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To Combat Hate, Churches Must Be Extremists for Love

Have you heard people breathing a sigh of relief that 2016 is over?

What a crazy year with so many bizarre experiences.

Perhaps the most disturbing development was watching the forces, rhetoric and actions of hate escalate.

Terrorist acts, those engaging in the ultimate conclusion of hate, are so common they receive far less attention than just a few years ago.

Most people who are captivated by hate will not go to those extremes, yet will use lower-level hate weapons like character assassination or racial slurs.

Enough acts of hate, large and small, are in play at this point in history to call hate a movement.

So what about hate’s opposite: love? How’s the love movement doing?

When the forces of hate escalate, radicalizing to the point of giving themselves wholly to the movement, disregarding their personal safety, shouldn’t love escalate or even radicalize as well?

There was a time, not long ago, when church-as-we-know-it was content to shape Christians into nice, polite, socially acceptable human beings.

These people were domesticated cooperative citizens, largely reflecting the values of their communities, yet being nicer than others. For many, that’s what it meant to be a Christ-follower pre-2000.

But now, church-as-we-have-known-it and low levels of love find themselves impotent in the face of the hate movement.

We need some love extremists. Our world needs Jesus followers who are willing to leave their comforts and follow him into the neighborhood and marketplace.

We are looking for invigorated, Jesus-shaped, love extremists who escalate the love movement toward matching or exceeding the hate movement. Conditions require disciples who are radicalized for love.

And when we see them, how will we recognize them? Here are a few qualities:

  • They are committed to an alternative vision for this world rather than the dominant cultural theme of self-aggrandizement.
  • They don’t obey the cultural norms, not seeming to care that others see their behavior as slightly odd or unconventional.
  • They are more interested in doing something loving than only studying how to be loving (and doing nothing).
  • They are more concerned for people who are hurting than for being a part of the established polished group.
  • Their material possessions sometimes are used up or abused by those whom they are loving.
  • They are unsatisfied with the world as they find it; enough that they do something – being the change they hope to see in the world.
  • They believe love is more powerful than hate, remaining committed to loving others when love seems like the last thing needed in particular situations.
  • They aren’t interested in appearing religious, committing missteps when it comes to church culture.
  • They are extravagantly generous with their time, talent and treasure, living as if they can’t take it with them.
  • They give little time, study and attention to the afterlife, placing their faith in God and then trusting God to manage that for them.
  • They stir up their churches, making the rest of us uncomfortable by challenging the church to engage in action rather than only talking about action.
  • They are remarkably unafraid, even while living in a culture of fear.
  • They grow angry about mistreatment of others (injustice) and speak up for them, even in church gatherings.
  • They experience deep, abiding peace, joy, hope and love that circumstances cannot touch or diminish.

Fortunately, not everyone in the hate movement is radicalized. But it only takes a few who are so committed to their cause that their concern for their personal fate is less than their concern for the cause. They are like leaven; just a few change the entire community.

So what about us?

How much do we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ? How much do we believe that this otherworldly way of life Jesus modeled for us is this world’s best hope?

How willing are we to forget ourselves and join God’s love movement initiated by Jesus?

Let’s start somewhere. Let’s do something out of our norm for love. This is what disciples do – they are radicalized for love.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.