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Do you have a burning question about church, Episcopal/Anglican traditions, theology, and so on? In our weekly feature "Ask Dear Old Dad," after the classic "Dear Abby" format, the Rev. Reese Riley, COS Senior Adjunct Clergy, will tackle your questions with his signature wisdom and charm. And by the way, there are no dumb questions! You may request to be anonymous, or you may have your name published. Your questions will inspire the conversation!

Dear DOD,

How can I love my neighbor when he does things that violate my values and God’s laws?


Ed Andersen


Dear Ed, 


Sounds like your neighbor is the identical twin to one of mine!

Yours, or a very similar question, occurs to nearly all of us adults at some time or another. And Jesus doesn’t make it easy for us either. When asked which was the greatest of the 613 mitzvot (singular: mitzvah, meaning commandments) of Torah, Jesus says in Matthew 22:35-40,

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. 

Leviticus 19:34 raises the bar by a quantum leap:

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

A quick scan through the Torah’s 613 mitzvot finds requirements regarding neighborliness such as to relieve a neighbor of his burden and help to unload his beast. (Ex. 23:5)

All that being said, the question remains, “How do you love a difficult neighbor?” The tried and true answer is the old “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” Another answer lies in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s Baptismal Liturgy, where the gathered community pledges to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Additionally, at the end of the Baptismal Covenant, we pledge to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Finally, the Greek translation of Jesus’ words uses the verb agape, which is sacrificial love—love that gives itself away, expecting nothing in return. In my experience, to apply this love to a difficult neighbor does feel like making a sacrifice. However, when I stop and look for the Christ within that difficult person, I can see that person as a flawed and broken and yet beloved child of God. (Just like me!) Moreover, I do not know all of their circumstances which have led them to behave in ways that I find so troubling.

In conclusion, I also remind myself that we Christians are in the business of redeeming love, even for our difficult neighbors.

Hope this helps.


Dear Old Dad (DOD)

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