76: How to love others, practically speaking with Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant
I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d disagree with this sentiment in theory. But what about practically speaking, when it comes down to actually loving others?
We’re back today with part two on loving others with Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant.
If you missed last week, listen to part one for what it means to love others with Dean Pallant. He’s the Communications Director for The Salvation Army United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland Territory, having served with The Salvation Army across the world as a corps officer (or pastor), International Health Services Coordinator, Director of the International Social Justice Commission, as a member of the International Moral and Social Issues Council and more.
He’s also author of the book, “To Be Like Jesus: Christian Ethics for a 21st century Salvation Army,” addressing many of the big issues challenging Christ-followers today.
And in part two today, he gets into details of really loving others.
As he says: “We need a practical, perfect love that can thrive in the gutter. We must be able to love others when the rubber hits the road of life.”
Allow me to introduce to you once again, Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant.
Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
* * *
Today, we are going to get very practical. It is relatively easy to agree that we must love others in theory. It is much harder to do it in practice. The Salvation Army has always been a practical part of the body of Christ. The Salvation Army was born on the streets and it must always remain in the chaos and complexity of life. We need a practical, perfect love that can thrive in the gutter. We must be able to love others when the rubber hits the road of life.
Let’s start with an obvious question: Who is my neighbor?
People have tried to answer this question in several ways. Some use geography. They argue: My neighbors are people whose property borders onto mine. But maybe it is too limited to say a neighbor must share a property border. Perhaps my neighbor includes all the people in my street, or perhaps my village or town or perhaps my county, or perhaps my state or my nation or even my continent?
Or we could use biology to answer the question. Perhaps my neighbors are people related to me. They share my genetics. When we lived in New York City, I was intrigued by the advertisements on TV for genetic testing. We don’t see these adverts in the UK because most British people’s families have lived here for many centuries. However, I was suckered in by the advert and did the 23 and Me genetic test. Unsurprisingly, my genes are 88 percent British—mainly from London and Glasgow. That makes sense as my four grandparents came from London and Glasgow. So, does that mean my British neighbors deserve more love than the French and German neighbors with whom I share 12 percent of my DNA? I have no DNA from Africa, Asia, South America, Mexico, Caribbean, Ireland, Scandinavia, Greece, Eastern Europe, Spain or Portugal…so can I ignore people from these places?
We will tie ourselves in knots trying to define our neighbor using geography or biology. So, let’s try theology. Jesus gave some clear teaching when he was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” We discussed earlier the sections in Matthew and Mark’s gospel and Commissioner Brengle referred to Jesus’ teaching in John’s gospel.
Luke’s gospel also includes the greatest commandment but connects it with one of Jesus’ well-known parables. We start reading at Luke 10:25:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Then, gently but firmly Jesus puts the legal expert in his place by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story. A Jew is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and is attacked by robbers who leave him half dead. A priest comes upon the injured man but ignores him and passes by on the other side of the road. Another religious leader does the same. In other words, the people who should have considered the Jew to be a neighbor did nothing to help. And then the Samaritan—the despised, untrusted foreigner—comes down the road. The Samaritan takes pity on the injured man. Treats his wounds. Puts him on his donkey and takes him to an inn. The Samaritan pays for his treatment.
Jesus then turns to the clever lawyer… “Who was a neighbor to the man beaten up by the robbers?” The lawyer mumbles: “The one who had mercy on him.” The lawyer could not bring himself to even mention the Samaritan by name.
In telling this parable, Jesus smashes down the religious and cultural barriers in his society. Jesus’ message is radical. Everyone is our neighbor—even our enemies. We are expected to show mercy to everyone. Not just the people living next door to us. Not just those who share our genes. Not just those who have the same passport as us. Loving others is a commandment to love everyone including those who we don’t think are like us at all.
This is a counter-cultural message in 2021. We are living in a time of increasing nationalism. In the UK, some politicians have supported reducing our international development budget—the taxpayers’ money that goes to help people in poorer countries. At a time of global pandemic they say: “Look after the people in our country, not the foreigners.” Jesus’ response is, no… everyone is your neighbor. Everyone needs the vaccine. Everyone needs food, clean water and an education. Everyone needs a good job.
