Home Pastors Articles for Pastors Civil War. Civil Rights. Civil Love.

Civil War. Civil Rights. Civil Love.

civil love

I cannot not speak. Again.

The tortuous murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin has set our country literally ablaze. Though recent instances of other injustices created an outcry, the anger of many in our society over what they view as systemic racism has reached a new boiling point with Floyd’s death. Massive societal unrest, further violence, and the destruction of many cities’ businesses are occurring on a scale greater than that previously witnessed. Our nation’s motto of E Pluribus Unum seems like it is mocking us at the moment.

Though neither a historian nor sociological expert, I do wonder if this event – and others recently like them – are pointing our nation to a need for a third, more transformative phase of dealing with issues of race? The Civil War era brought an end to the ugly, two and half century saga of slavery. Another century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the country into a new era of Civil Rights as Jim Crow laws were overturned and more opportunities were made available for African Americans. Now, another half century later, do we need a new phase that we might simply call Civil Love?

Please understand that I am not childishly suggesting that if we just generically love one another everything will be alright. For love itself is not that simple. Far from it. Rather, loving others that are different than us, or with whom we even disagree, is the most difficult work on the planet. Yet think of its power.

If now ex-Police Officer Chauvin, who is white, would have treated Mr. Floyd, who is black, with an ounce of civil love last week, none of this uproar would be happening now. (That’s not to say another similar event would not have sparked the same tinder.) If Chauvin would have quit kneeling on his neck when Floyd begged for mercy, his life would have been spared. If he had not even applied this unwarranted measure in the first place, Floyd would not have had to beg for his life. And if he had valued Floyd’s life more than the $20 bill he suspected him of using in forgery, he would have treated him from beginning to end with far greater decency and respect than he did when he first approached him.

Yes, the rioting and the destruction must be condemned. But it also must be overcome. How will that ultimately happen? As I listen to Christian brothers and sisters in the black community, I think that I am hearing the need for civil love. Respect us. Listen to us. Weep with us. Pray for us. Suffer with us. Identify with us. Speak up for us.

Where can civil love like that be found? Where is there a civil love that can overcome racial divides, heart hatred, and fierce anger? Where is there an unending, unlimited, unconquerable supply of love that can transform not just a person or two, but societies and nations? The only place it is found is at Calvary’s cross, where “God demonstrated his own love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The church must first comprehend this love, in all its vastness, in the “breadth and length and height and depth, and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-19). Then God’s people must walk in that love, going back to Christ for fresh supplies of it every day, so that they are enabled to care for people different than them, respond in peace even when others make war against them, and forgive people who have hurt them. Our nation needs the church right now walking strong in Christian love in the civil realm.

Again, if the idea of civil love seems too simplistic, remember that was not the case for the church father Augustine. The bishop of Hippo in northern Africa, Augustine witnessed a time far more tumultuous than our own as the Roman Empire was collapsing as a result of tribes of Goths, Vandals (where the word “vandalism” originated from), and other groups pillaging the land. As Christians were blamed for the Roman Empire’s collapse for not worshiping her pagan gods, Augustine penned his famous book The City of God in response.

In this definitive work, Augustine contrasted God’s kingdom with “the City of Man,” which represents the envy, hostility, and evil of this world. Augustine demonstrated how it was this worldly City of Man with its lusts and hatred that was causing the nation’s collapse. Contrary to popular thought, he argued that it was the church and its Christian values that had preserved the Roman Empire to that point. In particular, Augustine described the competing loves of these two cities and how they determine the ultimate outcome of the people being influenced by them.

There are two kinds of love, of these the one is holy, the other impure; the one is social, the other is selfish;… the one subject to God, the other endeavoring to equal Him; the one tranquil, the other turbulent; the one working for peace, the other seditious; the one preferring truth to the praise of those who are in error, the other greedy for praise however got; the one friendly, the other envious; the one wishing for the neighbor what it would wish for itself, the other wishing to subject the neighbor to itself.” (City of God, #48)

In this difficult time, the church as citizens of heaven must express the love of God to the world. For Christ-like love is transformative. For an example of what this might look like and the impact it can have, watch the following video.

This article originally appeared here.

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Barry York was a church planter, academy administrator, and pastor for over two decades before recently assuming the role as Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Barry and his wife, Miriam, were married in 1985. They have six children and one grandchild.