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Truth is the handmaiden of Love

August 26, 2013

I’m trying to unpack my thoughts and feelings about a recent post from The Gospel Coalition. It’s a truly horrible post about the gay community and gagging, of all things. I don’t even want to link to it, it’s so offensive.

I wish I could forget the way the author, Thabiti Anyabwile, dismissed love between gay & lesbian partners as not real love. He ubiquitously puts “love” in quotation marks to indicate it’s some kind of secondary imitation or perversion of love.

I wish I could forget how he reduced an entire group of people, my people, to sexual behavior. He even encouraged, no urged Christians to gag at the thought of us. [Many have argued it’s the behavior he’s talking about, not the people. But the idea that you can separate the person from the behavior is bullshit. When you label people as sinners and want everyone to focus only on their sexual acts, you sure as hell are reducing those people to their behavior.]

I wish I could forget how he referred to sacred unions and the most important relationships in many of our lives as “so-called marriage.”

I wish I could forget how he used quotation marks again and again and “again” to drive home his dismissal and distain, to delegitimize and degrade, to dehumanize.

Maybe in time I will forget. Maybe I can intellectually brush off the words, those lazy and desperate words, as the tactics of a man who knows his side is losing political power and social relevance.

But the thing is, my mind can only go so far in eradicating the pain, because pain is not intellectual. This pain lives in my being. It takes up residence in my body and soul, and hinders my heart. This pain settles in below the thoughts, deeper than any logic or rationale can reach.

But I am lucky. I know that Jesus loves and accepts me. I get that he delights in me for who I am, as I am. I’ve experienced his unconditional love and approval. I’ve taken that scariest step of faith and laid bare the naked truth of my gayness before God. And I’ve experienced his pleasure in my vulnerability and his affirmation that my orientation is his design and he doesn’t want to change me.

So those words written on a blog by a man I’ve never met, they might bring pain but they do not bring despair, not for me. I know his truth is rooted in judgment not love. It is based on his perceived knowledge of good and evil. I know I’m walking with Jesus, and what this man says does not match up with my experience of Jesus. I am lucky to be in a place where I know even a well-respected preacher can fuck up the Gospel, even when he’s got a whole coalition behind him.

But there are others who are not so lucky. There are others still hiding, still questioning, still begging to be changed, still caught in the cycle of shame. And for them I am more than pained.

I am pissed as hell.

Because to them this man is showing a Jesus I do not know. To them he is showing a gospel I do not recognize, a gospel of gags and aversion. He is teaching them to believe Jesus was a Pharisee. A Jesus who would see a hurting Samaritan and cross to the other side of the road, a Jesus who would view people through the lens of the sins they’ve committed, a Jesus who would fight to keep power by inciting the masses to hate to the point of justifying the death of an innocent.

This man is preaching the way of the Pharisee as if it were the way of Jesus. Some Christians are cheering him on. Some Christians are pushing back hard. And gay Christians? We’re just caught in the middle, again. Some of us are raging, some of us are despairing, and all of us are weary. Weary of the gagging and clobber verses. Weary of the Bible clearly saying shit about us.

Weary of wondering if the next Christian friend will embrace us or speak the truth at us.

And that truth they keep speaking of? That truth that man felt compelled to write about the other day? They seem to think this truth is a chaperone for love. They need this truth to keep a close eye on love, because love might get out of hand. Love always seems to get reined in by their truth, fenced in, subdued, silenced.

I don’t really get that because when I read the Bible, I see Love as the primary message. I see Love as the driving force behind all of God’s actions and interactions with us. Maybe I see Love this way because Jesus, the Son of God, the exact representation of God, the Word of God, the One with all authority, that Jesus said this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

That’s the Truth I believe, Truth that is centered on Love and fed by Love. Truth that is defined by Love and speaks the language of Love. Truth that lives and moves and has its being in Love.

I believe truth is the handmaiden of love.

And I believe when we try to use truth to restrain love, it grieves the Holy Spirit. [There’s a verse about that. You should look it up.]

So when preachers start throwing around their truth-weight in ways that betray love, my hackles go up, and I immediately think of the dudes in religious power when Jesus walked the dirt paths of Israel. Because they acted the same way. They were the gatekeepers of the Law. They were the ones overly educated in the sacred scrolls and traditions, to the point of missing the forest for the trees. They bowed down in reverent worship to a sterile, soul-killing truth and traded the love of God for a pile of stones to be thrown at anyone who disobeyed.

And they hounded our Jesus with theological traps and “answer the question” taunts. But Jesus never really engaged the Pharisees in debate. He had a different goal. The Pharisees wanted to be right. They wanted to prove Jesus wrong and back him into a doctrinal corner. But Jesus wouldn’t have it. He didn’t come to debate. He didn’t come to argue about the jots and tittles. He didn’t come to clarify the old wine. He came with new wine.

To the Pharisees truth was the highest goal. Knowing the truth. Obeying the truth. Enforcing the truth. This is the way of the Pharisees.

But for Jesus love is the highest goal. Speaking love. Demonstrating love. Extending love. This is the way of Jesus.

And by the way, Jesus said he is the Truth. Think about that. The truth-mongering Pharisees were in the very Presence of Truth and didn’t even know it.

So when someone starts going off about truth, I think of Jesus first, not doctrine. Truth is not found in theological study. Truth is found in following Jesus. Even the Sanhedrin got a glimpse of that when they questioned Peter and John in Acts. [Another verse you should look up.]

And Jesus said love is his new command. When the One who is Truth says to Love, to me that means Love is the Truth, and that’s the wine I’m gonna get drunk on. There is no greater Truth than Love. Truth is not king of the mountain.