That raises another question: Why should everyone be my neighbor?
For Christians, Jews and Muslims—those of us from the Abrahamic faiths—everyone is our neighbor because everyone is made in the image of God. All humanity, regardless of ethnicity or geography or biology, is created in the image of God.
Christians have an even richer understanding about the importance of relationships because we believe God is Father, Son and Spirit…in God’s very being there is a perfect relationship of perfect love. God shows us what perfect love looks like as we see the perfect relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. Indivisible. Perfectly united, complementary and yet three persons. Therefore, to be like Jesus, we must take our relationships very seriously.
But we live in a fallen world. Discrimination happens when relationships break down and we believe “those others” are not like us. Once we’ve concluded “those others” are not like us, we have little desire to address the pain or burdens “those others” face. Like the priest and the Levite, we pass by on the other side of the road.
Discrimination dehumanizes people and has its roots in a fundamental sin—a failure to accept that every person is made in the image of God; a rejection that everyone is precious in his sight. We must continually remember that Jesus taught we are all our brother’s keeper; we are commanded to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Therefore, disciples of Jesus must categorically reject all forms of racism, tribalism, casteism and sexism. And when we even get a whiff of it, we must address it.
Before I became a Salvation Army officer I worked in the mining industry in South Africa. I worked on gold and coal mines. These were the last few years of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was still in prison and it was a very tense and complicated time. Racism and tribalism were part of daily life. Loving your neighbor was not easy.
During those years, I learned how to solve problems. There are always problems when you are mining. It is a dangerous business. Shafts can collapse or flood. Machinery breaks down. Life is a battle. Miners will always make a plan. We don’t give up. We need to be practical, resilient and resourceful.
After decades as a Salvation Army officer, I have come to realize that the mission of The Salvation Army is also a risky, complicated business. There are always problems when we try to Love God and Love Others. Life is a battle. We need to understand the forces that can knock us off course. It is not just an individual battle. Discrimination can infiltrate the systems and structures of a society resulting in injustice continuing from generation to generation. So, if we are to love others, we need to understand the forces in our neighborhoods and nations that make it difficult—sometimes impossible—for people to flourish as God intended. And, dare I say, confront any systems in our Salvation Army that make it difficult for people to flourish as God intends.
Like a resourceful miner, we need to be practical, well-equipped, resilient and resourceful. About 15 years ago, I realized I needed better tools to help me to “Love God and Love Others.” I completed a doctorate in practical and political theology that helped equip me for ministry.
It was hard work doing a part time doctorate while having busy appointments and a young family but it was worth it. I encourage all officers and soldiers to keep studying and learning—we need to train our minds and develop our thinking to help us love God and love others. After seven years of study we celebrated with a family holiday in California. It was a great way to celebrate by relaxing in the beauty of the world that many of you enjoy every day.
My doctoral thesis was published in the USA by Wipf and Stock. It is called “Keeping Faith in Faith Based Organisations: A practical theology of Salvation Army health ministry.” My studies also helped me write my second book which is easier to read, “To Be Like Jesus: Christian Ethics for a 21st century Salvation Army.” The latter discusses many of the complicated issues we face in 2021—racism, marriage, divorce, abortion, same-sex relationships, nationalism and refugees, for example. The book is designed to help the reader think and reflect. It does not give you all the answers. I have included some opinions that I do not agree with. We need to understand what our neighbors are thinking especially when they disagree with us. Jesus listened to the people who opposed him. We should not be afraid of other peoples’ ideas.
So, we need tools to help us love God and others. I’m sharing with you today a tool referenced in both books. It identifies the forces and pressures that we must face in our fallen, sinful world. We are in a battle and we need to understand the forces that shape us. It also helps us to change the world in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The tool starts with ourselves. What are we trying to do as disciples of Jesus?
We are called to be faithfully present in the world. Salvation Army people are generally activists. We like doing stuff. There are not many monks and hermits in The Salvation Army. We don’t believe in withdrawing from the world—we believe God wants us to be fully engaged in the world. My wife, Eirwen, read through this paper and reminded me that not everyone in the world is an extrovert. The introverts often find it hard to be out in the world—Eirwen would not mind being a hermit occasionally!
