How evangelical Christians get away with not loving their neighbours.

Joan Westenberg
4 min readNov 14, 2023
Photo by James Barr on Unsplash

One of the most well-known tenets of Christianity is the biblical command to “love thy neighbour.” But the evangelical right’s selective interpretation of this doctrine paints a troubling picture, of a community more focused on self-preservation and enrichment than on broader social responsibility.

When the evangelical right talks about “neighbours,” they are not referring to society at large. No, they mean only their fellow evangelical Christians. This insular interpretation isn’t just puzzling; it’s dangerous. It’s a blatant distortion rooted in historical and cultural factors that have nothing to do with the core Christian values and everything to do with exceptionalism and isolationism.

It’s the explanation for conservative policies around healthcare, human rights, immigration and the LGBT+ community that would be incongruous with any message of compassion and universal love. If the exhortation for Christian voters and politicians is merely to take whatever course of action will lead to the best outcomes for other Christians, there is no need to invest in the well-being of any other social demographic.

And for an evangelical community that is longing for the second coming of Christ, the fragmentation and suffering of a world profoundly lacking in essential services, equality, access, and even food and water are more encouraging than troubling. Look at the state of the world, they say. The second coming must be soon.

The evangelicals can troll and abuse any group they want on social media, from attacking the transgender community to displaying entirely selective views on the Jewish community. They can fill X with vile hashtags and use Facebook to spread misinformation, and they can do it while safe in the knowledge that their neighbours — the ones standing next to them at Sunday worship — are indeed well loved.

While the evangelical right claims that their unique identity and history necessitate a narrow interpretation of “neighbour,” this is only a convenient smokescreen. The underlying goal is less about preserving cultural heritage and more about shielding themselves from the complexities of a diverse society. Their wealth is protected from taxation, and their conscience from the plight of the poor, the homeless, or the refugees.

The Sermon on the Mount is interpreted as purely a manifesto for self-preservation. It’s a how-to guide for taking care of your own. This egocentric perspective distorts a text meant to inspire universal compassion and twists it into a cheat book for sectarian survivalism.

Let’s be clear: this interpretation isn’t harmless. It stifles broader social initiatives and engenders a climate of exclusivity. And it serves a strategic function: by rallying around their narrow definition, politically active evangelicals better position themselves to influence political outcomes that align only with their beliefs. Their single-mindedness erodes democratic pluralism and limits the reach of social justice initiatives.

It would be a mistake to assume that this perspective is uncontested within Christianity. Numerous theological viewpoints advocate a more inclusive understanding of “love thy neighbour,” which aligns more closely with the ethos of universal love at the core of Christian teachings. The evangelical right’s interpretation, then, is less an accurate reflection of Christian doctrine and more a cynical tool for self-isolation. The result is a form of religious chauvinism that alienates not just other Christian communities but society as a whole.

The evangelical right does not weigh the cost of their narrow interpretation against the larger societal good. Their insular focus not only creates barriers with other communities but also fails the tests of basic Christian ethics, which should lead toward inclusion and universal compassion.

A critical examination of the evangelical right’s selective interpretation of “love thy neighbour” isn’t just academically interesting; it’s socially essential. This willful narrowing of sacred texts to justify self-interest should serve as a warning; a cautionary tale about the risks of using religious doctrine to promote specific political stances rather than as modelS for universal ethical and moral behaviour.

The instruction to “love thy neighbor” should transcend all political, racial, and social boundaries, encapsulating a universal call for compassion, empathy, and mutual respect. Instead, it has become a rallying cry for discrimination, heartless profiteering, politicisation, bloodshed and the persecution of the innocent.

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