“Love is Love!” Or is it?2
There is a new slogan that I regularly see emblazoned on T-shirts and on the bumper stickers of cars, and on placards held high at certain rallies. “Love is Love!”
My first reaction, as you might guess, is to ask a question of the person promoting this philosophy: “Please, define ‘love’.” The answer in return would likely be something along the lines of: “I just did. I said, ‘love is love.’” Aside from the absurdly obvious redundancy in the answer, any attempt to communicate meaningfully with a person who takes this approach is probably doomed from the outset.
So, what do they mean when they say that “Love is Love”? Unless I’m terribly mistaken, I think they mean that love is all-accepting, never critical, entirely inclusive, and altogether affirming of the moral legitimacy of whatever it is that another person believes or how they choose to behave. To push back and argue that certain beliefs are false is not loving. It is hateful. To suggest that a particular lifestyle is morally perverse is not loving. It is hateful. To employ any language that does not affirm the truth or legitimacy of something another person believes or does is an expression of intolerance and will likely subject you to being cancelled in some way.
It's important to observe the transformation of a crucial term in our world today: tolerance. Tolerance once meant granting a person the freedom to believe whatever they want and behave however they choose, on the assumption that neither their belief or behavior is detrimental to another person or to society at large. So there was always a limit to tolerance, a certain boundary beyond which one cannot go. But no longer.
Tolerance today means not only that you choose not to interfere with or prohibit someone from believing a certain idea or doctrine that differs from your own, but that you vigorously affirm that their belief is just as true and legitimate as your belief. Tolerance has effectively prohibited the word “wrong” or “misguided” or “false” or “immoral”. Of course, the great irony in this is that in saying, in the name of tolerance, that it is “wrong” or “misguided” to say that someone else’s belief or behavior is “wrong” or “misguided” is, by their own definition, profoundly intolerant! But I won’t linger on that point here.
The best illustration of this is the furious debate in our society over the subject of homosexuality. For example, in Romans 12:9 Paul exhorts us to “let love be genuine.” And in Romans 12:10 he commands us to “love one another with brotherly affection.” But the apostle Paul also says in Romans 1 that some expressions of human sexuality are impure, dishonorable, contrary to nature, shameless, and deserving of eternal judgment. So, how can one be loving and yet say such things about homosexual conduct?
I suspect that many people in our society, perhaps even most, would insist that it is impossible to consistently embrace both positions. As noted, they insist that to tell someone that his/her sexual behavior is dishonorable and shameless is not loving. And if we are to love someone, we must affirm their choices and never suggest that what they are doing is morally impure or wrong or sinful.
I bring this to our attention yet again because of recent events in Finland. The news was all over the internet the past few days regarding a Christian politician from Finland who has been formally charged with three counts of hate speech against homosexuals and faces two years in prison if convicted.
According to one news outlet, Paivi Rasanen, “a member of the Finnish Parliament, has been under investigation since 2019 for social media posts questioning the Evangelical Lutheran Church's official affiliation with the Helsinki LGBT Pride event. In her posts, Rasanen showed a photo of the Bible passage Romans 1:24-27, which condemns homosexuality as a sin. She is also charged for a pamphlet she wrote in 2004 entitled ‘Male and female He created them - Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity,’ in which she said that God designed marriage for one man and one woman. And she's accused of hate speech for comments she made about homosexuality on a Christian TV program in Finland.”
Rasanen said she does not apologize for her writings or for the writings of the Apostle Paul:
“The decision of the Prosecutor General is surprising, even shocking. The question is about the Bible's teaching about marriage and sexuality. Ultimately, the three charges brought against me have to do with whether it is allowed in Finland to express your conviction that is based on the traditional teaching of the Bible and Christian churches. The Bible's teaching is, however, (that) marriage is a union between man and wife and that practicing homosexuality is against God's will.”
I will contend that what Rasanen said and wrote is, in point of fact, a profound expression of love and compassion, and that for her not to have spoken in such terms would have been an equally profound expression of hate and utter disregard for the temporal and eternal welfare of practicing homosexuals.
Let me say it clearly: To tell someone who is living in unrepentant homosexuality that his/her behavior is dishonorable and morally wrong and puts their soul in jeopardy of eternal damnation is the most loving thing you could possibly say to them. I know that this runs counter to our world today, but I don’t regard the world or its opinions as authoritative. Only God’s written Word is authoritative. Only Scripture is decisive in telling me what is right and wrong and what are the eternal consequences of both.
