what is love?

Let’s just get this out of the way.

Now, on to business.

A sentiment I often hear within the evangelical church is, “If we want to love people, we must be willing to speak the truth about their sins. To ignore or sugarcoat them would be the most unloving thing we could do, even if other people don’t see it that way.” The basic idea is that sin, separation from God, is the greatest tragedy, and if you really do care about someone then you will want them to be free from that blinding, oppressive weight even if they refuse to acknowledge it – you will want them to know God. So we must preach the Gospel.

This is all true. But I’m beginning to wonder if the way that sentiment is commonly played out misses the mark of true love, especially when it comes to the church’s interactions with the LGTBQ community.

When someone raises a concern like the one above, my first thought is usually, The LGBTQ community probably doesn’t need to be reminded, again, of what the evangelical church generally thinks about about homosexuality. I’m pretty sure, actually, that the first thing that comes into most LGBTQ people’s mind when they hear the word “evangelical” is the anti-gay rhetoric that seems definitive of conservative Christians’ public discourse.

What strikes me as odd, and dangerous, is that somehow the message of “We don’t think you should be having sex” is considered more essential to the Gospel than “God loves you and so do we.” How the heck did that happen?

Why is it that any message to an LGBTQ person is not considered to be true, or truly loving, unless it contains a litany of his/her/their sins, and yet a message that is only about sin, devoid of any mention of God’s grace or a commitment to fight injustice on their behalf, somehow passes as an acceptable proclamation of the Gospel? As if, from the start, we don’t think LGBTQ people deserve anything better than judgment.

It’s like the church is chasing after them, hurling spears of condemnation and prejudice, all while shouting, “We love you! God loves you! No, seriously! Come back!” And when they keep running we just shake our heads and attribute their retreat away from us as a sign of their gross sinfulness, a refusal to accept the “Gospel-centered” kind of love we’ve offered them.

What the hell is wrong with us?! We treat them like crap throughout history and expect a different outcome? Maybe they reject us because we’ve never really loved them in the first place. Maybe they reject us because we are continually rejecting them.

Where were we when they became victims of abuse, hate crimes, disease, stigma, and bullying? We were either perpetuating their pain or apathetic toward it. And for those brave few who dared to stand beside them and model a different kind of love? We yelled across the chasm of our fear, “While you’re over there, make sure you tell them they’re sinful, otherwise whatever you’re doing doesn’t count!” Then we patted ourselves on the back for being “missional.” It’s maddening!

Ok, wow, deep breaths. The whole thing is just very frustrating for me. I once asked a gay man I was sitting next to on a plane what it would take for him to know he was loved by the evangelical church even if it never became “affirming.” It’s a question I had been dying to ask someone, and after I had so intently listened to his impassioned monologue about his spiritual connection to Diana Ross (who he’d seen over two-hundred times in concert), I figured he owed me. His short answer has stuck with me for the past two years: “I might believe it,” he said, “if you would at least fight the stigma that claims so many lives. But you don’t.”

If the only examples we have of showing the LGBTQ community “love” are the sermons where we preach the “truth” about the sinfulness of that community, then I would humbly propose that we repent of our anemic understanding of love, our exceptional failure to be consistent with how we live out the Gospel, and then to actually do something – not because we need a new conversion tactic but because we are Christians, and it’s simply how we have been called to live.

Read this article. Please, please read it. I’ve posted it so many times on Facebook and Twitter because it stands as a soul-crushing indictment of the loveless rhetoric so common in conservative evangelicalism. We cannot pretend we are blameless anymore, we cannot go on as we always have.

This is not an “easy solution” to a complex problem; it’s a reminder of what we have forgotten, what we have forsaken. How this will manifest in individual lives and church communities will vary, but it must be made manifest. Otherwise, honestly, I don’t think we have anything more to say.

Jordan

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17 thoughts on “what is love?

  1. Couldn’t have expressed it better! I posted that Rolling Stones article to my facebook some time ago thinking that bullying on any grounds would be a point that both my conservative evangelical friends and lgbt friends could stand in solidarity against. This was far from true.

    • The fact that some Christians hesitate to denounce anti-gay bullying because they’re afraid the bullied kid might then think it’s “ok to be gay” is one of the more mind-shredding failures of the evangelical church.

      Jordan

  2. Interesting that you and I are writing blog posts about love (albeit different types of love, but love nonetheless) on the same week– almost the same day. I agree and share your perspective, and pray that more Christians would see things as we do. It seems so clear.

    • I appreciated your post – thanks for writing it!

      But I’m allergic to gluten, dairy, and eggs, so the recipe made me all sad and stuff :(.

      Ok, not *that* sad. I hope you are well! Thanks again.

      Jordan

  3. Dear Jordan,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I would only like to add the testimony of my own experience on the matter. What touches people is when you love them, not because you are told to love them, not so you can share the Gospel with them, but just because you love them.

    I remember I was in a pub once with my team-mates and one of them, after having a few, revealed to us he was gay. In particular he told me something along the lines of “I’m surprised this is compatible with your religion.” Under the circumstances, the only thing I could answer was “I’m not your judge, I’m your friend.”

