Love Just After a Time of War

Anti-Trump Protest in Columbus, Ohio
Christine Ruddy

“A good way to tell what is in a cup is to upset it.” In the wake of the American election, a lot of people are upset, and a lot of other people are upset that a lot of other people are upset. Thereby we are finding out a lot about a lot of people.

We’re finding out that people whose politics are, they say, all about alleviating the plight of common people refuse to listen to what common people themselves want to say.

We’re finding out that people whose politics are, they claim, all about righting injustices done to themselves and their kind don’t care about the justice claims of others in the process.

And we’re finding out that people whose politics are, they believe, all about advancing the values of the Christian faith demur from one of the most basic commandments of that faith: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

This fundamental ethic can be paraphrased for the present moment as “Love your neighbour who disagrees with you about politics as you love those who agree with you.”

Love them. That doesn’t mean “work up, somehow, warm affection for people whose ideals and actions oppose much of what you believe is right.”

Christian love means something much more practical: Care for them, do them good, treat them as you would like to have been treated if the election had gone differently.

And where, nowadays, are we most likely to transgress in this regard? Of course: in social media.

Most of us can maintain a certain grim courtesy even in the presence of a person who is going on rather too long about the shortcomings of this candidate or party. But in the Wild West of Facebook and Twitter, we draw our six-guns at the first sign of trouble, shooting first and asking questions never.

Have we learned nothing about the incendiary power of social media to disrupt conversations, damage relationships, and destroy reputations—particularly, one must remember, one’s own?

There are people who have posted things during this election—and during our previous, Canadian one—that have struck me as so foolish and offensive that I will never think as well of them as I used to.

But I dare not treat them worse than I used to, for the gospel standard hasn’t changed: “Love your neighbour.”

Again, Christian love isn’t sentimental, isn’t false, isn’t pretending that things are other than they are. Things are, indeed, such that we cannot afford to burn bridges between ourselves and our neighbours, to slam doors on friends, or to cut ties to relations. We needed each other yesterday, and we’ll need each other tomorrow.

And even if we think we can get along very nicely, thank-you, without that idiot, that troll, that former-friend-turned-crazy-and-wicked-enemy, we do not have the right to treat that person as a cancer. He remains a companion, and she a comrade.

Loving my neighbour, to be sure, doesn’t mean replying to every post, comment, or tweet. One might respond respectfully with pertinent facts and hope for a change in tone, if not in opinion. But sometimes the most loving thing to do is let the rage burn out and trust time to heal wounds.

What is never the loving thing to do is to return evil for evil, to stoke the fires of fury, and to make things worse.

No, our calling is to love our neighbours, to make things as good as we can make them, and to ensure that what we say or do today doesn’t make peace more difficult tomorrow.

Before you post, ask just one question: “Am I loving my neighbour?”

Now if I could only go back and delete what seemed so deliciously appropriate at the time…

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John serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. He is the author of nine books, the editor of four more, and the author of over 600 articles, book chapters, and reviews in academic publications, major newspapers, and magazines. His writings range over history, sociology, philosophy, theology, ethics, and comparative religion. He has spoken throughout North America, in the United Kingdom, and in China, India, Israel, Korea, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand. His commentary on religion and contemporary culture has been featured by major broadcast and print media as diverse as The New York Times, The Atlantic, ABC News, CBC Radio, Time, and Reader’s Digest.

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