The “orthodox Christian belief = bigotry” bell was rung twice this past week. Once in the Karen Pence kerfluffle. The other is Mazie Hirono doubling down on her Knights of Columbus slander on the floor of the Senate. David French tried to respond to the Pence mess with a piece on the nature of Christian love:
Here’s the reality. While there are certainly individual Christians who are bigots, the theology itself is founded in and based on love — love for the God who created us, and love for the people we want to see enter into relationship with their Savior. The biblical sexual ethic is based on a sincere conviction that it is best for human flourishing and is even symbolic of the sacred relationship between Christ and His Church.
I agree with David on this, but what he neglects in his argument is how differently Christians and non-Christians think of love. In fact, as debate rages inside Christianity about sexual ethics, so there is a debate about the nature of love itself.
For as incredibly technologically advanced as humanity currently is, we live in an incredibly simplistic age. We attempt to reduce everything to a simple sentence, a notion easily held and communicated. Thus we end up with aphorisms like “Love is never having to say you are sorry.” (Yes, I am THAT old.) Yet with some things, love being perhaps foremost among them, this effort at reductionism can only make matters more complex, not better. Love is a lot of things. Love is expressed differently in different situations. Love has an aim, but will take the most appropriate path to get there in any given situation and that path can be quite different in different situations. Our efforts at reductionism confuse the path with the aim.
Christians, and often non-Christians, are fond of quoting I Corinthians 13 when it comes to love. It is called the “love chapter.” It is only three paragraphs long – a nice, short, and pithy definition of love. Or is it? It is in a context. Before and after it are chapters addressing the “spiritual gifts.” The origin, expression, extent and nature of these gifts are one of the great rifts inside Christianity. This chapter comes as the Apostle Paul, sometime around 52-54 AD (roughly twenty years after Christ left the planet), is attempting to heal a very early appearance of this great rift.
The three paragraphs of the chapter make an interesting outline. The first paragraph makes plain that the gifts, whatever gift, used without love is at best useless and at worst destructive. The second paragraph, the one most often quoted, is a list of characteristics of love. Interestingly, that list is so expansive that it defies reductionism. Its breadth is informative as to the foundational and necessary nature of love, but also defies any effort to build a boundary around love and say, “this is what it looks like.” The third paragraph points out that everything, everything, we as humans know and cherish is incomplete and unsatisfactory – that as we grow all that we know will appear as childish and immature. In the end it leaves the option of clinging only to love.
The more I read and study the love chapter, the more I know that however I conceive of love, my conception is inadequate and incomplete. The Christian, in their correct conviction concerning sexual ethics, that condemns the LGBTQ community ignores their own imperfections and need for salvation and thus fails to love fully and completely. Indeed, as I Cor 13 says love, “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” But it also says love, “is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.” Thus when some scream “bigotry” at Christians attempting to point out the truth, they also fail to love fully and completely.
And thus I arrive at the one universal thing that can be said about love – when genuinely experienced it changes us. Those so consumed with the ethical truth that they are ugly are softened and made beautiful. Those that feel victimized learn that we are victims only if we allow ourselves to be.
All of us are changed by love, if we will allow it to change us. Right now I cannot help but think that all of us need to be.