To Love or Not to Love: That is the Nazarene Question

Gloria M. Coffin

I have something to say about God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Actually, it’s about God and every act of every day we live.

As a child, I learned the Ten Commandments and thought most of them were going to be quite easy to obey. There were times when a bad word, missing church, and showing disrespect for my parents were tempting, but murder, infidelity, and stealing were not. I did not pray to idols, lie, or want my neighbors’ belongings. On occasion I would have appreciated similar items as those of the little girl around the corner, but I didn’t really want hers. Although your challenges may have been different from mine, you probably get my point. The Ten Commandments were rules I thought I understood, most of which I felt comfortable following.

As a young adult, I learned the relationship process in the commandments: the first four about my connection to God and the last six about my interaction with people around me. Gradually I began to recognize the direction they gave me for living in a complicated world, guidance for walking with God to do no harm as I walked with my peers. Today, I wonder how our world would change if we carefully followed the intent of the Ten Commandments.

The Christian religion believes God came to live among us as Jesus Christ. He followed the Ten Commandments hoping we would learn the difference they make. When asked to choose the most important commandment, Jesus spoke a mouthful, ‘’Love God with all you are,’’ adding the second greatest was, ‘’Love your neighbor as yourself.’’ Then Jesus threw in the corker, ‘’Everything else depends on these two commandments.’’

The first four commandments lead me to love God with all I am, and the last six direct me to love my neighbor as myself. It makes me wonder how our world would change if we carefully followed the greatest commandment and the second, which, as Jesus may have cheekily explained, is so much like it.

When I run into my friends, we catch up, sympathizing with one another’s challenges and enjoying each other’s blessings. Occasionally I want to pinch myself. Some have lives very much the same as mine, yet significantly different. How can I be comfortable sharing the details of theirs? The answer is simple. We are friends. They listen to me. They care about my life. The greatest commandment led me to an inner love for God who clearly loves everyone regardless of the variables. The second greatest commandment taught me to treat them as I treat myself.

There is no ‘’if, but, or unless’’ clause in that commandment. It doesn’t describe my neighbor as one who only hangs out in the kind of places where I go, who uses pronouns the way I do, or whose clothes match a special dress code for the public bathroom. It does not say I can only treat neighbors as I treat myself if they follow the Bible as I interpret it. It does not even tell me to exclude neighbors from activities I enjoy when the neighbors go home at night to families unlike mine.

The second greatest commandment says to love my neighbor as myself, nothing more, nothing less. It does not tell me to differentiate, ‘’Oh, I love my neighbor, but I hate what my neighbor does.’’ It tells me to love my neighbor as I love myself, period. Over time, America has tried to grow into that commandment. Many have stopped treating women and children and people of color as if they deserve less than we do. We seem determined to love our neighbor.

Except when our neighbor is gay or lesbian, transgender or queer.

The list is much longer. It identifies neighbors we don’t want to sit beside in our favorite pew or kneel with when praying for hurting family members. Sometimes our church doesn’t think we should share communion with them. If these thoughts bring tears to my eyes, I wonder how the loving creator reacts to it.

No wonder we are in chaos, fighting needless battles and struggling to survive horrible evils. Unspeakable atrocities leave behind damaged children, abused spouses, and broken marriages, but we reject harmless individuals who are from loving families, and those who are in committed relationships because we don’t understand their sexual attractions or their gender differences. In this one case, our LGBTQ+ neighbors, we believe God calls us to stand as judge and jury. In my Bible, Jesus himself says that’s God’s job. Jesus’ job was to love.

When we have the chance in our church to welcome, support, affirm, and love all neighbors as we love ourselves, why should we not choose to reflect the commandment so like the first and greatest? If we cannot do that in our church the way we can do it everywhere else, how can we love God with all we are when we are there?

If our church rejects us because we will not be silent, is she really the church we thought she was? Worse yet, if we want our church to accept us so much we decide not to treat LGBTQ+ neighbors the way we want to be treated, what will we have done to the reflection of God?

Gloria Coffin is an inner-city hospital call chaplain with a passion for staff support as well as patient/family care. She is an ordained elder with a BA in Psychology/Counseling Major.

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