moral response depends on the role you play in the situation. Different roles carry different amounts of power, and what’s morally conscionable shifts depending how much power you have. As Karen Lebascqz writes, “power that attaches to [one’s] role is morally relevant in determining an appropriate… ethic.” This is the Robin Hood premise–we defend Robin Hood’s morality because he steals from the wealthy to feed the starving.
.. Too often in social discourse, the privileged try to set the terms of enemy-loving. But you lost the right do that when you (or your predecessors) persecuted an entire group.
.. White people cannot demand that people of color love them because they are enemies (racism still exists). Men cannot demand that women love them because they are enemies (see Taylor Swift testimony).
.. Jesus loves his enemies in a strategic, disruptive, threateningly nonviolent way that that supports the nurture, thriving, and growth of his enemies. He confronts enemies who have both more and less power than him:
.. Karen Lebacqz argues that feminists in heterosexual relationships are practicing love of enemy.
.. There is a difference between survival and revenge. Survival is the first definition of love–the desire for your own nurture, thriving, and growth. Revenge is the desire to destroy the enemy’s nurture, thriving, and growth. People in privilege often perceive survival as revenge–an oppressed person defending their thriving is not an assault on your thriving.
.. Can you extend forgiveness-with-survival to neo-Nazis? No, because they are not repentant. But with those who are repentant, you can extend forgiveness-with-survival?
.. you cannot police how someone else loves their enemy. White people, people in privilege, do not get to dictate the terms of enemy-loving.
.. People in privilege can confess loudly that all ethics is situational ethics, that loving your enemy is a slippery, ever-changing, guessing, crazy-making process–but a worthwhile, vital, deeply faithful one.