Last week I made the mistake of logging on to Twitter for the first time this year. I was looking for laughs, but I found vicious social debate instead. 

The firestorm of the week was sparked when beloved television personality Ellen DeGeneres sat next to former president George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys game. The internet backlash was swift. Said Ellen on her show, “They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?”

1 Corinthians 13, 2019. If I speak in the tongues of social justice movements and the woke, but have not love, I am only a resounding tweet thread or a clanging protest sign.

Ellen defended her friendship with Bush against the critics. “When I say, ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do,” she said. “I mean be kind to everyone.” According to people angry about this on Twitter, being kind to some people is inherently cruel to other people. Mark Ruffalo said that kindness is irrelevant when we consider Bush’s wars and policies. Vanity Fair called Ellen “out of touch with reality.” Bush was against gay marriage! We can’t tolerate that intolerance! Just look at Bush’s voting record and you’ll know you can’t associate with him.

If I have a PhD in sociology and can fathom all the global consequences of colonialism and all knowledge of the sociopolitical impacts of 9/11, and if I have a media platform that can move the trending topics board, but have not love, I am nothing.

I wholeheartedly defend Ellen’s friendship with Bush. It is beautiful to see people of different views collectively enjoying something in our age of political hatred. Treating a person with respect does not mean you sign off on everything they have ever done. 

If I give all I possess to NPR and surrender my body to an art performance to raise awareness, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not reject the humanity of others, it does not boast about its subscriber count, it is not proud in its moral superiority. 

My pastor commented recently that given the choice, he’d rather hang out with a culturally ignorant person who believes antiquated things about race or gender or sexuality but will still be kind to any human being right in front of her, rather than a well-studied person who understands the nuance of social issues in theory but won’t give the time of day to someone different from himself. We’re not all simply one or the other, of course. But secular culture’s emphasis on “correct” beliefs over concrete actions is troubling, and we must remember there is more to human character. 

Sometimes I worry about what my more liberal friends would say if they knew some of the traditional biblical views I hold. Sometimes I envision a mildly dystopian future in which the computer chip in your head tells you all the political views of every person you encounter so you can avoid the ones whose opinions are problematic.

Love does not collect receipts, it is not virtue-signaling, it does not scorn reconciliation, it keeps no record of racist tweets. Love does not delight in shaming but rejoices with gentle correction. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Maybe the woman who wrote that angry tweet would be perfectly civil if she ran into George W. Bush in a supermarket. Maybe I’m making a straw man out of the outraged internet left. Still, it seems that Jesus’ message of redemption, reconciliation, and love is becoming more and more radical today. 

Love never cancels. But where there are conservative and progressive platforms, they will cease; where there are vigorous debates, they will be quieted; where there is a think piece, it will pass away.

The same week as the Ellen debate, a Texas police officer who shot and killed a black man named Botham Jean in his own home was sentenced to ten years in prison. Brandt Jean made headlines by hugging his brother’s killer at her sentencing hearing. He spoke to her of love and of Jesus. With tears in his eyes, he said he forgave her. More than one tweet I saw responded in disgust and decried American culture’s “fetishization of forgiveness.” 

For we listen to the experiences of others in part and we read books by diverse authors in part, but when the perfect comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

Should Christians advocate for just policies and human rights on a grand level? Should we speak the truth in love in pursuit of justice? Of course, and this does not exclude showing love to the individuals in front of us. Just as Jesus did, we must dine with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus does not “cancel” us when we mess up, no matter how vast the consequences of our decisions. “Father forgive them,” he prayed, “for they know not what they do.” 

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a profile picture; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as everything I’ve ever said out loud or on social media is fully known.

I logged out of Twitter. There are more important words I can be reading to guide me in what to believe.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This is a really incredible piece of writing, and an excellent example of why I still read the postcalvin four years after graduating – thank you.

    Reply
  2. Cotter Koopman

    Thanks for this perspective—I think it’s beautiful that we’ll probably never stop discovering how to love each other as God loves us, and commands us to love each other.

    I don’t look to shift your interpretation of the Bible, or Jesus’ teachings. Maybe this could be dismissed out of hand for being a “thinkpiece,” but I’d ask you to check out this short piece on how Ellen’s polite behavior is only afforded by her money and safety, and is quite opposite from the confrontational, subversive Love that Christ embodies in the Gospels and speaks to in the Beatitudes:

    https://medium.com/@KevinTPorter/the-cheap-kindness-of-ellen-bec0c28d66b1

    Reply
    • Avatar

      I appreciate your comment, Cotter! The Medium article is one of the better ones I’ve read on this issue – as much as I lament the internet’s saturation with think pieces, I appreciate reading a truly thoughtful one, and the irony of my contributing my own to the noise isn’t lost on me.

      One of the frustrating things for me about the debate here is the viewing of people as the sum of everything they’ve ever done. Bush is less a human than a symbol of failed policy, while Ellen’s every action can be judged only by pages of context on whether her kindness is real or false, or whether one so privileged can dare suggest any way of living to the masses. These people become symbols more than individuals, and all their choices must stand for something greater, endorsement or complicity or activism. Must we be activists in our every interaction? Even if Ellen did snub Bush, as the Medium piece suggests, or lecture him, or tweet angrily about him, what social purpose would that accomplish? He is no longer a policymaker. Would it mobilize aid to the Middle East, or speed up the visa process for Iraqi interpreters waiting to be allowed into the U.S.? Is taking a stand for its own sake a worthwhile pursuit?

      In typical it’s-easier-to-criticize-than-offer-solutions fashion, I’m still considering the full “what would Jesus do?” possibilities in the Ellen/Bush situation. You are right to point to the Beatitudes and Gospels, where Jesus says a lot more of “woe to you, you hypocrites!” than “be nice to everyone.” And sometimes, “blessed are the peacemakers” and “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” seem in conflict with one another; I myself tend to lean towards what I consider peacemaking at the expense of standing up for what’s right, lest it effect disharmony. All that to say, I don’t have an answer yet, but I am grateful for the chance to discuss it here, while looking forward to the day where the promise that “they shall be satisfied” will be true for those of us who hunger and thirst.

      Reply
  3. Kyric Koning

    The way you translated the Bible into twenynineteense is absolutely brilliant. Love really isn’t something you know, it’s something you live.

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    I. Love. This. Brilliant. Thought provoking.

    Reply
  5. Avatar

    Laura, thank you for your insight and your willingness to take on a tough issue with love and perspective. I really appreciate your thoughtful and Biblical reflections. It was good for my heart to read it and please know that I echo many of your thoughts. Peace be with you sister.

    Reply

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