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Utah pastor has taught special love lesson for 30 years

SHARE Utah pastor has taught special love lesson for 30 years

SALT LAKE CITY — Stepping into Salt Lake's Calvary Baptist Church, one can't help but smile. The choir belts out songs of love — the congregation jumps to its feet and joins in.

"So easy, so easy, easy to love," they sing together, dancing and hugging, a smile on every face.

As the congregation settles back down, Pastor France Davis takes the pulpit. He makes a few announcements, then — in a deep and resonating voice — he tosses the crowd a religious curve ball.

"Turn to your neighbors," the pastor cries. "Take them by the hand. Look them in the face and repeat after me."

The crowd lights up. Elation enters their eyes.

"I love you," Pastor Davis bellows.

"I love you," echoes the crowd.

"And there ain't nothing you can do about it," he finishes.

"And there ain't nothing you can do about it," the crowd repeats. Members then burst into joyful laughter, rise and hug each other.

"Everybody's excited, people laugh, people rejoice, they get motivated and moved," Pastor Davis explained, sitting in a pew as members exit the chapel. "Nobody's sad anymore. They unload their burdens and whatever their concerns might be — that all of a sudden is overwritten by this love from another person who they, perhaps, have never met before in some cases."

Pastor Davis can't recall when he delivered his first love lesson. All he knows is he and his congregation have said the phrase "I love you and there ain't nothing you can do about it" twice a Sunday for more than 30 years.

"Nobody's ever really said, 'What is that all about?' But it's key, central and (the) most important part of what we do," he said. "We take extra time to do that."

The love he is teaching about is not romantic in nature, nor is it a brotherly love — the kind that exists between family and friends. Instead, this type of love is about understanding and having compassion for human dignity, no matter who you are or what you believe.

"It's the highest level of love that we're talking about," the pastor said, "a love that goes beyond any kind of differences and yet brings people together in spite of. It's what we call in spite of love."

People of all races, cultures, ages and economic classes participate in the interactive lesson — including sports stars like Tyrone Corbin, Utah Jazz head coach.

"A friendly smile does everybody some good," he said.

Corbin has attended Calvary Baptist Church for the past seven years, as often as his demanding NBA schedule allows. And although he's a celebrity, he has no problem telling complete strangers he loves them.

"It's just a good thing to be able to give to somebody else a smile on their face at the end of the day," he said. "You don't know what folks are going through in their daily lives, so to walk up to a complete stranger and let them know that you love them and they can't do anything about it is just a tremendous feeling."

That feeling shows on Corbin's face as he sits in church and grabs the hand of a woman next to him. A smile spreads across his face and his eyes light up as he repeats Pastor Davis' one-sentence lesson.

He later said that while he often hears "I love you" from fans, it's different when it happens in church.

"It's always good to hear that we love you and I don't care — you can't do anything about it. It's just a great thing," Corbin said.

"Love, to me, it doesn't matter who you are, if you need help then I'm willing to do that," said congregation member Carolyn Bass.

"It's love being shown," added Carolyn Smith, a church deaconess. "Love is suffering. Love is long. Love is patient. Love is kind. That's what love is."

"When a person's looking at you and you're telling them that, they're just going to be like, 'Well thank you,'" said L.J. Jones. "They might be shocked. You never know! I could just say I love you right now, you can't do nothing about it — besides be happy."

Pastor Davis urges members to repeat the phrase to someone they don't know so they learn to set aside their differences and get along. The point — to feel love for someone else and accept them, no questions asked.

"Nothing like love anywhere else," he said. "It is the one thing that you can do unconditionally that helps another person as well as does something special for the one who loves."

Pastor Davis and five Utahns of the Baptist faith will teach that love lesson to more than 50,000 Baptists at the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education in Indianapolis June 20-24.

e-mail: lwilliams@ksl.com