Love is greater than faith.
Love is greater than any article of faith.
I submit the words of Jesus Christ:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”*
And the words of Paul:
“…if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. … So faith; hope; love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love”.**
With these words, priority is granted to love. In all things related to our actions, love has been established as the center. Since a center cannot be compromised on principle, it makes sense that love cannot be compromised on principle.
Such has been the choice of individuals both within and beyond the various denominations of the Christian tradition.
Yet, in so doing, they may have found themselves at odds with others, even within their own communities.
For, so often, we center on faith rather than love.
We strive to be “faith-based” in our lives, our families and in our church communities. In our various circles, we expect conformity to articles of faith, in word and action, through a range of creeds, traditional beliefs and time-honored practices.
Faith is a humbling gift of immeasurable value.
But it has not been given as the center of our actions.
In promoting faith over love, we drift off-center.
For in the expectation of conformity to articles of faith, the seed of exclusion is planted.
We consult our respective frameworks in order to determine who is saved, who is a Christian or who is a “complete Christian”. We consult the same frameworks to determine who is acceptable in our assemblies, who may fully participate in our assemblies and who may speak in our assemblies.
So love is subordinated to faith.
Some would argue that purity of faith is essential to love of God.
But I do not believe that Jesus intended us to observe one of his commandments at the expense of the other.
Some would argue that “bringing others to the faith” demonstrates a love of God and neighbor that justifies all manner of behavior.
But I do not believe that it is necessary to torturously redefine love for the sake of faith.
Articles of faith are not more important than love, and there is no scripture, scriptural interpretation, or authority, no parsing or tying of scripture into pretzels, no massaging of others to a particular point of view, even “for their own good” that will make it so. Love is love, not something else. Love is not exclusion, shunning, coercion or manipulation. There are no “yes, buts”. Love does not inflict pain for the sake of faith. Love prevails over faith.
Of love, Paul said: “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”***
Where, in that expansive statement, can we find support and nourishment for our faith-based judgments of others?
In affirming the centrality of love, I invoke the name of Mary Magdalene.
In her witness, I find a remarkable testimony of love over faith.
To rise in the night and travel isolated country roads or city streets in order to walk into the heart of a cemetery is a mission that would give most of us pause. There is no evidence that she measured the risk or counted the cost. She just did it.
Why? Not from faith and not from hope; at least, not primarily: it is clear from John 20 that she didn’t seek the resurrected Lord. In fact, she was faulted by some traditional authorities for a lack of faith. What she presented, however, was something greater than faith: love, which according to Paul, is greater than faith or hope.
She was one of the core group of women who supported the ministry of Jesus “out of their own resources”. She was one of the few followers of Jesus who witnessed the crucifixion. Through an act of pure love, she became the first witness to the resurrection in three of the gospel accounts as well as the first person and only woman to be charged with an apostolic mission to the apostles.
In John’s account of her travels on that first Easter morning, love is presented without direct reference to faith or even hope. It is undiluted. The point is made.
Amid the endless tangle of our faith debates, I hold onto this one, simple, brief episode as more symbolic of our Christian identity than almost everything else we have said, done or written.
I hold it up in contrast to our deliberate failures to love. I hold it up in contrast to our programmatic failures to love.
In launching Toward Dawn, I affirm love as the center of the Christian way, the Christian walk and the Christian talk. I affirm that our relationships with God and with each other are more important than any article of faith. I hope that all may feel welcome here, regardless and respectful of identity or personal choices, including those who have been marginalized within their own communities on the very same grounds.
I do not seek to establish a new “denomination”, for love-centered Christians---love-centered people---live within and beyond the various denominations and the ranks of the church-goers. I do not seek financial gain, for I maintain this site through my own resources.
As I launch this site, I ask for your forbearance. As a white male in our culture and in our time, as a man who has been married to a woman for twenty years, I cannot claim to have an understanding of exclusion. Nor can I claim to have some magically-perfect lack of bias.
But I want to understand, and I ask that you forgive my lapses and my errors. I hope that I do not attempt to defend them by referring to Christian principles.
I understand enough to suggest that exclusion is, in itself and by it’s nature, a cardinal offense. I understand enough to suggest that it is far more dark than any matter of faith or morality that it was designed to address.
I speak from my experience, my observation and my witness.
Although I find myself inadequate to the task in so many ways, I find the need for this voice to be more compelling than silence.
I will be posting new articles twice monthly in “Author's Corner”.
If you live in or near to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for prayer or discussion, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
*Mark 12, 30-31
**1 Corinthians 13, 2 and 13
***1 Corinthians 13, 7
Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over fifteen years. In his home tradition, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.