Truth is, in fact, a servant. Truth is a servant to a higher ideal, to the ultimate raison d’etre: Love.

There is no objective spiritual Truth that exists on its own, in a vacuum, to be obeyed just because it’s Truth. No, Truth inhales and exhales Love. Spiritual Truth is subjective not objective, because it will always be subject to Love.

The next time another man decides to speak the truth, check to see where love lands. If love is taking a back seat to his perceived knowledge of good and evil, he is likely preaching the way of the Pharisee not the way of Jesus. The way of the Pharisee says truth always trumps love. But the way of Jesus says:

Truth is the handmaiden of Love.

[Luke 10:25-37. Luke 7:39. Mark 15:11. Matthew 22: 37-40. Ephesians 4:30-32. Matthew 22:15. Mark 2:22. John 14:6. Acts 4:13. John 13:35.]

  1. h.b. –

    I’ve missed your thoughts! I’m sorry that this latest post was in reaction to something so hurtful.
    I hope that Mr. Anyabwile issues a full-throated apology for his words. He has, at least, tried to walk back some of his more offensive remarks.

    Below is my comment to him and his response. In it, he does express some remorse and admits that there are authentic expressions of love between gay couples. So…at least that’s something. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt; that would be easier if he issues an actual apology.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    My Comment
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Mr. Anybewile [I later apologized for misspelling his name],

    I profoundly disagree with you about the sinfulness of homosexuality. I won’t go into the biblical arguments (as I’m sure you and I both know how the other interpret the relevant scriptures). It disappoints me, however, that you fail to extend any grace to those who believe differently than you do. Instead, you use a grossly facile interpretation of Romans 1 to indict all people who are gay as willfully denying God. Your moral certitude is graceless and hurtful to faithful Christians who are gay. I would hope you can have the humility to understand that.

    The most offensive part of your original post was not the ick-factor argument. It’s been a failed part of the moral-depravity argument for years for all of the reasons you attempt to defend above.

    What’s truly offensive, that you have not addressed, is that your language completely dehumanizes flesh-and-blood people who are gay. You wrote “Interviewees speak of their elation and their desire to have others recognize their ‘love’”. You chose to mock the love same sex couples; you use quotation marks to claim it is something less than real or true. To suggest that people who are gay have no capacity for love, or that the relationships they form are somehow inauthentic or inferior, is more than insensitive. You attempt to diminish the very humanity of people who are gay. Your original post and this clarification try to reduce people who are gay to Godless hedonists.

    I am particularly saddened that this remains your perspective even with gay people in your life. Your willful dehumanization of them must be painful for all involved. I urge you as a fellow believer to recognize people who are gay as children of God, created in his image.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    His Response:
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Hi David,

    Thank you for contributing to the conversation. A few quick replies:

    1. I completely respect that you disagree with me about the ethics of homosexual behavior and I respect that you would express said disagreement publicly.

    2. I deny that “moral certitude is graceless and hurtful.” If we claim that clarity about right and wrong are harmful, we’ll soon be unable to speak the truth in love. We won’t be able to make any pronouncements about what’s morally good and right, including a pronouncement like yours when you write, “I profoundly disagree with you about the sinfulness of homosexuality.” That’s a moral truth claim, and if it’s to be taken seriously alongside your contention that moral certitude is harmful, then it too is harmful. But I don’t take you that way. I think you’re very probably morally certain about a great number of things and you hold/express that certitude without hurting others.

    3. I see how you could take offense at my comments about “love.” I really do. But I would ask you to keep that comment in the narrower context of behavioral acts in which I intended. Or, to state it the other way around. I would happily and loudly affirm that people with same sex attraction are not only capable of but also regularly demonstrate remarkable acts of love. If we take the rest of 1 Cor. 13 (love is patient, kind, etc), we would zero problem finding expressions of love in same-sex relationships. The entire post is about a much smaller issue: sexual behavior. And biblically, I just can see how we could call any sexual sin “love.” When I say “any,” I most certainly include first and foremost heterosexual sin. Adultery is not “love.” Fornication is not “love.” And so on. Consider reading the section on “Rejecting unbiblical definitions of love” again and note (a) that I admit “strong emotions and affections (i.e., love) are involved and (b) that I’m really talking about the sexual behaviors in question. All that to say, I do not deny the existence of love in a host of ways in same sex relationships. I was focusing throughout the post on the morality of the sex acts which are part and parcel to the discussion.

    4. I have not and do not reduce people experiencing same sex attraction to “godless hedonists” and nor do I deny their humanity. Quite the contrary. I affirm their humanity, made in the image of God. I believe the behavior to be sin and that doesn’t make them any less human than the rest of us sinners dealing with whatever sin Christ has yet sanctified. To say I “try to reduce people” or there’s “willful dehumanization” is simply not true. That some could feel that way, I concede with sorrow. To say I set out to do that, I deny.

    Thanks again for commenting. All the Lord’s best to you,

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    End of Comment
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    h.b. – I really look forward to your next post!

    • hballaman permalink

      Thanks for the encouragement, Ford. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt also, but it’s hard. I don’t think he was trying to be dismissive or cruel. He was proclaiming what he deems to be truth.
      I’m just so weary of this battle. I wonder if it will ever be resolved or if evangelicals will keep finding new offensives to mount. I was just so disheartened by the renewed call to arms and what I perceive to be them digging deeper trenches. It makes me sad (and furious) that they refuse to even consider another way of interpreting Scripture.
      I’ve been ruminating on this idea of modern Pharisees a lot lately. It will probably be the subject of several posts. And I promise I won’t wait another 2 months this time 😉

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