I’ve had the privilege of seeing the Army in action in many parts of the world and we are often serving in poor, dangerous places. I remember visiting Haiti. I saw this sign: No guns allowed in The Salvation Army property. The main Army campus in Port-au-Prince is in Delmas, a notorious, violent and dangerous part of the city. The Salvation Army vehicles were usually allowed to pass through without any problems because even the gangsters knew we were helping people. The faithful service of generations of Salvationists had built up trust and relationships in that community. This is one of the great strengths of The Salvation Army. People trust us to love our neighbors because they see us at work in their communities.
I was listening to a podcast a couple of weeks ago called Godpod. Three respected Christian leaders in the UK were talking to a Jewish academic about what we were learning through the COVID pandemic. Maurice Glasman, the Jewish Professor said we were rediscovering the importance of place.
The pandemic, he said, has shown that our local relationships are still essential. For decades, western thinkers had assumed that local places won’t matter in the new globalized world. If we can work from anywhere; travel as we wish; consume whatever we want; why worry about local relationships? We can meet online, work online, date online, shop online, bank online.
For decades the rich and privileged flew around the world. The rich got richer, the vast majority saw wages stagnate or even become poorer. The rich and privileged forgot about the importance of local neighborhoods, of place. Communities that were once vibrant and energetic started to die. Well paid jobs moved away when mines, factories and businesses closed.
Communities were left behind. I know you have communities like this in the USA. We also have them in Britain. People who are left in these communities have become increasingly angry and disillusioned because they have become “the forgotten neighbors.” Some have been dismissed as being “not deserving” neighbors. They don’t deserve our help. We need to reject these attitudes. We are commanded to love our neighbors—not just our deserving neighbors.
And then the coronavirus pandemic hit. We were told to stay home to save lives. Very quickly, people realized that local relationships are a matter of life and death. Essential work is not done by the celebrities, the white-collar executives or the sports stars. We can live without them. In a pandemic, our priorities change. Health workers are essential workers; so are supermarket and farm workers who make sure we have food; and street cleaners and bus and train drivers who keep the city moving. And I am proud to say, Salvation Army workers who kept food banks stocked; homeless shelters open; and caring for the elderly who have had to shelter in place for months.
I have been blessed to see The Salvation Army at work around the world in churches, schools, clinics, Kroc Centers, hospitals, orphanages and nurseries in poor communities around the world. I am proud to belong to a Salvation Army that is committed to forgotten communities and serves forgotten neighbors. This is not glamorous work. It is hard and often lonely and sometimes thankless hard graft. But we are building God’s kingdom when we are helping forgotten neighbors to have food, shelter, health, education, find a job and learn how to pray, read the Bible, worship and serve Jesus as Lord and Savior. This is what loving others looks like and we should not feel inferior to the rich, the powerful, the privileged celebrities who sometimes appear to be so much more important than the “forgotten neighbors.”
Loving others is not only about serving individual needs. God also expects us to speak up against the forces of injustice that are disrupting and damaging our neighborhoods. We need to challenge the economic and political forces which cause poverty and damage our neighbors. We need to speak out against powerful people who use their positions for personal gain and not the common good.
Let’s return to the framework. We are called to be faithfully present in our neighborhoods. Building relationships. Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. Caring for our neighbors.
As we do this we need to be alert to the power of the state, the government at local, city, state, federal or international levels.
Those on the political left often make the mistake of thinking every problem can be solved by the government. If only we had higher taxes, more benefits and a larger government, the world would be perfect. No. Government is not the world’s savior. The savior’s name is Jesus! But that is not to say there is no place for government—we need good order; bad forces need to be controlled; vulnerable people need to be helped; roads and common facilities need to be built. Those on the political right sometimes fail to appreciate the importance of good government. Taxes are not always bad! Governments are given by God to be a force for good in the world. But it can easily become self-serving and not God serving or in service of all the people.
The Salvation Army around the world serves millions and millions of people because we work in partnership with governments of all political parties. We can and should work with governments. However, we must be careful not to simply become instruments of the politicians. We need to be honest, confident partners who will speak truth to power. We need to speak on behalf of the “forgotten neighbors” and make sure their experience is heard and acted upon.
