Three eminent Christians on whether 'Love thy neighbour' is being honoured around the world

If you wanted to summarise Christ’s teaching, you couldn’t do better than this: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” We asked three Christian thinkers to talk about how well Christians are following that maxim at a time of anxiety, fear and rampant pessimism.
The Vatican at Christmas (Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)

On December 25, Christians from Boston to Bethlehem, from Vancouver to Venice, celebrate one of the most important days in their liturgical year. While Christmas may have become swamped in mindless consumerism beset by a time of extreme stress, it is still observed by most Christians as the singular moment to honour the founder of their faith.

But how well are Christians living up to the teachings of Jesus in a world of populism, global anxiety and political cynicism? Are they feeding the hungry and clothing the naked? Are they loving their neighbour in a time when love for "the other" is often hard to come by?

Xenophobia seems to be on the rise across much of the western world. As Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition, points out, the phenomenon appears strong in many majority Christian countries.

"A backlash against immigration, migrants, refugees and religious and ethnic minorities has swept countries like Hungary, Poland, Italy and Germany," he said.

Here in Canada, hate crimes are on the rise.

"If the ministry of Jesus Christ could be summarized in one sentence, most Christians might agree that it would be this: 'Love thy neighbour as thyself,'" Enright said.

Michael Enright spoke to three Christian thinkers about how well Christians are meeting the test of loving their neighbours in a time of anxiety, fear and rampant pessimism.

Mardi Tindal (Pat Smith)

Mardi Tindal, a former moderator of United Church of Canada, now works with a non-denominational organization called The Centre for Courage and Renewal.

Tindal says several years ago, her Toronto congregation was approached to see if they would offer sanctuary to a family that was under a deportation order.

"We were told almost 20 other churches were asked if they could do this, and they were too busy with Christmas."

She said her church decided to offer sanctuary to the family.

"We grew enormously in our own faith and understanding of what's called on us today," she said.

Jim Wallis (Sojourners)

Jim Wallis is the president and co-founder the Christian social-justice organization Sojourners.

He is also a theologian, best-selling author and commentator on international affairs and religion.

"Jesus wanted us to strive to love people different from ourselves," he said. "Your neighbour is someone who's different than you. That's who the neighbour is [that] we're supposed to love."

He said that teaching is critically important in the current era of xenophobia and division.
James Carroll (Patricia Pingree)

James Carroll is an ordained Roman Catholic priest, as well as an award-winning author, journalist and academic.

"We have constantly failed the neighbour, we Christians," he said. According to Carroll, Christians must undertake a process of "religious self criticism," to review where they are falling short of Jesus' teachings.

"The catastrophic outbreak of xenophobia today across the west is a constant reminder that none of us is innocent here."