“What’s Love Got To Do With It?”

On a front page of his recent book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” attorney Bryan Stevenson quotes the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.

In his book of writings – “Love and Justice,” Niebuhr developed his so-called theology of “Christian realism” grounded in divine love, as the motive for compassion and justice.

For Niebuhr, justice or fairness motivated by love is doing the right thing in any context including government and the military.   His ‘realism’ recognized that we practice love and justice in a very unloving and unjust world often requiring less than ideal public policy compromises.

Though Niebuhr is still renown and respected I wonder how many leaders, like Stevenson, claim love as their motivation for doing the right thing.

As director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson is an advocate for fixing our broken criminal justice system defending the most desperate and needy.

When following the news of problems facing the nation, indeed the world, we may wonder – “What’s love got to do with it?”

The question of course is from Tina Turner’s star-crossed song and story of rejection and abuse.   Love, she sang is nothing more than a ‘second-hand emotion,’ leading to heartbreak.

Niebuhr’s was another kind of love, tough love, inspired by his faith, prepared to take on the most intractable injustices of our time.

I grew up in a faith community in the legacy of the 18th century English evangelist John Wesley whose preaching of ‘perfect love’ led him and his followers to engage in prison reform (his father was once jailed for a bad debt), challenge inequality and extreme poverty, teach illiterate adults to read, provide health care for the poor, and at the end of his life to oppose slavery which he had seen first hand during his brief time as missionary to the Georgia colony.

People followed and implemented Wesley’s teaching because he was doing what he talked and preached about.   They could see his love, his core value demonstrated in projects of compassion and justice.

In this tradition what matters most in the end is not how carefully we have articulated our beliefs but how generously we have responded with love to human suffering and how intentionally we have worked to right social as well as personal wrongs.

Last week columnist David Brooks wrote that Ohio’s governor John Kasich got it right in his recent inaugural address.

Kasich, a working-class kid, spoke as a small government conservative who sometimes uses government to advance Judeo-Christian values. His mantra is, “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.”

It doesn’t help much to just tell people to do the right thing, whatever it is. People get weary of that.

But when we reflect on ultimate concerns and the core values by which we live, our perspective changes.

If love is our motivation for righting wrongs then the question is ‘What am I going to do about it?’


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3 Responses to “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”

  1. Great stuff, Tom! Justice is love expressed as equally as possible. And on this MLK day, I’m reminded of his words: “Every[one] must decide whether [to] will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

  2. tom rose says:

    Great sermon on love and I agree with you.

  3. Carl Summer says:

    Tom, Thanks once again for an excellent, thought provoking post.

    What does love have to do with it? Everything?!

    It is a quintessential question that speaks to why Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for it. The man we are celebrating today, Marin Luther King, is a great example of the fact that ideas govern the world or throw it into chaos, and beliefs have consequences! Jesus said every person is worth more than all the wealth in the world and God’s Word tells us that He has made of one blood all nations! All of us have colored blood and it is red! All of us are created equal and none of us are created more equal than others!

    The last words that Jesus’ prayed to the Father and for us in John 17th are, “That the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them and I in them!”

    Thus, what does love have to do with it? Everything, if a person knows Jesus. According to God’s Word, if a person knows Jesus it makes them better to people, never better than anyone! The Wesley you referred to and the early Methodists lived that out daily. May it be so in our day in our lives and in every church!

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