In the circles where I have spent must of my life, there are many honored words. Perhaps none is more honored than the word “love.” Of course it has a great many meanings far beyond the religious ones with which I am most familiar. One can wax eloquent about her love of the Dodgers, raspberry ice cream, or Spring days. But in this column I am thinking more about how we religious types use it.
To begin with, there are the biblical affirmation that God loves us, the world, the truth — on and on. God loves us so much he gave his son — you get the idea. The great commandment centers on our love of God and each other. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are even called to love our enemies. (That’s a hard one for many of us.) If we have not love we are just making noise (I Corinthians 13). Love is the first of the spiritual fruits. But the word is thrown around so easily in the Christian world it can mean anything we want it to mean — or it can mean nothing.
Let me illustrate how easily we can misuse the word. In recent weeks I have had a number of conversations, basically with those more conservative than I am, about their views of gay and lesbian persons. These honest and faithful evangelicals and fundamentalists all seem to have the same answer; “O, I love homosexuals, I just hate what they do.” I don’t pursue these conversations, I just listen. But I do wonder what they mean by the word ”love.” I suppose it is possible to have an honest heaven-borne acceptance of someone, and still despise what they do.
So in the Christian context, love is not accepting what someone does, but accepting who they are. If one makes a religious claim to love LGBT persons, how might they deal with the following questions: Would they be welcome as members of your church, just as you are welcome? Would you sit by them at the communion table and even receive the bread and wine from them? Would you welcome their children — yes they have children — in the same Sunday School classes as are your children or grandchildren? Would you welcome them to your home for a church meeting or just for supper? Would you seriously try to listen to who they are without trying to convince them that either they are no such thing or they ought to change who they are? If you were invited to go to a same gender wedding, would you attend?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then explain what it means to love them. It is far easier to hide behind a religious word, like love, than it is to face honestly what the word implies.
Loving the sinner without loving the sin has a legitimacy. But loving the person whose lifestyle may be different from yours implies accepting them as brothers and sisters. At least that is the way I read my Bible, and understand what Jesus meant by love. When he fed the 5000 I doubt if they all had to past a test to receive a meal. Why he never even turned away some pretty unsavory characters at his last dinner. In every case of someone who was different, he “looked at him and loved him.”
I’m sure liberals have claimed to love someone whose activities are, to them, reprehensible. But I never heard a liberal claim that she loved persons who were Tea Party members. It may be because she was were more honest about what love means, and would not drag in a nice religious word because that is what Christians are supposed to do.