“Religion is at its best when man [sic] is asked to develop his [sic] power of reason in order to understand himself and his position in the Universe” (Fromm 1978).
All religions that have contributed value to the larger society are in some way rooted in the ethic of neighbor Love. This ethic is deeply embedded in the Christian tradition; the New Testament explicitly claims the very essence of God is Love, and that Love is humanity’s highest expression of Godliness (1 John 4:7&8). We cannot claim to be truly religious, Christian or otherwise, if we are not functioning manifestations of Love! If God is Love then Love is God. Volumes of books have been written in an attempt to define Love, and it is an endeavor for which people have given both their careers and lives. bell hooks, echoing Erich Fromm and M. Scott Peck, gives an interesting working definition. She claims Love is the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s or another’s spiritual growth. Love is an act of will: both an intention and an action (hooks 2000).
Our nation has been plunged into a crisis of Love. Executive orders that completely fly in the face of the neighbor Love ethic have caused some to be diametrically opposed to everything good and right about religion. The preference of one religion over another in the public square amounts to nothing less than xenophobia. People of honest religious fervor cannot be so aligned to nationalism that they fail to offer a prophetic critique of its dangers. If internationalism based in the ethic of neighbor Love had become more powerful in the later part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the twentieth century would have been less barbaric, less fascistic, and less chauvinistic (Buschendorf 2014). When nationalism gets in the way of the ethic of neighbor Love, it becomes the most insidious form of idolatry. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy cannot be allowed to become normalized for people of faith. There must be in every congregation, mosque, temple, and synagogue a radical call for resistance to bigotry, dominance, exclusion, and marginalization of any kind. If we fail to de-center hate, we have failed to engage society in the best that religion has to offer.
Viable religion is one that has a working reciprocity with the culture that produces it, or with which it interacts (Townes 1995). It is the unique task and privilege of our religious communities in this epoch to bring to the attention of the masses, an ethic of neighbor Love that will redefine humanity and how we relate to one another in our shared global realities. As I think about my own religious tradition, I have to echo the words of Dr. King that if today’s Church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning (Jr. 2015). We can by no means afford to sit silently sequestered in our houses of worship content with pious emotionalism nor austere intellectualism. Love opens the whole creation up to life and calls things into being. Love deepens relationships and simultaneously expands our humanity. The more we Love we discover that life is interdependent, interconnected, and indivisible (Spong 1998). The time has come for people of faith to by word and deed speak truth to power. Any religion that professes to be concerned about people’s souls and is not concerned about the slums that cripple those souls—the economic conditions that stagnate the soul, and the governments that may damn the soul—is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion that should immediately be abandoned (Warnock 2014). It is incumbent upon each faith community to live into a radical hospitality and an ethic of neighbor Love that turns the world upside down.
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Buschendorf, Cornel West with Christa. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.
Fromm, Erich. 1978. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven: YAle University Press.
hooks, bell. 2000. All About Love: New Visions. New York: HarperCollins.
Jr., Martin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.
Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.
Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.
Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.