“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-Jesus (Matthew 22:35-39)
“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?”
I grew up in a somewhat conservative Christian family in a small, conservative town in Colorado (or at least it was when I was growing up). I was a fan of George W. Bush and though I liked Barack Obama, the first ballot I cast in a presidential election was for John McCain.
I now consider myself a moderate, and I have never been registered with either party, except in 9th grade Civics when we had a mock government where I was a Republican VP candidate running with a Democratic presidential candidate to try to appeal to both sides (we lost in a landslide to the Republican ticket).
This year I will vote for Joe Biden, and it has everything to do with a question inspired by the epigraphs above, quotations from two people who lived as the embodiment of the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor. In fact Jesus was THE embodiment – Word made flesh. Fred Rogers was pretty alright, too.
The question: What would it mean to love my neighbors as myself?
To understand how I went from supporting W and the late Senator McCain to writing a missive showing my support for Joe Biden, I think it might be useful to explain some of my experiences with “neighbors”.
Since I turned 16 in 2001, I have shared a living space with at least 32 different people. From a splitting cabin with 4-5 guys at a summer camp to now renting out rooms in the house I own.
I’ve lived with quite a mix of people: white guys from a variety of backgrounds, Iranian-American, Egyptian, Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Cambodian, Nigerian, men and women from teens and 20s to middle-aged. What would it mean to love my diverse group of neighbors as myself?
While I was in college I worked in a group home with developmentally disabled adults. The men in the house were between 25 and 45 years old and had very little verbal communication skills. We cooked for them, fed them, cleaned up after them, toileted and bathed them. We gave them their medications and helped deal with emergency situations like grand mal seizures.
These men didn’t contribute to society economically while costing taxpayers a significant amount, were rarely visited by family (one of them had no family connections that I knew of), and were occasionally incredibly annoying – like when I had to clean up after one of them pooped his pants while playing in the sandbox and then proceeded to get poop and sand all over his body.
And yet I found them to have personalities with distinct likes and dislikes. They displayed joy, pleasure, frustration, anger and other emotions. I grappled with the realization that these guys were human beings, and human beings made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). What would it mean to love my neighbors with developmental disabilities, who also bear the imago Dei, as myself?
During my junior year of college, I began an even closer encounter with disability. I was sleeping in the backseat with no seatbelt when a deer jumped across the road. My friend who was driving swerved, the car flipped over, and I was thrown out the back window. I broke my jaw in two places, fractured my skull, my ribs, and had knocked one of the bones in my right ear out of place. I also crushed two of my vertebrae and the bone fragments pushed in on my spinal cord, causing permanent damage and paralysis.
During four months of recovery and rehab, I learned how to live life with spinal cord injury and how to push a wheelchair. In the 16 years since then, I’ve met hundreds of people with disabilities of various sorts through my involvement in Swim With Mike, California Adaptive Rowing Program, and simply living my life open to meeting new people. What would it mean to love my neighbors with physical disabilities, mental illness, or other chronic health problems as myself?
At the gym during my senior year of college, I asked out a girl on the track team after she told me that she had been on a lot of bad dates. She whispered back to me, “I’m gay.” I said we should go out anyway and she could tell me about it.
That same year, my first college roommate asked if we had an opening in the house I was living in. As it turned out, we did and during that year he came out to us as gay. During his first semester at our Christian college he had struggled with understanding his feelings and what he should do with them, so he dropped out. We met his friend, also gay, who had gone to a different Christian college, had done conversion therapy, and had married a woman only to divorce a few months later.
Since moving to Long Beach, CA, I’ve made many connections in the city’s large gay community, and at least half of my neighbors when I lived downtown are gay. What would it mean to love my LGBTQ neighbors as myself?
This is my ninth year as a full-time teacher in California, I’ve had the privilege of working with wonderful students and colleagues. I worked two summers with the Migrant Education program in a tiny farm town in the middle of the Central Valley. The students in the program, all Hispanic, were each affected by the agricultural industry in some way and fall behind in school. Occasionally they would go missing for a few days because they were picking with their families from sunup to sundown.