And that leads me to what may well be the most important thing I can say in regard to this issue. The entire debate and the division that this issue creates boils down to a question of one’s ultimate moral authority. You have a choice to make. It’s a choice I made when I first became a Christian. You have only two options.
Either you acknowledge and submit to the authoritative statements of the Bible or you acknowledge and submit to the passions and feelings and opinions of your own soul. Either God defines your identity in his Word, or you define it according to your good pleasure. Either God decides what is true and good or, conversely, what is false and evil, or you do.
Either you believe that your personal identity is self-chosen, self-constructed, based on your personal preferences and desires, or you believe that it is God-given, stated clearly by him in Scripture. Either the God of the Bible is your God, or your own autonomous self is your god.
And the critically important thing to note in terms of developments in our world today is that to embrace and submit to the authority of God as revealed in the Bible may well put you in legal jeopardy, be that in the form of criminal charges (as in Finland) or a monetary fine, or some expression of cancellation.
So, when the Bible says that sexual relations between two people of the same gender is sinful, either you embrace that as morally definitive because the Bible is authoritative, or your reject it because your own soul is authoritative. So, what is it going to be: Self, or Scripture? Who or what is your final authority? Once that is decided, the rest of what lies before us is quite simple. Once that is decided, the meaning of true and genuine love is quite simple.
We face numerous other obstacles in addressing this issue.
For example, to believe what the Bible says on this subject is to open yourself to the charge of homophobia. Although that word literally means “a fear of homosexuality,” it is used today as part of a strategy of intimidation to silence Christians and belittle dissent to the mainstream view. You will also be charged with being intolerant and bigoted. Others will accuse us of being opposed to diversity and guilty of discrimination. We will be mocked and ridiculed for holding to what they insist is an outmoded, outdated, primitive understanding of human sexuality. Others insist that to speak critically of homosexual behavior is to incite violence against people who are attracted to someone of the same sex.
So what are we to do? The answer, at least to me, is obvious. We humbly search out Scripture to determine what it says about human sexual behavior and we then embrace it and submit to it, no matter the social or personal cost that may entail.
“But Sam,” some will say, “why is it important for us to address this topic? Why can’t we just skip over Romans 1 and other biblical texts and move on to more important matters?”
The answer is obvious. We must address this issue, (1) because the Bible does! Our primary commitment is to truth and this must take precedence over all other considerations. (2) We must address this issue and this text of Scripture because a person cannot fully follow Christ if his/her sexuality is out of harmony with God’s design for us. (3) We cannot avoid this topic because the urgency of our specific time and place in history demands that we speak out. (4) And perhaps most important of all, we must speak biblically and honestly about homosexuality because unrepentant homosexual conduct puts a person’s soul in jeopardy of eternal damnation.
Now, let me say three more things by way of conclusion.
First, we must denounce any tendency by anyone to undermine the true humanity of homosexuals or to suggest that they are made less in the image of God than are heterosexuals. People who struggle with same-sex attraction are just as human as you and deserve no less than you to be treated with dignity.
Second, our attitude toward those who identify as homosexual or who struggle with same-sex attraction must be one of loving concern, compassion, and a desire to help.
Third, my prayer is that what I say about homosexuality, together with the way that we all interact with and respond to people who struggle in this regard will make them want to stay in our churches, not run away. We should all labor and pray to speak and act in such a way that all people, regardless of their sexual conduct, will find in us a loving and helping and compassionate church.
Simply put, I want the church of Jesus Christ to be a place where those who experience same-sex attraction can find the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome their sinful desires and change, or if not, can find the strength and courage and help and love from us to live a joyful and triumphant life of celibacy.
So, is “love love”? As we’ve seen, it all depends on how you define “love.” My definition, the Bible’s definition, is that “love” is acting and speaking in such a way that the object of one’s affection is most greatly blessed in this life and in the age to come. It is never loving to speak or act in such a way that a person is encouraged to continue to believe or behave in a manner that, according to Scripture, puts their soul in jeopardy of eternal damnation (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5-6). Truly to love a person you must say and do all that you can to direct them to that belief and behavior that ensures their eternal destiny in the presence of God in the new heaven and new earth. That, is love.