    If you have the chance to check a story I have written on the matter – about a month ago, a B&B owner here in England was obliged by the court to pay over 3,500 GBP to a gay couple for having refused them a double bed upholding her christian beliefs – I would really appreciate your feedback. It is filed under the Heart of Darkness category in my blog, in seven episodes.

    Closing this note, I would like to compliment you on your post.

    Sincerely,
    An ex-Inquisitor

  4. I’ve seen a lot of Christian organizations recently take exactly the right attitude in regards to the issue of prostitution. Of course, prostituting yourself is a sin according to Christianity, and I’m pretty sure everybody and their mother knows that. So instead of focusing on that fact, Christian organizations have started to show love and care for prostitutes, to show them that they are valuable in God’s eyes, and to try and pull them out of the horrifically vulnerable position they often find themselves in. The situation with homosexuality is not much different: We’ve got a group of people who commit a sexual sin that isn’t always condoned by society, and they often find themselves in very vulnerable positions. What is it about our perspective that makes us able to love prostitutes so radically? We should try to apply that same perspective in this situation too.

    • Prostitution is a choice. Homosexuality is not. Here is the flat-out truth. I am a lesbian. Being a lesbian is not something I do, it is part of who I am. I did not choose to be a person who is homosexual; in fact, I tried everything I could think of to NOT be a person who is homosexual, and nothing worked.

      If you think homosexuality is a sin, and you hate sin, then you hate me. That is the simple, logical truth.

      I found God after I left organized religion, not while I was a part of it. People like you chase people away from a loving God. The God you represent is merciless, sadistic and totally without compassion. If it makes you feel good to worship a God like that, knock yourself out. You can deny that your God is merciless, etc., but the image that His followers offer when you pass judgement on others is not reflective of love. Not. At. All.

      The perspective you should apply is to keep your mind out of the intimate activities of other consenting adults. Mental voyeurism is creepy. You are not welcome in our bedrooms.

      If I sound angry, it is because I am very angry. You and people like you violate the commandments of Christ to love God with all your being and to love your neighbors. What you do isn’t love. It’s hatred and rejection. I’ve dealt with this for most of my 60 years on this planet. People like you make me want to vomit.

      • “To dream of refuting a doctrine before having thoroughly comprehended it is like shooting at an object in the dark.” -Al-Ghazali.

        All men have an inborn cross, a fallen, sinful nature against whose inclinations they must do daily battle. Not just homosexuals. To each person, a different cross, but one which, we have faith, God will give him the grace to bear. I’m sorry that so many insensitive people have needlessly burdened your cross further.

  5. I think an important nuance is that love ought to be blind.

    When we specifically instruct Christians to “love gay people” we are subtly telling them to make sure they know about someone’s sexual practices and then love them “accordingly”, either as a fellow-heterosexual or a wayward-homosexual. What about just plain old loving others? Each and every person that we encounter is a sinner, either saved by grace or not yet having received that gift. And each and every person that we encounter is either living with some sin still reigning in their lives or they are living in a more freed-up state of gracefully fleeing temptation. And every one of us still ends up throughtlessly stumbling into some sin every day.

    It bothers me that we as a culture place so much importance on whether people’s characteristics and appearances implicate them as “gay”. God made gentle, showtune loving men just as well as He made tough and competitive women, and none of that means they are lusting after people of the same-sex. Again, when we are telling Christians to “love gay people” we are subtly telling them to love people who appear to be gay, as if they are a seperate class of humans.

    The Bible doesn’t admonish us to love the liars and the thieves and the greedy and those with selfish ambition and the murderers and the etc. etc. etc. We’re told simply to love one another. “One another” would constitute every one else. And I think keeping that as the focus would more quickly clear up habits of unlovingness wherever they may strike.

    That being said, I have no argument with anything in your wonderfully worded statement. Thank you. I will be sharing.

  6. Exactly this. I would add that this swings both ways. Gay rights activists sometimes need to also be a little more sensitive regarding issues of faith.I used to argue with Evangelicals on random websites and on Facebook about “the gay issue.” It became soul destroying (not to mention a waste of time!) and the worst part was that both sides of the argument would eventually stop being reasoned, logical, and especially, loving and become insulting, hurtful and hate filled. It only served to make the Evanglicals more convinced that LGBT people were rebellious, sinful and headed straight to hell, while it made the LGBT people more convinced that Evangelicals were misguided, deluded and downright homophobic. The Church seems a lot more willing to be patient and kind with other kinds of (so-called) “sin”, even other sexual sins, but mention homosexuality and suddenly the picture changes. Meanwhile there are millions of people missing out on the Good News about grace and God’s love. Thanks for posting!

