I have identified as a Christian for nearly all of my life. I was about 4 years old when I “prayed the prayer to let Jesus into my heart,” and have been a regular attender of church for, well, forever.

While my understanding of God, Jesus, and religion has evolved greatly over the last couple of decades as I’ve studied and grown, I’ve never wanted to move far from the moniker of Christian until recently.

You see, I am still unequivocally a follower of Jesus Christ, but I am finding less of myself among many of the groups of people who call themselves Christians.

For the same reason that I have trouble identifying myself as a feminist, or increasingly, as a libertarian, calling myself a Christian immediately affixes a label on my forehead, identifying me as a member of a group with a less than ideal membership.

Every time I read an article, or get in a Facebook debate with an atheist, I am presented with an onslaught of evidence that Christians aren’t being very much like Jesus.

The word Christian means follower of Christ, but it has become a loaded term applied by selective listeners, zealots, modern-day Pharisees, and true believers alike. The name of Christ has been used as a justification for bullying, imperialism, political ideologies, oh and those little things like the crusades, and the inquisition.

The New Testament of the Bible is very clear about how we should treat those with whom we disagree.

When asked by a scheming group of priests to justify his teachings compared to the laws of Moses, Jesus simply replied, “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” (Matthew 22: 37-39) 

The good ole Golden Rule.

Nowhere does Jesus say, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin,” Only to love.

When we hate the sin we begin to pick up the stones, and when we ostracize those with whom we don’t agree we begin to cast the stones of hate that can cause lasting damage to a part of God’s creation.

The Old Testament may paint a picture of a wrathful, angry, and even vengeful god, but in the New Testament God is revealed to us to be quite the opposite. In addition to loving, Jesus begs us to forgive those who trespass against us. We are instructed to love our enemies and pray for them. We are told over and over again that, while we are a broken people, the love of God can make us whole. But the most important step to that journey of wholeness is letting go of hate and replacing it with love for God and God’s creation. Need some examples?

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5: 43-44) 

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-8)

And my favorite: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Churches and the Christians in them should be overjoyed when someone with whom they disagree walks in. We should be elated that we get to build a relationship with another beautiful creation of God’s. We should clamber to rise to the challenge set before us by Christ himself. We GET to love and assist that homeless man! We are PRIVILEGED to show love and respect to that gay couple! Because they aren’t a homeless man and a lesbian couple, they’re people, and as such are worthy of love from God, and worthy of love from us.

I want to be the exception. I want to be the Christian and libertarian that makes people rethink their preconceived notions about those labels. I want everybody to love everybody. I want people to see the beautiful, innate worth in every single human being. But it is so hard when the reputations of others using the same name precede me.

A follower of The Way of Jesus Christ, and a lover of liberty I will always be, but how can I reclaim those labels which have been so darkly tainted by others?