“Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have,’ and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law” (Romans 13:8-10, CEB.)
This instruction from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the believers in Rome is a timely word for today. It points us to the God who is present in our relationships with each other. These days it seems many are struggling with living out their faith with love in their relationships. God calls us to love first.
In the book “Healing the Heart of Democracy” by Parker J. Palmer, there is a chapter entitled “Classrooms and Congregations” which paints a picture of the ways our schools and religious institutions explicitly state and implicitly embed democracy in their very structures. Palmer suggests that one reason we may be failing to live into and up to our democratic ideals is that our actions often are seen as being in stark contrast to the symbols and precepts with which we surround ourselves.
When our relationships are so shallow or tenuous that we cannot discuss certain things because that will risk the relationships (does this sound familiar — maybe like some family reunions or holiday gatherings you’ve attended?) what does this say about us? What does this say about our faith? If we believe God loves us and that we are to love one another, we should be able to have deep and difficult conversations.
This idea of living with love is a lofty goal in these days of division and conflict that are being exacerbated by extremists from every side and by those who have a vested interest in the failure of democracy (not just the failure of Democrats, or the failure of Republicans, or the failure of liberalism or conservatism — but the failure of democracy itself.)
Remember, this grand experiment called democracy is about “we the people;” it is not (as some might have us believe) about a particular political party or religious tradition. To allow the ideals of or identification with any political party to become of a higher value than the practice of our faith is to idolize partisanship. (Reread that last sentence.) To allow certain politicized ideals to become a test of one’s faithfulness to God is to get the whole thing backwards.
Our congregations need to become places where we model robust conversation about faithful living — not places where adherence to particular partisan ideals is necessary to gain acceptance or entrance. In these days of uncertainty let us return to Paul’s word about God’s law: “You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.” Let us live lives that are rooted in love.