My latest column for Baptist News Global started out as a very different piece. Let’s just say the introductory paragraphs were angry – I mean, really angry.
Then I went to a Carrie Newcomer concert.
Newcomer is a singer-songwriter, a Quaker and an activist. She has a vision of the world that is inclusive, as she sings, “There’s room at the table for everyone.”
Carrie believes kindness is the default for human beings. Until we are divided and fearful, she says, our first instinct is to be kind to other people who are right in front of us.
“I’m still pretty angry that so many Christians seem to love power more than truth and winning more than kindness.”
I thought about her words and remembered how often strangers do something kind for someone else, without asking about politics or identity or religion. People stop to help fix a flat; they hold open a door when your arms are full; they help you pick up the bag of groceries you just dropped and chase down the oranges rolling around the parking lot.
I remembered that when I was doing research for a book on Southern Baptist women I’d call up a church and ask if someone would help me connect with women in the church. More often than not, the response was something like, “Sure, honey. I’ll help. You just come on over to my house. I’ll invite some people over and make dinner, and then you can interview us.” Across the theological spectrum, strangers welcomed me, fed me and told me about their lives.
I identify as a progressive Christian, but I grew up among fundamentalist Southern Baptists. I can’t imagine any of them turning away someone right in front of them who is hungry or hurting.
But somehow, this kindness we extend to strangers in person has not translated to kindness on the national political stage. When I interviewed Carrie for Ms. Magazine, she asked me to imagine what it might look like instead if love became policy, if our politics became love in action.
For Christians, this movement from individual, personal acts of kindness toward strangers to policies that embody love and kindness toward strangers is not optional; it is required. The Bible clearly does not create exemptions to lovingkindness.
So Christians who are willing to give a hot meal to a homeless stranger on the street must also be willing to support policies that help struggling, often mentally ill and drug and alcohol addicted, strangers. Christians who donate clothes and furniture to refugee resettlement programs must demand children not be put in cages and families not be separated at the border.
Our individual actions and our support of public policy should be consistent and should resonate with the Bible’s commands to love one another, be kind to one another and welcome one another – across political lines, theological beliefs and national borders. Followers of Jesus cannot suffer a disconnect between individual actions and social policies. Love and kindness must be the criteria for both.
“I want to think together about what it would look like if love became policy.”
Thinking about this gave me pause as I went back to work on my angry draft. While there’s certainly a place for righteous anger, I’m not sure this commentary was it. I want to reach across the vast theological and political divide to invite a conversation about kindness and love. I want to understand why people who will make sure the children of strangers have a warm winter coat want to turn away the children of strangers who come to our borders because their families are fleeing violence.
I want to think together about what it would look like if love became policy.
I’m afraid some Christians treat this political moment in the United States more like a sports event than an existential threat. A number of writers have already noted how so many everyday people on the Right, including everyday evangelicals, seem to enjoy sticking it to the Left. I understand the feeling. I’m an Oregon State Beaver Believer to my core, and I confess to hoping every University of Oregon team loses every game in every sport, but, above all, of course, that they lose to Oregon State. Despite my absolute loyalty to the Beavers, however, I would never wish actual harm on anyone at the U of O.
Yet many of the policies supported by the Religious Right do real harm. And Christian people who would never do harm to someone right in front of them give enthusiastic support to policies that hurt individual people (sometimes including themselves and their own best interests), groups of people and the environment, simply because they know those policies anger and frustrate the progressive Left.
So I was upset when I started this piece. I was particularly angry that people on the Right were spinning President Donald Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine to suggest something different than the plain text of the conversation. My anger only got worse when I read that Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress recklessly suggested impeachment could cause a “civil war-like fracture.” And I’m still pretty angry that so many Christians seem to love power more than truth and winning more than kindness.
I had to ask myself if I could make room at the table for everyone. That’s a tall order when some of the people who come to the table don’t want me there, might do harm to me and people I love, or are just plain mean. Of course, we can ask people who come to the table to use their manners, speak with their inside voices and keep their elbows off the table. We’re all welcomed guests in God’s house, but we need to behave ourselves, and the Bible’s pretty clear about what that should look like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So my angry commentary became something else: an invitation for us all to come to the table, to act in kindness toward one another and to put love in action in our personal lives and in our political lives. It’s time to turn our personal kindness into political kindness, to turn love into policy, to speak truth and to be the people God calls us to be, in person and in policy.