As a child, nothing could strike fear in your heart quite like the phrase “do you understand me?” Anyone who has ever heard it, or even said it (I shamefully raise my hand) knows the true meaning of the line. The speaker is not trying to discover if their communication has been comprehended. Oh no. All that is being conveyed is: THIS CONVERSATION IS OVER, DO WHAT I JUST SAID! No child would ever say in response, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you just said.” The proper response is simply “Yes, sir.” And we all know it.
That’s why this is bad communication. Because it is a communication ender. Even if misunderstanding lingers in the air, it does not matter. This conversation is over.
As a parent I have attempted to remove this type of communication from my parenting playbook. Personally, I prefer asking a child to repeat back to me what I just said. That way I know if they actually comprehended. And if they did, they now know that I know they understand.
There is a similar phrase being used by Christians. It sounds good. It sounds right. It sounds like Jesus. But it is a communication ender. And often it is used to bludgeon opponents. The phrase: “I just want to love people.”
On the surface, I love this phrase. Because, I want to love people. I deeply desire to love my family, my church, my neighbors, the people I meet every day, the hurting, the poor, my enemies… The call of Jesus is to love people. Paul says that to do anything, even something great, without love is pointless.
The problem is, while the phrase sounds great, the way it is used is the opposite of love.
Christian A: “I believe that X is wrong. It is a sin.”
Christian B: “Jesus tells us not to judge. I just want to love people.”
Now do you see what Christian B has done. Either agree with me, or you don’t love people. There is no longer a chance to converse or discuss. The conversation is ended with: I LOVE AND YOU DON’T. Wow. How loving.
There are big problems with this phrase. First, it is often used when the topic being discussed is one where church-going, knowledgeable, Jesus following Christians disagree. Seizing the high ground of “my side is the loving one” is a refusal to discuss the topic and yet claim some kind of victory. It would be better to simply say, “I don’t wish to discuss.”
Second, the phrase makes an assumption that anyone who disagrees with me does not really love people. Yet, while we are called to love, the wisdom of how to do so is difficult. For instance, imagine a young man in his early twenties with a drug problem. Over and over his family has attempted to get him help. He consistently refuses to do anything to get better. After disappearing for months, the young man appears at his parent’s front door. He is strung out. He begs to be let in. Says he is starving. Has nowhere to live. Now, what should the parent’s do? If they let him in, or refuse to open the door, would it be appropriate to argue with their decision by saying, “well, I just want to love people.”? Often, the loving thing to do is not so obvious.
Third, using the phrase “I just want to love people” is not loving. Anytime we paint others in a corner, claiming their thoughts and ideas are not in line with the love of Christ, we should do so very carefully. To refuse to listen to any further discussion, and refuse in the name of love, is mean-spirited. Disagree all you want. But the second you claim that someone who disagrees with you does not love people, you set yourself in a high and mighty position. Quite the opposite of just loving people.
At this point it may seem I have made a mountain out of a mole hill. But I am convinced that how we discuss difficult issues is often more symbolic of our life in Christ than the answers we reach. Throughout history, Christians have reached different conclusions and will continue to do so. How we talk with and about those with whom we disagree, especially in the Body of Christ, is one of our biggest opportunities to “just love people.”