We still sing the song in worship today. We love singing this song, because we have found a community of people we like to be around and we feel loved by our friends. We come to church because we have learned along our faith journey that the Bible teaches us of God’s love for us. We have become part of congregations that worship in ways that make us feel God’s presence and lift us up and fill us with the warmth of God’s spirit. Looking from the inside, we see God’s love being expressed. We would describe one another as loving.
“They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” is not supposed to be about the view from inside the church. The early Christians were peculiar people. Unlike their Roman neighbors, they worshipped only one God. They lived by different moral codes. Christians were martyred because they would not renounce their faith even under threat of death. They were weird, but they sure loved one another, their God and their neighbors. So it came to be that those outside the church recognized Christians by their love.
It has been that way for centuries. Christians built hospitals, schools, clinics, soup kitchens and other institutions, which demonstrated Christians’ love for humanity. It was a shock when the Barna Group confirmed this was no longer how Christians were viewed.
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ book “unChristian” compiled the responses from thousands of young adults who did not go to church. They did not choose “loving” to describe Christians. The adjectives they choose were judgmental, hypocritical, too political and insensitive. Christians get it wrong when we are seen as mean spirited and angry folks who want to control the political process. We are seen as arrogant and closed minded when dealing with science and other religions. What is most troubling is the perception that we do not care about the pain and suffering of the world.
How do we go about getting it right again? It will take more than a good public relations campaign for the young people of our world to see the church as we insiders do.
We start by being honest and transparent about our faith. We talk openly about difficult issues, like why there is suffering in the world a good and loving God created. We are not fearful that the latest scientific discovery will somehow disprove the existence of the God who created everything. When speaking with people of other religions, Christians should be respectful so we build bridges of peace and understanding, rather than fueling hatred and intolerance.
Most of all, we need to live out what we say. Christians need to show our love in our actions. When we fail to be loving and kind, we need to acknowledge our failings and try better the next time.
The Rev. Kevin Campbell is minister of Federated Methodist-Presbyterian Church. Sermon Notes is a column by local religious leaders.