When Love Refuses to Affirm

*Editor’s Note: This was #2 on our Top Posts of 2012.

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There are times when your love for people trumps your desire to stay away from potentially offending them. This is one of those times.

I recently stumbled across a theological statement of The Vision Church of Atlanta which proudly boasts Bishop Allen and his life partner, “First Gentleman” Rashad. Included on the page is a horrific handling of Leviticus, the Law, and Jesus’s views on such things, but that’s probably a post for another day. Here is the particularly gut-wrenching section that I want to focus on here:

We believe that God’s love is inclusive and welcoming to all. We believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ cuts across all barriers which fragment and divide us. We are called to love, affirm and welcome all regardless of race, gender and/or affectional orientation, class, or life situation. As Christ-centered Christians, we are to be known for our inclusiveness, reconciliation, and liberation for all who are oppressed. The church has too often allowed particular aspects of a person to place them out of the faith. Therefore, we emphasize the “whosoever” in John 3:16. We are also called to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves” (Mark 12:29-31), and “love our enemies” Luke 6:27.

So much can be said about this section, but what troubles me most is that the drafter of this explanation (likely the bishop himself) uses the love of Christ as a springboard for the “love equals affirmation” hermeneutic. I totally agree much of this presentation, everything from the power of the barrier-crossing gospel to the call to love our neighbors and enemies. Any Christian would quickly and rightly say “amen!” to that.

Where the logic totally falls apart is assuming that the inclusiveness of the gospel allows for no standard of right and wrong. The gospel is indeed the power of God to save the Jew, Gentile, man, woman, child, black, white, etc. But that’s not all. It is also a proclamation that sin has been conquered and that God’s righteous reign is supreme. His glory is paramount. In short, the implication by The Vision Church is that because the gospel is not a sectarian message in its reach, tolerance is the highest form of love. In fact, love is often the opposite.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

When defining love, we must be extremely careful not to confuse it with affirmation. I love my wife whether she commits adultery or not, and I would forgive and reconcile with her if that were to ever happen (God forbid), but I would not condone nor endorse her to do it again. Christ’s death on the cross would cover that sin, but he would also command repentance and I rightly would expect the same. The beauty of the gospel is not that we get to sin freely, but that we are free to sin no more. We have so individualized everything in our culture that “what works for me is best for me” has firmly seeped into much of today’s Christian thought. Repentance and dying to self flip that script entirely.

Jesus clearly spent much of his ministry teaching and modeling love. As mentioned before, he said that we must love our God, our neighbors, and our enemies. Indeed, John says that “God is love” in his first epistle (1 John 4:8). However, we should also pay attention to how Jesus loved. His interaction with the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is a striking example that comes to mind. After saving her life from those who sought to condemn and marginalize her, he said this:

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

What a beautiful picture of grace! He could have easily judged her (as the true Judge) and yet he told her, “I do not condemn you.” Now, we could stop there, but we can’t. Why? Because Jesus didn’t stop there. He then says, “Go and sin no more.” See that? Love is not just the forgiveness of sins, but also the pointing toward something better. When Christians, exercising real humility and gentleness, tell a homosexual or alcoholic or adulterer or gossip queen that what they are doing is a sin, they are exercising the love of Christ. It is not loving to leave people in their sin or simply offer hollow acquittal. Jesus pardons sin and points us in the right direction.

At the Cross

In reflecting on the aforementioned theological averment that promotes a choose-your-own-lifestyle therapy, it is grievous that the gospel is weakened to such a nebulous ideal. What’s more, this kind of thought is being broadcasted as the true teachings of Jesus. Jesus becomes nothing more than a naïve mother who accepts all of her children’s flaws. This flies in the face of the cross, where God in the flesh died the most gruesome form of execution ever created to gain victory over sin. He hung there because sin is that hideous and offensive. Paul lists a very particular set of sins in 1 Cor. 6:7-10 that range from the greedy to the homosexual and in verse 11 says, “that’s what some of you were, but you were sanctified and justified in Christ.” In this transferred vindication, we walk away from those things and into the newness of life.

The cross indicts every one of us but there is hope on the other side of an empty tomb. We cannot trust our own hearts. We cannot think of our own preferences. We cannot be defined by those things which God clearly warns against. We must be washed in the blood, sent out of the grave and into the world. There can be no reconciliation where sin is not only accepted but endorsed. It pains me to see people so blinded by their own fragmented hearts, but I can pray with joy and hope knowing that no one is out of the reach of God’s saving hand.