I get a lot of questions from people about how best to have a relationship with those still in the Stanton churches. Many feel castigated and judged after leaving, whether they left for Biblically principled reasons, or because they were running from the mistaken view of God they had been told about by Stanton, and wanted nothing to do with him.

What a shame, either way. The dysfunction that has arisen in so many families as a result of Stanton has been written about extensively in these pages and in readers’ comments. It’s truly an awful legacy, considering that the family unit was designed by God to be a beautiful thing, something that protects and nurtures children’s and spouses’ faith in God.

Nevertheless, many find themselves on the outside of Stanton for a multitude of reasons, and wonder if there is any hope to patch up relationships with those who remain on the inside. Is it possible? Is it worth it? I hold the view that all relationships are worth it, but if so, how does one go about it? Many have written me expressing how hopeless it all seems.

Hopeless may seem accurate if the only goal is to get the person who is still in, out. While I make no pretense that that is a worthy goal in most cases (because those “in” will see and relate to God so much better from outside of Stanton’s darkened view of God), that is the wrong objective to measure success from a relationship point of view. We can’t hold the relationship hostage until they leave.

So the real question is how can we relate to those still inside? How do we deal with strong differences of opinion, especially at family gatherings like meals (particularly when there are withdrawn-from family members present) and weddings (where alcohol might be served).

Is it possible for people who strongly disagree with each other to not just be cordial, but to genuinely love each another as Jesus loved? If Jesus’ kind of love is truly a command, not just some sort of warm fuzzy feeling, then yes, we can. If love is a command, it’s something we have complete control over. God can’t command something that is impossible for us to do.

This means disapproval can coexist in a loving relationship. We know this to be true from life experiences. Can’t siblings love each other in spite of their different choices in life? Can’t parents and adult children love each other in spite of differences in their opinions and choices with regard to church, faith, or anything else? Can’t spouses do the same?

I know some of you will shake your heads in disbelief. “Well, that may be a good theory, but I’ve never seen it happen in real life–at least not in my family.” My point exactly. Maybe the real problem is that you haven’t actually seen Jesus’ love preached or lived out in real life, but I’m here to tell you, it can be done. Whether you are currently a believer or not, you have the ability to model the way forward for your family. Become a believer, set your life on fire for Jesus Christ, and the task at hand will become much more clear.

The scriptures command this kind of love for those we don’t understand, or that we have conflicts with, and we are to follow this command above all else. It is our highest calling, above even going to church. If love demands you help someone stuck on the side of the road next Sunday on your way to church, that’s what you should do, even it makes you late. Or, you can be the priest with your nose in the air who walks by on the other side of the road, driving right past a golden opportunity to demonstrate love in action.

The Greatest Commands are to Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor–and by extension, your father, or daughter, or son, or mother, or husband, or wife–as yourself. That’s not a theory, it’s a life-altering call to action–an deliberate reinvention of each relationship from the ground up. It is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing you will ever do. Love comes easy because we’re made in the image of a God whose nature is love. But it’s hard because we want to make all kinds of excuses why we can’t, or shouldn’t, or don’t need to really love THIS person THAT much.

I may not like someone’s behavior, or opinions, or choices, or church, but I can still love them deeply, and display that love genuinely through my actions, words, and demeanor. It doesn’t mean I approve of all of the above. It means I love them in spite of it. Wasn’t that what Jesus did while associating with the publicans, sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes–those outside the outer circles of the spiritual in-crowd?

Jesus didn’t give his stamp of approval to the “riffraff” of society when he socialized with them. He got to know them as real people, with real hurts, habits, and hangups. He didn’t wring his hands in fear that eating and drinking with them would be seen as an endorsement of their messed up lives, although the Pharisees dutifully accused him of exactly that. No, man-fearing was definitely not top-of-mind. Instead, the “riffraff” felt Jesus’ love for them, not his judgement. In fact, his most fiery judgment was reserved for the most hypocritical teachers of the law, the upper echelon of the religious hierarchy of his day. Things haven’t changed much, have they?

Are there times when we may need to show some righteous indignation, or at least put some firm boundaries down about what will or won’t happen in our own family unit? Sure, but remember that Jesus had the confidence of knowing everyone’s heart. We don’t. We should always assume good motives, and that will tend to soften our words a bit. A little humility goes a long way.

Jesus’ kind of love–the kind that forgives old hurts, recognizes failures, and loves anyway–is the kind that fathers and daughters can tap into to rebuild a strained relationship, or mothers and daughters can use to heal old wounds. Sons can tap into this Jesus-kind-of-love, even after years of drifting away from their fathers, whether that was because of the natural forces of their teen quest for independence, matched up against a father’s need for authority and respect in his home, or because of hardened, unloving church teaching and discipline. Love conquers all, and yes, it covers–overlooks–a multitude of sins. It is not our role to mete out justice to those who have wronged us. That’s above our pay grade.

1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

And everyone has them, don’t they? Father, son, mother, daughter, in the church, or out of the church, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

You want to know the secret to reconciling sinful people in messed up families? The humility to recognize that we’re all in the same boat. We all stand condemned, and thus are all equally in need of God’s grace, from those who get all spiritual to those who rarely set foot in a church building. The minute I start demanding that you be held accountable for all you’ve done wrong, I have to see clearly before me how I’ve done wrong and need just as much grace and forgiveness as you do. The humility that washes over us when we realize our own shortcomings is the beginning of rebuilding a relationship on mutual love and understanding.

If you have a relationship with someone in Stanton, take heart and don’t throw it away just because they may not agree with your decision not to attend. Even if they don’t treat you very lovingly when you express your disagreement, that’s OK. Love them anyway. Show them Jesus’ love in action. Model the right way to live a life of love for those we disagree with, and show them a better way.