I taught at the Conservation Corps of Long Beach, a program for 18-25 year olds who were back to finish their high school diploma. Many of the students had spent time incarcerated and many of the young women had children while in high school. There were students that struggled with substance abuse problems, mental illness, and homelessness.
I’m now in my sixth year teaching English and Journalism at Long Beach Poly High School, where over half of the nearly 4000 students receive free lunch, and the school’s demographics are a reflection of the melting pot that is Long Beach. What would it mean to love my young neighbors – who have to overcome so many challenges to access the same education as other more privileged students – as myself?
When I think about the presidential election coming up in a few weeks, I think about these questions.
I do not think Joe Biden is a perfect candidate, but I do think that life would be better for more of my neighbors with him as president vs. Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has a history of using racist language, and his businesses have a history of racial discrimination. We’ve all heard things that he’s said about Mexicans, about African countries, about “the blacks”. We know that the apartment buildings he owned refused to rent to black people. And we know that he has failed to condemn or disavow white supremacy groups and their leaders. A vote for Biden is an act of loving my diverse neighbors.
Donald Trump’s policies have sought to weaken the safety net for those with significant disabilities. If he got his way it would be harder for people with disabilities to try returning to work and decrease the financial help that some families with children with disabilities receive, making it harder for parents to take care of their disabled children. Beyond policy, Trump has also disrespected people with disabilities, most obviously when he mocked the condition of a reporter with a physical disability. We are to love our neighbors whatever their abilities might be – a vote for Joe Biden will allow neighbors with physical challenges to keep their quality of life.
As someone who has had significant experience with the healthcare system in the United States (four months of hospitalization, total hip replacement, living life with all the complications of spinal cord injury), and also has many friends with even more experience, I can testify that the current system has serious problems. I don’t believe that unregulated private for-profit insurance companies have the incentive to fix any of those problems or to provide insurance to my less-well off neighbors or neighbors with pre-existing conditions.
Joe Biden has worked to expand healthcare to more Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions, through the Affordable Care Act. You undoubtedly want to have good healthcare available to you and your family – but if you take Jesus’ words seriously, you should also want that healthcare to be available to your neighbors as well.
Homosexuality is a controversial topic for Christians, but LGBTQ people are an at risk group for a variety of reasons, including increased chance of having mental health issues, increased exposure to bullying (both as children and adults), and being more likely to be victims of hate-motivated violence. Donald Trump’s administration has actively removed legal protections for LGBTQ people, making it more likely that all of those risk factors will continue or worsen.
I doubt that Jesus approved of adultery in John 8, but he didn’t turn his back and let the mob stone the woman. Jesus says that we are to love our LGBTQ neighbors as ourselves, and that should mean being given the same opportunities and protections under the law.
Donald Trump and his education secretary Betsy DeVos have pushed for more “school choice”, including the voucher system that allows parents to enroll their students in private schools using government funding. As it is right now, private schools don’t have to accept all students the way that public schools do. Students with learning disabilities – or physical disabilities – are routinely turned away from private schools. With school vouchers, the money that supports students of all abilities would be thinner, making it more difficult to give students who aren’t accepted into private schools the education they deserve. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, we should give their children the same educational opportunities that we give our own.
If you consider nothing else, remember how Donald Trump’s administration treated immigrants at our southern border. He had children separated from their parents and put into cages. Jesus was asked who should be considered a neighbor and replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point of his story was that it didn’t matter where someone was from or what they looked like, they could be your neighbor. I can’t think of any situation where it would be ok for American children to be separated from their parents and locked in cages. Love your neighbor as yourself.
In a few weeks when I mark my ballot, I’ll be thinking about my neighbors, and because I’m doing my best to love them as myself, I will vote for Joe Biden. I hope you will too.