A few months ago I heard a story about a musician who befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). That may not seem like an impressive feat, except that the musician is a black man. His name is Daryl Davis. And, while Daryl did not set out to make friends with a group that outright hates him, because of his skin color, that is what happened. And because of those friendships, hearts are changing and people have departed from the hate fueled and filled group. You can listen to some of Daryl’s story, here.
After hearing Daryl’s story I wondered what type of love prompts this depth of change. It is not clear if Daryl is religious. I also do not know if he would name love as a motivator for his actions. But, regardless of what he calls it, elements resembling love are present. As Christians, it is worth examining what Daryl does and considering it regarding Jesus’ instruction to, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).
Drawing the Line
When it comes to loving others, the distinction between how you love them and what type of love you offer is often blurry. In meeting needs there does not always need to be a distinction between the types of love offered as long as it originates from Jesus. But, for loving our enemies, we have two options; relevant love or radical love. On the surface it may seem like there is little difference, but there is enough of one that we must acknowledge it. Although subtle, when we look at the definitions of both words we can tease out an important difference.
Relevant means “having significant and demonstrable effect on the matter at hand.” While radical means “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something.” Both words cause change, but it is the last part of each definition that makes them different. Relevant “effects the matter at hand” and radical “affects the fundamental nature of something.” The main difference in them is what motivates them and what they change.
Relevant love sees a specific need and responds to it. And while responding to needs is important, this love allows the situation to dictate the response. Because of that, when the need changes, the response changes. This love is a waning love. It allows us to decide the seriousness of the need and the level of love to apply. While responding with any love is honorable, this contradicts the love that Jesus instructed us to use with our enemies. Not only is it motivated by a specific circumstance, it only focuses on effecting the person’s behavior. Often, relevant love only changes behavior. And, although the love offered does not always intend to only change behavior, it is unlikely to create deeper change. I am not saying we should not respond to needs, but rather that we should offer love that reaches deeper than surface level needs.
Radical love does that. When we consider the purpose of the love of Christ, we see a love that changes everything. The love of Christ is so radical that it changes the very core of human nature and creation. Radical love arises out of the understanding that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Radical love is also the foundation by which Jesus walked out His entire ministry. It was the love that he offered His disciples in the invitation to follow Him. He offered it to the woman caught in adultery. He even offered it to a Roman centurion (His conceivable enemy).
In every case he changed the core of each person and ultimately the very nature of entire existence. Because of radical love, that changed everything, we get to be reconciled to God. And, while Daryl may not describe what he is doing as “offering radical love”, his response to the KKK is unquestionably radical and at the very least, challenging, if not changing, the core belief systems of many.
To be clear, any response with love at its core, is a good response. I would settle for love as a response in every situation, regardless of the type. But, we still need to understand that relevant love responds to changes in the culture and radical love is a change agent within the culture. When it comes to the type of love we are called to as Christians, it is always a love which affects the fundamental nature of creation.