Governments are often nervous about the “Love God” part of the greatest commandment. We should understand their nervousness. In the past some Christians have misrepresented the gospel of Jesus by saying, “We only love others so that they will love God.” That’s not true. God loves us unconditionally and so should we love others unconditionally. We serve without discrimination. Without strings.
At the same time, we cannot deny that our energy, passion and mission comes from the love of God. When governments try to force us to choose between “Loving God” and “Loving Others” we must push back and explain that we cannot pretend we don’t love God. We cannot pretend that our energy, passion and mission comes from somewhere else.
In extreme situations we may need to terminate the partnership if governments reject the Christian mission that motivates our work. But most of the time it does not come to that. Governments should not use taxpayer’s money to subsidize our evangelism. Disciples of Jesus need to pay for that. Sadly, in my experience, it is too often Christians who are embarrassed about loving God and try to love others in their own strength. We drop the commandment to love God long before the government forces us to do so.
The second force to consider is the power of culture and communities.
Our culture affects us significantly and can make us blind to our sin. In my book, “To Be Like Jesus!,” I reflect on the experience of growing up in the racially divided country of Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. I was born in a whites-only hospital, I grew up in a whites-only neighborhood. The only Black people who lived near us were the servants who worked in our homes and gardens. I went to racially divided schools until I was 16 when the law was changed. However, it was not just the law that kept us apart. I grew up in a whites-only Salvation Army corps—the only Black man who came to worship was the hall cleaner.
Despite all this racial discrimination, I was surrounded by faithful, mature, Spirit filled disciples of Jesus. However, we were blind to the sinfulness of racially-divided communities. It took me many years to recognize my blindness—and it helped me understand how easy it is for good people to be culturally blind. We all have blind spots. The question is whether we are aware of them. What are your cultural blind spots? What in your culture makes it difficult to be like Jesus and love your neighbor as yourself?
In some parts of the world, other religions have significant influence on Christians.
I have lived almost all my life in Christian majority countries. It was an eye-opener when I visited countries like Pakistan and Indonesia, which are Muslim majority countries, and India, which is a Hindu majority country. Life is hard for Christians who are in the minority. In some places, our young people cannot get into university because their name reveals they are Christian. Even if they are qualified, they find it hard to get good jobs.
We don’t have that experience in the USA and the UK but we are increasingly influenced by atheists and secularists. Some of these groups are passionately anti-Christian. How do we love others when people hate us? We have a lot to learn from the parts of the world where the Christian Church is growing despite being in the minority. It is deeply inspiring to see how Salvationists in these countries are committed to love and serve their neighbors who follow another faith. Sometimes this Christian witness puts our Salvationists at great risk. They have much to teach us about how to love others as Jesus commanded.
The final force in the framework is the power of the market, the economy.
God created the economy. It can be a force for good in producing products, services, jobs and wealthier, healthier communities. However, the market can get out of control. It can make a few people extremely rich while the majority suffer. The UK charity, OXFAM, has calculated that the combined wealth of the 10 wealthiest men in the world rose by $540 billion from mid-March 2020 to the end of last year. That’s $540 billion among 10 men in nine months during a pandemic—that is a dangerous inequity in the global economy.
The economy is not a neutral force—it can be a constructive force but it can also be a damaging force. Often the market treats people as merely commodities. As Oscar Wilde said, we can “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” In God’s economy, every person is of value and priceless.
Those on the political right sometimes think every problem can be solved by business and the economy. If only we cut regulations, reduced taxes and had a small government the world will be perfect. No. The market is not the world’s savior. The savior of the world is Jesus. We must be careful that work and money do not become idols and the objects of our worship. It is tempting to love our possessions and the power and influence that wealth gives us but we must only worship God—Father, Son and Spirit.
On the other hand, some on the political left are anti-business and distrust wealth creators. This is unhelpful. God created humans with the capacity to work. Creating wealth and a strong, sustainable economy can build the Kingdom of God on earth. God wants people to enjoy his creation with all it offers. One way we can love others is to create good, well-paying jobs that builds a fairer, stronger society. Salvation Army work, training and volunteering programs are all important in showing the market how to value the forgotten neighbors who are often left behind.
