Why Is Our Love For “the Other” Perceived as Hate?

Greg Strand – April 4, 2014 4 Comments

One of the things that we as Christians evidence and experience in this postChristian day is that our stand for truth and our love for people, their salvation and their well-being, is received and felt by them as being despised, maligned and hated. I am certain that there are things that we do that would give some credence to those sentiments. But I am not convinced that everything every Christian says and does fits that paradigm.

Dominic Verner expressed this as When Your Love Looks Like Hate He framed it this way:

There is an alarming confusion cropping up in public discourse which has given me pause for reflection. It strikes me as the worst kind of confusion, and the most difficult to remedy, because it concerns the intention of hearts, confusing the noblest with the worst. You seek your neighbor’s spiritual well-being and you are accused of denying his very dignity.

Christians have for the good of the other and the glory of God spoken to the truth of sex and sexuality as it pertains to morality, broadly, and same-sex “marriage” more specifically. These convictional commitments are read by some as the great sin. Nathaniel Frank stated: “the sin of current opponents of gay marriage is an unwillingness to open their minds to change. There comes a time when there’s only one morally correct answer, and the space for having the wrong answer has dried up. I’d argue that time has come.”

For Christians, this love and concern is for the other’s temporal and eternal good and yet it is being read and interpreted as sin and even hatred. Verner asks, “why is this love for our neighbor’s spiritual good taken for hate? And how can it be seen as love again?” He provides three answers, which I briefly highlight.

First, our love looks like hate because our concern for souls chafes against the claim that human dignity is founded upon man’s power of self-determination. Our love calls into question the quasi-religious reverence paid to this supposed power. If our love is to be seen as love, the impotence of the power of self-determination must be exposed and the true foundation of human dignity must be laid bare.

Second, our love looks like hate because the life we propose often looks like death. By withholding endorsement for gay marriage, we implicitly suggest the alternative of lifelong chastity. For the man or woman with same-sex attraction, this certainly entails self-denial and the cross.

Third, our love looks like hate because we seem to advocate restraint in the enjoyment of all that the world has to offer.

He concludes:

Will framing our opposition to same sex marriage in such a theological and eschatological way really allow us to be better heard in the public square? Probably not. But it strikes me that a philosophically-sound natural-law approach has not fared much better. Besides, it’s a bit too cheap: Why offer natural law without the promise of the grace which makes it observable? We need to tell the whole story, complete with its fantastic eschatological ending because Nathaniel Frank is right: “There comes a time when there’s only one morally correct answer, and the space for having the wrong answer has dried up.”

A few questions of application.

  • Do you agree or disagree with Verner?
  • Do we truly love the other?
  • Do you think our love is read as hate?
  • What reasons would you add?
  • Regarding the unbeliever hearing the gospel, what happens when we become too optimistic? What about if we are too pessimistic?
  • How do you recommend we respond?

 

Greg Strand

Posts

Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

4 responses to Why Is Our Love For “the Other” Perceived as Hate?

  1. Two things…

    First, I believe we Christians (including our churches, our clergy, and our denominations) have come to a point in the development of the post-modern West where the culture is not seeking our counsel. Can we agree on this? Nobody is asking “Ned Flanders” what to do about gay marriage, nor any other aspect of our community life. The powers that be are very happy to let us do the inordinate share of societal heavy lifting – in the form of social work, foster care, hospital volunteering, and so on – but the population in general has come to believe that a huge portion of our worldview is anathema to the culture.

    So whatever our impact may be, it will not come in the form of prescribing the “right” way, least of all based on the authority of the Bible. (By the way, like never before, we Christians need to return to the Bible as our guide in all aspects of our life, because of the creeping syncretism that is so prevalent in all our ways – in our engagement of the culture, but even more critically, in our Christian lives individually, and collectively in our families and our congregations.)

    Second, even though we do not have a “seat at the table” of our cultural norms and mores, we know that the culture that is being developed and thrust upon the rest of us is futile and self-destructive. Our role is that of a field medic – as the culture proceeds to chew up and spit out the souls it was supposed to bring to self-actualization and meaningful well-being, we need to be living in accordance with the truth, being a shining light that cannot be explained apart from the workings of a mighty God. We need to be at the ready to tell the downtrodden (some of whom will be found wearing a three-piece suit and driving an Acura) that indeed, everything IS upside-down, and yes, there IS a reason we look around this culture and see both beauty and ugliness, kindness and hatefulness, promise and pain. We need to be ready to present the gospel as the solution to the problems of life in a God-forsaking culture, and the source of the healing that we all need so badly.

