I saw a news story recently about a Hindu guru named Mata Amritanandamayi. She’s gaining a considerable following worldwide, even filling enormous stadiums with travelers who’ve come to see her. Her theological schtick is fairly simple, she chants to the Hindu deity Krishna and people sit in front of her chanting to whatever God they choose. She’s referred to as Amma by her followers, which means mother, and she has a motherly aspect, a kind smile, kind eyes and a soft voice.
She does not make theological stands, and she does not offer advice that helps people succeed in their families or businesses, at least not with that specific intent. Her message is the same wish wash of a thousand other gurus before her. So why does she have such a following? And why is her following growing? The reason may surprise you.
Amma is gaining an enormous following because she gives hugs. Seriously, she’s the hugging guru. Her handlers estimate she has given more than thirty-million hugs. And these hugs are not unlike blessings, in which people receive a kind of enlightenment about the importance of loving one another.
Now to the critical Christian mind, this sounds like hogwash and we are tempted to roll our eyes. But the sad truth is people are not drawn to Amma because of her theological soundness, or her ability to give them right direction in life, or even to know their own purpose, people are drawn to her because God has hardwired them to be loved, and she’s willing to give them a hug.
I want to make a little hypothetical wager here. I bet that somebody with unsound doctrine will gain a greater following if they are loving than somebody with sound doctrine who is unloving, bitter or angry. Now the reverse is also true, that if somebody has sound doctrine AND love, they will attract more people, too. But the point is, people go to where they are loved, and are repelled from that system that does not create love.
The word love, or a derivative of that word, is used in scripture more than 550 times, including it’s use as a descriptor of God Himself. Love is at the core of human desire. We were wired to be loved by God, and tragically separated from Him, and we are pining for love in all it’s forms. People are led astray by what they think of as love all the time, and when true doctrine is spoken without love, people find Jesus repellent, which is why Satan loves for us to speak the truth without love more than he wants us to speak lies.
We are told people will know we are followers of Christ if we love one another, we are told that if we speak without love we are like clanging symbols, and yet we are not known by our love.
If you are a church leader, may I suggest a church growth plan? Center your mission on the love or God. Center your teaching on the aim of becoming more loving people. Center your outreach on genuinely loving people. Define the antagonists to your mission as the forces that rip apart your love, even if those forces are Christians who speak the truth, but do not love their neighbors or their enemies. These people are demonic. As theologically wish-washy as it all sounds, love is the core manifestation of our relationship with Christ. People will go to love, and when we stop loving people, we stop representing Christ.