  7. Great reading AND teaching! I am going to attempt to respond to a couple of things that I struggle with and would love to hear others’ thoughts. So, don’t gang up on me, cuz I really want to LOVE WELL. I know I don’t love well, yet! Much of the time, I’m not even very lovable :-( So, here goes:
    First of all, I HATE the word, “TOLERANCE!” Words are very POWERFUL and I think they contribute to prejudices associated with many issues. Who the heck wants to be “TOLERATED?” That’s NOT the same as love! With a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Social Work, and living in a liberal area, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that word; cringing every time! Can we do better?!

    Second, I think that having different laws for different groups really magnifies the “differences” rather than the similarities that we share as human beings. I understand the historical reasons for some of them, but wonder if they contribute to some angst. One I can think of is the notion of, “Hate Crimes.” When someone douses another with gasoline and lights them on fire, as happened while we lived in Boston, it doesn’t matter that the victim was a young black guy and the evildoers were young Irish guys. IT IS HORRIBLE! When a gay or lesbian person is beaten up by whomever for being gay, IT IS HORRIBLE! Is it necessary to have laws for “hate crimes” when most crimes aren’t “love crimes?”

    Thoughts? Remember, I want to learn, and LOVE! Be nice to me!
    Thanks for providing a place to have dialogue!
    Blessings!
    Dana

    • Hi Dana! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and interact, I really appreciate it.

      Tolerance is a pretty lame word nowadays, I agree, but I think it still has its use. When not everyone shares the same commitment to the divine mandate to love all people (and when those who *do* claim such commitment don’t always abide by it), the best we might be able to do is encourage them to not revile and harm those with whom they disagree. When I worked with homeless drug addicts we had to teach them “tolerance” because they were used to simply assaulting people that irritated them – the ability to withhold judgment and violence (of any type) in the event of disagreement is important. I think “tolerance” is subsumed under Christian love, generally speaking, and of course takes on a different, more profound, character but I still think it can be a helpful start.

      Semantics aside, labeling something a “hate crime” makes sense to me because unlike, say, a vanilla, economics-motivated home intrusion, “hate crimes” are motivated by a direct and insane prejudice against a group of people due to some inoffensive attribute of their existence. If someone is beaten up simply because they are gay, that isn’t just another assault – it’s a disturbing threat to the safety and well-being of an entire group of people that have historically received little more than abuse and stigma (which is why race-based crimes fall under hate-crimes as well) that must be denounced with an increased seriousness because it’s not just about that one crime, it’s about the character and fabric of our society. I’m sure I could articulate this better, forgive me.

      The first sentence of your third paragraph (“I think that having different laws for different groups…”) sounds like the beginning of a plea for marriage equality. The desire to just be treated as normal is certainly more compelling for advocates of marriage equality than any sort of “anti-traditional marriage agenda” that many conservative Christians accuse them of. Just a thought!

      It’s a complicated thing, for sure, and I hope you will extend grace to me as I try to do some small justice to God’s call to love. I really do appreciate your time and effort and I wish you all the best in your endeavor to love more like Christ! You’re on the right path :).

      Peace,

      Jordan

  8. I remember reading that Rolling Stone article and being so horrified, so saddened. I always feel like we’re so quick to “tell the truth” about what we think about other people’s lives but not so quick to tell the truth about God’s great and abiding love for us all. Great post.

    • You’re right about our often mixed-up priorities. I marvel at that fact, because between the two thoughts (what we think about someone’s life and what we know to be true about God’s love for all people) it seems pretty dang obvious which is more trustworthy and worth speaking. Sure, we can’t ignore sin, but it’s just such a tragedy that we often think it’s the more important thing to proclaim and leave redemption in the dusty corner.

      Thanks for reading and for the thoughts!

      Jordan

  9. Hmmm… So your Rolling Stone article implies – not too subtly – that there is a direct connection between opposing homosexual sin and being afraid to condemn bullying of people with SSA or people who identify as GLBTQ etc. (and thus it becomes an excuse to condemn and bully those who want to speak the truth about homosexual acts). And thus you, Jordan, do the same. I don’t know (*well*, that is) that many evangelicals, but really? That implied direct connection doesn’t ring true of the few that I do know. The notion that there is any such direct connection just sounds implausible. And the teachers, as depicted in that story? – what a sorry bunch of mindless, spineless, moral failures. (I have to wonder how grounded in reality that depiction is.) Bottom line: anecdotes are nice, but the article presents zero balance, zero statistically significant information by which to assess the significance of its anecdotes. Sorry for getting all truthy on you, but truth matters.

    One more thing to at least be aware of: There is a direct connection between splashing stories about “kid commits suicide because of gay bullying!” everywhere and an increase in subsequent suicides of gay kids. Sorry, human psychology is not always pretty, but that’s how it is.

  10. “I’m pretty sure, actually, that the first thing that comes into most LGBTQ people’s mind when they hear the word “evangelical” is the anti-gay rhetoric that seems definitive of conservative Christians’ public discourse.” Request for clarification: what *is* the definitive anti-gay rhetoric that you speak of here? I am not an evangelical, but I am a conservative Christian, and, pardon my ignorance, but frankly I can’t imagine what you are talking about (such that it would be compatible with your first two paragraphs).

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