By Caleb Kaltenbach
As the political divide grows deeper in our country, the way we’re relating with those we disagree with is deteriorating. It’s always challenging to show kindness to those we disagree with, but today it almost seems unthinkable. So, how do we handle our relationships with such people? Do we end the relationship? Is it possible to accept or continue to accept someone who disagrees with us theologically, politically, or socially?
The kind of “accept” I’m referring to is welcoming them, embracing them, and adopting (this word especially communicates the finality I’m referring to) them into your life. Accepting someone means you love them today, just as they are, with all of their victories and failures. There’s plenty of biblical support for this position.
Jesus talks about such love in Matthew 5:46, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?” Jesus also reminds us to imitate God’s posture towards others in Luke 6:35-36, “for he (God) is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” Several years later in Romans 2:4, Paul asked Roman Christians to reflect God’s example in loving those who make life choices that lead to sin: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”
I can’t help but wonder, if God’s kindness leads people to repentance, won’t my kindness lead people to God? Later in the same book, Paul says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) The author of Hebrews reminds us of the importance of being loving towards people we don’t even know: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (Hebrews 13:2)
It’s Impossible to Love Someone Without Accepting Them.
This kind of acceptance will eventually bring tension. There will be tension when either they (or we) make life choices that are outside God’s will. We feel this tension when someone we love is in a toxic friendship, has made unethical decisions at work, told us things proven to be untrue, handles anger in an unhealthy manner, or in general, are living in sin.
God has some very clear thoughts on how life is to be lived. Just turn to the Sermon on the Mount to find the high standard that a citizen of God’s Kingdom should embody. There is an expectation for how we should treat others, live in relationship with others, raise our kids, interact with our employer, engage government, etc.
So, how do we reconcile this tension between loving and accepting someone, and maintaining the holy standards God has provided?
Love is Found in the Tension.
My love for another person is found in my acceptance of them and not my agreement with choices they may or may not make. It’s possible to be in a relationship with someone and not agree on decisions. Look at how Jesus lived this out in his life:
- Jesus accepted Peter, but didn’t approve of his racism that Paul eventually confronted him on (Gal. 2:11-16).
- Jesus loved John and James, but didn’t affirm their desire to destroy a town (Lk. 9:54-55).
- Jesus didn’t “write off” a legalistic Pharisee named Nicodemus, but didn’t support a theology that wasn’t honoring to God (Jn. 3).
- Jesus was willing to value an outcast Samaritan woman by speaking with her, giving her hope, and refusing to affirm a history of negative relationship choices (Jn. 4).
- Jesus defended a woman caught in adultery, but didn’t condone an inappropriate relationship (Jn. 8:2-11).
- Jesus accepted an invitation to Zacchaeus’ house, but when he agreed with Zacchaeus’ confession he was also agreeing that his previous practices were wrong (Luke 19).
In my own life I feel this tension. For instance, in the upcoming video series Messy Grace (and in my book by the same title), I talk about how I was raised in an environment where both of my parents were in same-sex relationships. My mom was activist in the LGBTQ community and I saw the horrible way she was treated by some fundamentalist Christians protesting LGBTQ pride parades. I observed how some Christian families shamefully ignored their kids who were dying of AIDS.
In high school I got invited to a Bible study. I went to try to disprove Christ, but instead I became a Christian and felt called to preach. God also changed my view on sexuality to what I hold today: God created sexual intimacy to be expressed in marriage between one man and one woman. At the same time, I learned that a theological conviction is never a catalyst to devalue another person.
When I came out as a Christian to my parents, they kicked me out for a while. Eventually I was able to live with them again, but in a new reality. I lived in the tension of accepting my parents that I dearly loved, but not theologically agreeing with their choice to be in same-sex relationships. While there were tense days between us, I also learned a lot about the tension of love that relies on acceptance, not agreement.
As I lived in tension, I learned that:
- My parents had been hurt deeply by some Christians.
- They thought God hated them.
- My actions towards them and their friends deeply impacted their view of God.
- The same theology that shaped my view on marriage was the same theology that called me to relentlessly love my parents.
- I didn’t beat them over the head with my beliefs, but I also had confidence to engage in a discussion when God led.
- My parents respected my faith—even though we disagreed—because I was fully present in their lives.
- Despite the rallying cry of some people, not all who disagree over life choices are causing harm to the other person in the relationship.
- I learned that God loved my parents immensely more than I did.
- I quit trying to “fix” my parents and pointed to the God who loved them.
Love Relies on Acceptance, Not Agreement.
Through this journey I discovered first hand that love relies on acceptance, not agreement. Even though our journey isn’t over, my parents eventually submitted their lives to Christ.
Not every story has such an ending, but if you are living in the tension of acceptance and agreement with someone, hear me on this. If I had chosen to see acceptance and agreement as synonyms, I’m not sure my parents would’ve submitted their lives to Christ. If I believed that there was no difference between accepting and agreeing with my parents, we wouldn’t have a relationship today.
Never base love on agreement over a theology or life choice. What we agree on changes. Building love on agreement will cause us to handle tension in dangerous ways: alienating loved ones, sacrificing convictions, sweeping beliefs under a rug, etc. Even in some of my closest relationships we’ll disagree, but I refuse to abandon the relationship. I will always confidently stand by my convictions. I’m never afraid to engage in conversation on matters of faith, but that doesn’t mean that I act like a jerk and “sucker-punch” people with my faith.
Don’t settle for cheap love based merely on agreement. Pursue priceless love that accepts the person (no matter who or where they are) with the understanding that while you can’t “fix” them— God can. Love that is based on acceptance instead of agreement can reunite relationships, heal families, save lives, and even change eternal destinations.
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