    Along these lines, then, let me correct one aspect of Verner’s three answers above. In the second answer, he says “our love looks like hate” because we “implicitly suggest the alternative of lifelong chastity.” This is at once too simple and not deep enough. Too simple because, by tacitly agreeing that same-sex attractions (SSAs) are part of the true nature of a GLBT-identifying person, we appear to be saying that the joys most celebrated in the culture that they live in (sexual joys) are just not to be enjoyed. We implicitly are telling them that they really need to become ascetics, even as we tell heterosexuals that they do not need to abstain from these joys. Yes, it’s far too simple to tell a segment of a culture that values sex as highly as ours that “Your way of doing sex is wrong and must be forbidden.” The culture laughs, understandably.

    This answer is also not deep enough, though, because the real solution is not merely chastity, but healing and deliverance from these SSAs on which so many are basing their entire identity. This is the most radical and counter-cultural aspect of the Christian response to the problem of same-sex attraction – the promise that there is healing and hope for the homosexual offender.

    So the situation for the person struggling with SSAs is both more dreadful and more hopeful than even the most thoughtful evangelical is likely to think. Monumentally sensitive territory, and surely this message will get us nowhere in the “public discourse,” but it’s one aspect of the power of the gospel – our Savior is able to save us to the uttermost, and make us truly whole, in every way.

    I hope this helps! It is time for us to believe unashamedly that the gospel is indeed the power of God (Romans 1:16). Let’s believe, in every way, and stop expecting to be heard when we seek to influence the culture. The world hated Jesus; if we follow Him faithfully, the world is bound hate us, too.

    • Tom, I appreciate your thoughtful and thorough reply. I agree – the gospel is what we stand on, preach and is the hope for since “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16)!

      I might nuance a bit differently your two responses to Verner’s second point. I agree that one’s identity is not sexual. It is, however, rooted in sex: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). This is not a social construct but is God-given such that it is part of the image. This has been affected by the fall. One of the ways that manifests today is that sex is equated with gender which is considered a social construct. At the bottom of it all, however, is that our identity is in Christ! This means that our identity in Christ trumps everything: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

      The other thing I would say is that God’s work in a person’s life, His work of transformation (2 Cor. 3:18) may not lead to an opposite sex marriage. It may lead to chastity, which also is a gift from the Lord (1 Cor. 7:7), just as marriage is a gift from the Lord. The true transformation is that whatever state we are in, the Lord Jesus is sufficient. He is our true treasure. Life between the times, between the first and second comings of Jesus means that the kingdom is both now and not yet. In some of these instances, true transformation will be seen in contentment in remaining celibate and chaste and it will be sufficient. The person will be content (Phil. 4:11) in Christ. There are some things we wait for the not-yet to be realized. But until then, we all strive for holiness (Heb. 12:14). God is good and He does good. We trust Him and as we do so, we find that it is true, and we flourish.

      Thanks be to God that His Word is true and He still changes lives: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

      For an example of a church statement on human sexuality, cf. “A Church Statement on Human Sexuality: Homosexuality and Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ – A Resource for EFCA Churches”

  2. This is difficult because the church is seeking to affirm and establish biblical standards as a community value. To the “other” it feels like coercion and the imposing of one’s values upon the other. They see it as a “values war” which they must win. Many Christians come across that way also.
    Obviously there is no easy answer. It would seem that one approach is to emphasize the personal one. The church must consistently demonstrate love on a personal and practical level that will establish a “platform” from which to show that following biblical standards is actually demonstrating love. God’s standard (law) is the fulfillment of love.

    • Thank you for your input, Wayne. You address a very important aspect to this – the personal. There is something vital about a relationship. It is not absolutely necessary to be in a relationship with someone before speaking truth. We speak truth regardless. But the dynamic changes when it is in the context of relationship. But, as you know, that is also the challenge because speaking truth in love will likely affect the relationship.

      In many ways, we must remember in our own lives, which is also truth in the lives of others. If we understand God, our sin and the gospel, it is accurate to say that God is against us, for us. And if God is not against our sin, there is no way that He would be for us. It is the bad news that leads to the good news. We move from plight (sin) to solution (salvation in Christ). And we remember that the Word of God stings and sings, wounds and heals, and most often in that order.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*