Is it possible to have a relationship of trust with Jesus and not have trusting relationships with others? Surveys of Charlotte would shout a resounding “yes!”
According to a study done by a property research website called PropertyShark, Charlotte ranks eighth among cities with the highest number of churches per resident.
This means we have one religious venue for roughly every 1,000 people. With some institutions claiming membership of over 7,000 and others hosting smaller groups of 50 or less, we have enough spaces and seats to ensure that every resident has a seat reserved just for them.
On top of that, while some of the top 10 cities with the most churches also have high numbers of religiously unaffiliated people, Charlotte has a higher than average rate of religious affiliation. In other words, we not only have a lot of religious venues, but we also have a lot of religious people.
At the same time, a Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey from 2000 found that Charlotte ranks low in interracial trust, with very little change in the follow-up surveys done in 2008 and 2011. Couple that with our lack of upward mobility, and you get racially segregated groups that don’t trust one another and rarely move out of the neighborhoods in which they are born.
How is it possible to have so much religious involvement with so little social interaction? Perhaps the problem isn’t what we believe, but how we put our beliefs into practice.
Charlotte is comprised of a wide variety of religious people. While the majority of those in the city and surrounding regions are Christian, we are also home to a growing number of people who worship according to Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i traditions and more. While that makes for big differences in our view of God, it does not make much of a difference in our view of others. In fact, nearly all faith traditions include some element of what we call “The Golden Rule.”
In a conversation with religious leaders, Jesus puts it this way: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great 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.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NKJV)
Although the words are not exactly the same, every sacred text points to some link between devotion to God and service to others, loving God and loving others. Jesus took this a step further in the story of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, Jesus expanded the definition of neighbor to include everyone, regardless of race, religion or wealth.
For the Christian, loving your neighbor is a call to love the world, with special emphasis on those who are considered least among us.
By starting with love, we will learn to respect our neighbors for who they are and begin the process of building relationships which, ultimately, lead to trust. Trust then forges the way for communicating and working together for a greater city for all.
So, here’s the challenge: If we want to change the statistics, we must change the way we practice love. Redefine your neighbor today. Step outside of your comfort zone and practice what you authentically believe. In doing so, I bet you won’t just see a change in your relationships with others, but you’ll see a positive change in your relationship with God.
The Rev. Nicole Martin is executive minister at The Park Church.