, , ,

love-crossIf someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4: 20-21 NASB)

I’m used to being viewed as different. I was born, grew up, and live now in Utah. My father left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) around the time I was born. So I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church, which is to say not in the Mormon church, the predominant religion in Utah. My friends and neighbors, my classmates and teachers, always looked at me kind of funny with the cross dangling from neck. My Mormon friends chided me for it, asking if I would wear a gun around my neck if that’s how Jesus died. Well, if that became a symbol of my 2,000 year old faith, maybe I would. At any rate, I was used to being different.

Then as I got older something weird happened. Despite the fact that I grew up in a very conservative state and a very conservative church, I became what some of my friends label as a “raging liberal” or what people who don’t actually like me call a “socialist bastard.” Now, I don’t claim “raging” or “bastard,” but maybe the terms “liberal” or “socialist” fit on occasion I guess. It actually doesn’t bother me when people apply those labels to me.

But it’s not like I set out to be a liberal, socialist, hippy. These views have come about through a long process of introspection as I have tried to put together how I feel about the world, how it is, and how it’s supposed to be. The heaviest influence on my worldview is my Christian faith. Period. I believe that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, rose again and called me to follow in his footsteps, to follow The Way. So how is it that I ended up a raging liberal when many of the loudest Christian voices in America are strict conservatives? Could it be that another term might be applied to me, the term “radical?”

Radical is not generally a compliment. At least it hasn’t been since the 80s (DUDE THAT WAS RADICAL!!) It means something outside of the norm, or acting on things seemingly without reason. Do I claim that? Should I claim that? Let’s see.

I believe that each and every person should have access to medical care regardless of their ability to pay for it. Why should someone have to suffer from a perfectly treatable condition just because they can’t afford to go to the doctor or pay for the medication? Why should revolutionary treatments for today’s biggest killers like AIDS and cancer be only available to folks who can afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for them? My uncle has lung cancer, and he’s been getting treatment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake, one of the nation’s premier cancer centers. He’s had some of the best care available, and I am glad he has, but I couldn’t get that care, neither could my parents, let alone your average Joe on the streets.

Why is that? Are people who make less money less worthy of having their lives extended?Do you ever wonder how many people in the United States, the richest country on the planet, die every single day because they can’t afford care or medicine? Do we realize how many suffer from treatable mental illness because they can’t afford it or because what insurance they do have won’t cover it? I would bet those numbers are huge, and it’s an absolute disgrace, an abomination.

We put profit over people in this country, particularly in the health care system. Doctors live in huge houses and play on fancy golf courses while people in their own cities die because they can’t afford their care. It’s disgusting and it’s certainly not of God. Christ didn’t heal people based on their ability to give to his ministry or refuse on the grounds of a pre-existing condition. As far as I’m concerned we should have true national healthcare. The church I attend, The United Methodist Church, has a similar position: “We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.”  Yet, many, if not most Christians in the United States would label that as a “radical view,” even though Holy Scripture cautions against neglecting the sick. (Ezekiel 34:4, Matthew 25:43.)

What about the death penalty? Surely all Christians are for the death penalty right? Well, I don’t know. Should we be for the death penalty when the very Son of God was executed unjustly? How many innocent people do you think have been executed in the United States? We can’t know for sure, but again, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that it isn’t a small number. Plus, if just one innocent person loses their life at the hands of the state, isn’t that too many?

People want to see others pay a price.  That’s what the death penalty is about. It’s not about deterring crime, which is a good thing because it doesn’t. It’s about vengeance, pure and simple. I believe that the death penalty should be abolished in the United States, both at the federal and state level. Period. The government should not be in the business of killing people. Again, the United Methodist Church has a similar stance: “We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings.”

But the biggest, most irksome thing on my mind of late is how many people, including Christians, in this country want to treat refugees and migrants. One could quite easily trace the rise of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to his stances on refugees and migrants. It’s basically: kick ’em out and keep ’em out. Who cares if they need help? It’s not our problem.

Oh really? The rise of ISIL (or ISIS if your prefer) traces right back to the unrest and power vacuum that we created at the end of the second Iraq war. Now this organization is driving people (Muslims, Christians, and others) from their homes as they flee their tyrannical and bloody rule. The conditions and violence in Mexico and much of Latin America are driven by the desire of organized crime and cartels to profit off of the extremely decadent, drug addicted culture of the United States. They take the cash they make from us and buy weapons (often from the United States) that they in turn use to terrorize and control local populations, who then try to flee. Are we sure it’s not our problem?

We should be embracing these people with open arms. We have the resources, even though we pretend we don’t. Each and every one of these refugees and migrants are Children of God and deserve humane treatment. They also bring their own unique culture, experience, and skill sets which we can probably learn and benefit  from as well. Again, from the UMC: “We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”

Many people, many Christians even, will label these views as radical. There are many others I could mention as well. If that’s case, then I accept the label. Christ himself was a radical, and highly doubt that if he were here today he would win the “evangelical” vote. (That’s a label I won’t take, by the way.)

These views, and others that I hold boil down to loving one another. It really is that simple. Jesus commanded us to do it (John 13:34) and John advocates passionately for it in 1 John 4. The verses I began this entry with say that if you say you love God but don’t love your brother, then you’re a liar. Oh, “your brother” is pretty much everybody, by the way, even though some translations limit it to believers only.

So if loving others is radical, sign me up. I’ll keep on being a radical and following my radical Master along The Way.