There are times when I want to separate myself from American Evangelicalism altogether and simply drop my identification as “Christian.”
This week was one of those times. You’ve no doubt already seen the ridiculous post from The Gospel Coalition arguing that a “gag reflex” in response to descriptions of certain kinds of sex is a necessary part of conviction and love in fighting sin or something.
I’m not here to respond to that. Not really. There’s not a whole lot more that I could say that hasn’t already been said by other people (and by myself, over on Tumblr). Yet, I think it’s worth noting that this flack and drama highlight a great divide in Christendom that is not about the sinfulness or not of homosexuality (or homosexual behavior, as the pedants insist on dividing things). The bigotry and controversy over the acceptance of LGBT individuals* is merely the latest in a mountainous divide.
That divide is about what love looks like.
Often, when I’m having conversations with neocon Reformers (like those who populate the writing and editing ranks of The Gospel Coalition), I feel like I’ve entered some kind of alternate universe in which up is down, black is white, and the sky is green instead of blue. Words like “love” and “hate” cease to correspond to definitions extant in the real world, and instead develop lives of their own – twisted, weird, oppressive lives.
Let’s take the response of Joe Carter, editor at The Gospel Coalition. In a conversation with writer Micah J. Murray on Twitter, Carter responds that calling out sin is Gospel:
Knowing the bad news about sin is a prelude to the Gospel. Conning people into thinking their sin is not sin is merely hateful
Carter will write me off as a post-modern moral relativist, but I cannot help but wonder if he is not guilty of a relativist manipulation of vocabulary. How else, then, do you explain a world in which telling every person you encounter that they are an inherently terrible person, broken and evil, is “loving” and refraining from such behavior is “hateful”?
Up is down.
Here is where much of current American Christendom and I separate – I do not believe God has a different definition of Love that fails to resemble love here on Earth. I believe God’s love is a magnified, perfected version of the self-sacrificial, gracious, forgiving love that is experienced in beauty here on earth. God’s ways are not our ways, but God is not so inscrutable that we do not have the tools available us to grasp what “love” means.
The philosophers among you will recognize this as an entrance into a centuries old philosophical fray, one which you can indulge in to your heart’s content by Googling “univocal language” and “God.” I come down firmly on an understanding that if God is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, then God must have imbued our human understanding with some ability to recognize God’s love.
But what does love mean? Carter would claim that letting people “wallow” in their “sin” is hateful, that our willingness to let sinfulness slide without telling people of the Good News and letting said people go to hell is the Real Hate. Informing people that they are broken, and, it would seem, making sure that they feel broken is the Truly Loving Thing To Do.
But what is love if it demands I must deny the humanity of my fellow people in favor of a theoretical theological premise? What is love if it requires that I must inflict pain before I can offer healing? What is love if it requires that I poison people just so I may offer them the antidote?
Because this is what I see when I see this theological reasoning – I see a world in which I am required to act as an agent of destruction, of pain and hurt, of wrath and punishment, before I can be loving and gracious. Indeed, this theology seems to dictate that being destructive, that causing pain and hurt and brokenness is, in fact, loving.
I can’t get behind that. I can’t put my name to a theology that demands I must break people, that I must make them malleable before I may love them. Such a theology usurps the role of the Holy Spirit. Such theology demands that I – lowly, imperfect human – act as the Eternal Judge, Jury, and Prosecutor. Such fiction looks at hate and calls it loving.
I’ve a responsibility to my fellow man, to be sure. But my responsibility does not consist in breaking people in order that they may fit my theology of sin and healing. Our oppressive, patriarchal, racist world already does that. Why add to the oppression and hate?
No, my responsibility consists in meeting the already broken, the abused, the hurting, where they are. My responsibility is in loving them – by helping to fight that which oppresses them, by recognizing their humanity in contrast to a world that tells them they are inhuman, to love against all the messages of unlovableness they receive.
This task is infinitely harder than standing in my ivory tower telling them they are sinners and offering redemption on a silver plate if only they become like me. And yet, hard as it is to enact this liberating justice, at the very least, it is recognizable as love and does not require me to manipulate my language to call it such.
This love, this grace, this freedom from oppression – this is my Jesus and this is my Faith.
*Which, let’s face it, when straight, cis, neocon Christians talk about this, they’re really only talking about the L and the G.