In Washington: Loving the Unlovely

Loving the unlovely? With Nancy Pelosi in church.

Loving the unlovely? With Nancy Pelosi in church.

It’s not easy being a missionary to a place so many people hate. Washington, DC (or at least what I call “Official Washington”) contains one of most unpopular, disliked, and ridiculed population groups in America: Congress. Just about as many Americans hold the current president in contempt, too. And, depending on what they’re doing, federal judges also get lots of raspberries.

Two recent events illustrate how contempt for government figures is universal: When federal judge Judge Callie V. S. Granade ordered Alabama to issue same-sex marriage licenses, conservatives cheered state Chief Justice Roy Moore for challenging that order, while liberals applauded Judge Granade. Less than two weeks later, when a different federal judge, this time in Texas, put a hold on President Obama’s executive order legalizing undocumented aliens, the two sides reversed their criticisms; conservatives applauded the federal court, while liberals decried it.

If we Americans are anything, we’re fickle. For a long time now, a large majority of Americans have disapproved of congress as a whole, but we each like what our own member of congress is doing. This is both human nature and the way the founders designed the country to work. They put this fickle-factor into the political equation to use it as a check against tyranny. Still, it’s affect is the same: People don’t like the people I’m called to serve.

Of course, loving the unlovely has always been at the heart of evangelism and disciple making. As any pastor knows, the greatest challenge of Christian ministry is to reach beyond the popular inner circle to the periphery, where desperate souls exist in the shadows. It’s not just preaching to the choir—or, worse, to the cheering fans that give you the ovations—but to the marginalized, the alienated, the lonely, and the despised.

It’s easier, of course, when the undesirables are down-and-outers. I started my ministry career in an outreach to drug addicts and gang members. Later I went to the inhabited garbage dumps of Mexico, to the “Pepenadores,” or “garbage pickers.” Raising money to relieve the temporal and spiritual suffering of people deep in the margins is relatively easy; they are the lepers of our day.

It’s harder to recruit support to reach the “up-and-outers,” people with power, influence, and the spotlight. Maybe it’s because we expect these people to know better and do better. I think some of also see these people as doing things that directly harm us. It’s harder to love someone that’s hurting you.

Still, the command is the same. Jesus said so in the greatest sermon ever preached:

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)

According to Jesus, if we only speak well of our own, if we only like those whose actions we like, if we only reach out with kindness to those that are kind to us, if we only speak well of those that do what we think is good, we’re no better than—well—according to Jesus—the IRS agents here in Washington, who are the least popular of the least popular!

All that to say, please pray for those I serve here in Washington—whether you like them or not. You just may find yourself falling in Christ-like love with them, as I have.