This framework is now complete. I hope you found it helpful to identify the powers and forces in our world which shape us as we try to stay faithfully present in the world. I hope you can also see that we have opportunities to change our world as we engage with government, the economy, the culture and other faiths. We are to be like Jesus in our neighborhoods, communities and treat all our relationships as holy covenants.
We are in a battle but there are resources to help us win the war of love. There are tried and trusted habits and practices that can help us live faithful lives. Habits such as prayer, Bible study, regular participation in worship, serving others especially poor and marginalized people, listening, studying and reflecting.
I also commend to you the International Positional Statements of The Salvation Army. These documents address some controversial issues. They are developed by the International Moral and Social Issues Council and approved by the General. They are not binding upon Salvationists—you can disagree with a positional statement and still be a very committed and faithful Salvationist. However, they are the official position of The Salvation Army and Salvationists should take them seriously.
To conclude this reflection on loving others, we must consider one more question.
How will we know when we are loving our neighbor? What is the evidence of healthy relationships?
One of the misunderstandings of sanctification and a life full of the Spirit is that it is a purely personal, individualistic experience. The personal infilling of the Spirit is important, it is essential but it is not only about me. The Spirit must flow through us to nourish the world through our service. If streams become blocked, the stagnant water becomes polluted. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Fresh water should flow out from our love of God and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. It nourishes our relationships with our families, neighbors and the world around us.
So, how do we know if fresh water is flowing through our lives? How do we know if we are becoming more like Jesus? Paul writing to the church at Ephesus explains: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph. 4: 4-16).
The fresh water of the spirit of God flows through us when we speak the truth in love. We need both truth and love. If we speak truth without love it is damaging and destructive. If we try to love without the truth of the gospel of Jesus, we are left with a lifeless, weak anaemic love.
But when we speak the truth in love; when we live the truth in love, the fruit of the Spirit flourishes. Look at this wonderful list of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. The evidence of God working in our lives is evidenced in the quality of our relationships. This is what loving others looks like! Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
As they used to ask at evangelical rallies in the 1970s…if loving others was a crime, is there enough evidence to convict you of loving your neighbor?
Anyone truly seeking to be more like Jesus will display the fruit of the Spirit. Christians who have a judgemental attitude, or who show little consideration for the feelings of others need to be treated with caution. That does not mean we will never disagree. We can have honest, sometimes robust discussion, but believers should never disrespect the other person. We try, by all means, not to let our disagreements damage our relationships.
Jesus’ life showed us how to love others. He taught us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24), seek peace and reconciliation (Matt. 5:24-25), build just and fair communities by loving neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). Justice and love are essential characteristics in the Kingdom of God.
Unfortunately, while almost all Christians agree that love is essential, there is less agreement about justice. I have heard Salvationists question why the Army should have the International Social Justice Commission. There are some Christians who do not believe that the gospel of Jesus includes any requirement to seek justice.
I resonate with Archbishop Desmond Tutu who, at the height of the fight against apartheid in South Africa, questioned which Bible people were reading when they said that religion and politics do not mix! I hope through this session today we can all agree that “loving others” is an essential part of the greatest commandment. We can discuss how we should love others and I have some serious problems with the way social justice is presented by secular liberals. However, it is a heresy to claim the gospel of Jesus has nothing to do with politics or social activism. Social justice is loving your neighbor even when it is not your problem.
When I lived in New York City, every morning on my way into work at The Salvation Army’s International Social Justice Commission I passed by a plaque on the wall at the entrance that clearly states our purpose. It read: “God’s Justice For The World.” That’s why we love our neighbor. God’s justice for the world.
When people experience more of God’s justice, we are fulfilling the great commandment to Love God, Love Others and Love Ourselves. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your service in the cause of Christ. May God continue to challenge, inspire and give us a fresh vision to help us love others.
- Download this illustration of Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant’s tool that identifies the forces and pressures we face in our world. As he said, “We are in a battle and we need to understand the forces that shape us. It helps us to change the world in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
- Read “To Be Like Jesus: Christian Ethics for a 21st century Salvation Army” (Salvation Books, 2019) by Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant.
- Learn more about The Salvation Army.
- Get inside the Caring Magazine Scripture Study Collection and find a suite of free, downloadable Bible studies to guide you through topics such as Understanding our Imago Dei.
Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now.