Is Fear the Definition of Evangelical Christian Love?

09/14/2017 05:02 pm ET
Love, defined by evangelical Christian Scripture, looks quite different than how people in the mental health field would desc
Photo - Pexels
Love, defined by evangelical Christian Scripture, looks quite different than how people in the mental health field would describe healthy love.

The Nashville Statement was recently released by a group of evangelical Christians who said their purpose was to affirm, “Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God.”

It is a statement full of assumptions – including that their interpretation of God and the Bible is the true one – and misrepresentations of the LGBT community. It also puts the signers’ ignorance about the science of human biology and sexuality on full display.

Many of these signers felt it was their obligation to express their “Christian love” to the world. As Albert Mohler, Jr. put it, “[W]e in fact are acting out of love and concern for people who are increasingly confused about what God has clarified in Holy Scripture.”

People are not confused about Mohler’s interpretation of Scripture. It has dominated mainstream thought for the last 50 years.

According to Merriam-Webster, attributes of love include strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; warm attachment, enthusiasm, devotion, admiration; unselfish and benevolent; concern for the good of others.

When someone is truly concerned about us, and unselfishly has our best interest at heart, we can usually feel it. We identify with their empathetic compassion. Evangelical Christian love, however, is beginning to look and feel more like abject fear.

For example, many of the more outspoken evangelicals also make outrageous statements about God’s wrath if we don’t follow God in the right way. Some of these evangelical preachers came out in full force following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, stating that: the flood is from God because the former mayor of Houston subpoenaed minister’s sermons (Jim Bakker); if the Supreme Court made abortion and gay marriage illegal, we would have avoided Hurricane Irma (Kevin Swanson); and Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey because it supports LGBT people (Rick Wiles).

And then, in 2016, there were dozens of “religious freedom” bills introduced around the country for the sole purpose of allowing business owners to discriminate against people with whom they theologically disagree. There are dozens more in 2017. A statement from the United Methodist Church said religious freedom is “for all people and all faith communities in the distinctly Christian ethic of love...”

More recently, Tony Perkins, from the Family Research Council, was behind Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to expel transgender people from the military. The FRC website states their “vision is a culture in which all human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.” Yet, it appears the only human life and families valued are the ones that fall in line with their narrow definition. The FRC said in one of their prayers, “Grant repentance to President Trump and Secretary Mattis for even considering to keep this wicked policy in place.”

And then there are those small business owners who withhold their services to certain people. Crystal O’Connor, who infamously refused to serve pizza to a gay couple in Indiana said, “We're not discriminating against anyone, that's just our belief.” A statement by baker Daniel McArthur reiterated O’Connor’s feelings, adding, “It’s done out of love for God, to obey Him.”

Love, defined by evangelical Christian Scripture, looks quite different than how people in the mental health field would describe healthy love. If you take a closer look at what most evangelical Christians believe, their almost sociopathic definition of love makes sense: God loved the world so much that he sent his son to die. However, those who refuse his love, on his terms, and don’t do exactly what he says, will burn in hell for all of eternity. At its heart, it is a message of fear, labeled as love. But because it comes as a directive from God, it holds more psychological sway. This definition of love is what most psychologists would label an abusive relationship.

Psychologist Andrea Bonior says in abusive relationships acceptance and caring are conditional. “You, right now, are not good enough.” The abuser makes you feel like you don’t measure up and you aren’t worthy of them. The abuser is unwilling, or incapable of hearing your point of view. In other words, the relationship benefits the abuser by giving that person control.

Over spiritualized and pithy statements like “love the sinner and hate the sin” only work as ideologies. A healthy relationship relies on empathy, compassion, compromise, and trust. It doesn’t require understanding, or obedience, unless you’re a dog trainer.

Not all Christian sects or doctrines hold to the troubling definition of love to which many modern day evangelicals are attached. Not surprisingly, as evangelicals have gained political power, their message of love has come with an accompanying, underlying meaning of, “We know what’s best for you.” And it is that arrogance that is most palpable to the general public.

Proclamations like the Nashville Statement don’t leave people feeling loved. And they certainly don’t compel people toward their manipulative religious message. Evangelical Christian “love” has aligned itself with fearful, intolerant leaders who lack the capacity to show love to anyone different from themselves.

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