With all the craziness that is in the world these days, there are two cries I want us to repeatedly hear as a church: fight for justice, and fight for unity. My own cynicism, weariness, and busyness sometimes lead me to pursue one at the expense of the other. I get provoked and want to shout about justice with no regard for unity. Or I get tired and want everyone just to agree already. But neither of these is love. Neither of these is the way of Jesus. We must pursue both unity and justice or we’ve forfeited both.
The way of Jesus is to love our neighbors as ourselves—and this love extends to all of our neighbors, regardless of who they are. Are they unworthy of our love? They’re still neighbors to be loved. Are they unlikeable or in any way off-putting? They’re still neighbors to be loved. Are they our enemies who wish us only evil? They’re still neighbors to be loved.
This is the unmistakable way of Jesus. It’s the way of His Father. And if we want to be Christians, it must be our way as well. Here’s what Jesus says:
This love that Jesus commands comes without qualification or boundary. It comes without guardrails and without limits of wisdom. It is a self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-neglecting love that resulted in Jesus Himself being defeated, mocked, shamefully exposed, and nailed to a couple planks of wood on a hillside to suffocate to death. It also resulted in resurrection, redemption, and the eventual restoration of all things in Jesus.
As costly as this love is, it’s the kind of love that redeems. It is powerful. It destroys all boundaries and divisions. It turns enemies into family. It turns “them” into “us”.
Unity without a concern for justice prioritizes the comfort of “us” over the lived experience of “them”. It perpetuates the status quo, and tends to benefit those who are already in power. It tends toward escapism and a devaluation of the physical world and present reality that Jesus came to redeem. It patronizes the downtrodden and tells them their concerns don’t really matter. It is an empty “love” for our neighbor, who might as well remain our enemy. This is not unity in any meaningful sense, and it is not the way of Jesus.
Justice without a concern for unity severs “them” from “us”. It results in flipped power structures that will eventually repeat our status quo, merely with different people in the seats of power. It repays violence for violence. It excludes the core Jesus-virtues of patience and forgiveness. It is a love for our neighbor, as long as we get to choose who our neighbor is. This is not justice in any meaningful way, and it is not the way of Jesus.
But I’m convinced, as tiring and painful and scary as it may be, clinging to both unity and justice, refusing to let go of either one, is the way of Jesus. It is the way of love. It’s the way of the Old Testament prophets. It’s the way of the New Testament apostles. It’s a way fraught with difficulty, that very well may cost every ounce of energy we have, every drop of patience, and every shred of pride. But it’s a way that leads to life, that leads to healing, and leads to a world where there is no “them” but only “us”.