It was Ben Franklin that said “There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.” I’ve discovered a third: disagreement. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter what you believe, there will be people who either disagree with you or you with them. For some, disagreement comes through a specific person at work or school. For others, it might be a segment of society who holds different moral values.
Some people relish disagreement, and go so far as to seek it out and make it worse. Others ignore it, adopting the attitude of “out of sight, out of mind.” But for followers of Christ, those aren’t acceptable options. Our faith requires us to love people- even those who we don’t agree with.
But how? I’m not sure many Christians know. We talk about it and we profess it, but do we really know what loving someone we disagree with looks like? Allow me to share my thoughts.
Here are a few ideas about what loving someone is NOT:
1. Loving someone is not “tolerating them”. It’s possible to suffer someone’s presence, to listen to them speak, even allow them to be an acquaintance but not love them.
2. Loving someone is not “fixing them”. It is easy to offer answers, give advice, or adopt someone as a personal project as a way to show that you care. This isn’t love- it’s co-dependence.
3. Loving someone is not preaching to them. When someone else doesn’t recognize or share your values, work habits, or beliefs, it is so tempting to set them straight with the facts or the truth (as we see it). Sorry, that never feels like love.
4. Loving someone is not offering dismissive prayers. “Wait,” you ask, “are you saying that praying for someone isn’t an act of love?” OK, let me ask you a question. If you were cold, naked, and hungry, which one would feel more like love to you: someone praying for you, or someone handing you food and a blanket?
5. Loving someone isn’t the same as agreeing with them. This is the hangup for so many people. They fear that if they were to accept someone they disagree with, that gesture would mean they approved of an attitude or behavior that is different than their own. Culture hasn’t helped us here, because in an effort to sanction any and all behavior as acceptable, it has sought to redefine love as tacit acceptance of whatever. Loving someone doesn’t require you to approve of their behavior or beliefs.
Here’s what I believe really loving someone IS:
1. Love is accepting and valuing people as people. In today’s culture, we tend to dispense love according to whether or not someone agrees with our beliefs or principles. If you disagree with me, then you don’t love me. But that’s not what love is. Love goes deeper. Love says that no matter what you believe, no matter how you act, no matter what you say, you are valuable, unique, and I accept you because you are you. Love values people.
2. Love is listening and trying to understand. It’s amazing what we can learn by listening to someone else talking. In the heat of a disagreement, it’s so hard to resist getting our point across without stopping to listen. Love is putting ourselves in the place of someone else, trying to imagine what it would be like to be them, hearing their viewpoint and doing our best to understand their experience.
3. Love is abandoning moral high ground. This is difficult, because everyone is convinced they occupy the moral high ground. But when we claim to be morally superior (in attitude as well as language), we have created a virtual class system that puts us at the top and those we disagree with under us. Even though it is unsaid, you can bet it is perceived. We are all broken, sinful, stubborn, and rebellious. Moral superiority smothers love.
You can disagree with someone and still love them. You can hold to a different set of standards from someone else and still love them. I wish we could find a way to stop judging people’s actions or beliefs as the basis for being lovable. Jesus loved people because they were people, even those who disagreed with Him, and I think it just might work for us, too.