A Christian minister and a Sikh professor talk about the most powerful force in the world

This article first appeared in Huffington Post.

On April 10, the Rev. John Vaughn and Dr. Simran Jeet Singh stood onstage together in front of hundreds of people in Washington Square Park to combat radical hatred with radical love. Then they had this beautiful conversation about what love means in both the Christian and Sikh faith traditions.

Rev. John Vaughn: Simran, what does your faith tradition say about love?

Dr. Simran Jeet Singh: The Sikh tradition is all about love. We love the entire world because we believe that our Creator inhabits all of Creation equally. We believe that love inspires us to serve those around us, and in particular, those who are suffering and in need of support. We believe that love is the ultimate goal of life, and that the best way to achieve this goal is to practice love with every breath and with every heartbeat.

Love, we believe, is both the ultimate goal and a daily process. We must bring love into our lives with intention and conviction. Love inspires joy, and love also helps us deal with the challenges of the world around us. Love compels us to serve and to help make our world a more just place. We have seen it historically, and we know this now – when we approach social injustices with an attitude of love we really can make our world a better place for ourselves and for our children.

John, what does your faith tradition say about love?

John: God calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus loves and cares for those who have no voice and are deemed invisible. This is not a passive love but an engaged love. This is a love that forces us into situations that may make us uncomfortable. This is also not a love that is just about our interpersonal relationships but about institutions and systems that should treat all people with respect and dignity. Love is about access to affordable health care, living wages, job creation, care for our planet, eradicating poverty, no more killing of unarmed people by police or anyone, eliminating domestic violence…Love is about institutions and systems being as zealous about how people are treated as they are about profits. Love is about the common good.

Simran, what happens when you love those that hate you?

Simran: Trust me. There are plenty of people who hate me, simply because of how I look. But I love them anyway because it’s the right thing to do.

Loving those who hate me does not mean I’m weak. In fact, it makes me stronger. It empowers me. Because it’s a lot harder to love than it is to hate. It takes more work to unite than to divide. I select the path of love because it makes me better, and it makes our world better.

Loving those who hate me also compels me to actively address hate. I am often the target of bigotry, and it would be easy to hate them in return and continue the downward spiral. By choosing to respond with love, I am actively trying to end the cycle of hate.

John, what happens when you love those that hate you?

John: Loving everyone is hard! It is much easier to love the folks who I like and who like me. What does it look like to love everyone? Letting go of trying to change people and learning to be with people where they are. Listening deeply to everyone’s story and experience.

We have to stop living at the extremes – “you are either left or right.” We have to see the humanity in each other. The best way to combat hate and fear is not with more hate and fear but with love.

Simran, how do you know that love can change the world?

Simran: When I was growing up in Texas, every night at dinner, my dad used to ask us the same two questions: “What makes the world go around?” and “What is the most powerful force in the world?” The answer to both, of course, is love. As a child, I never fully appreciated the power of his wisdom, but now that I am a newly minted father, I understand what he means. I know that love can change the world because it is the most powerful force I have ever experienced – and moreover, it is the most powerful force our world has ever seen. If you don’t believe me, ask your mother. Ask your father. Love is a force that has changed each of our lives, at least at a micro-level. Imagine what our world would look like if we could bring love to bear across our collective experiences and shared imaginations.

John, how do you know that love can save the world?

John: Apartheid in South Africa fell as a result of love, and civil rights victories in the 60s and 70s came as a result of love. Living wage victories are the result of love in action. Steps to create clean energy sources are the result of love. Love is a verb. Love is action, engagement and justice…for everyone.

Rev. John Vaughn is the Executive Vice President of Auburn Seminary; Dr. Simran Jeet Singh is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Trinity University the Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition.

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