Christians are often broadly painted with the same brush by people as a large homogeneous group. When I was immersed in the fundamentalist’s worldview, the term Christians meant the people who believed as I did that the Bible is inerrant, penal substitution was the heart of the gospel, and all nonbelievers were going to suffer eternal conscious torment in hell. For some atheists, the term Christian also means anyone who thinks like a fundamentalist. Though the motivation to ascribe such a uniform label to professing Christians may be different, the assumption behind it is the same – that is, that all Christians believe the exact same things, and only those people that do believe like that can be defined as Christians. It is a label devoid of nuance, and lacks awareness about the history of Christianity and the diversity of Christian thought within world Christianity. As I survey the American Christian landscape today, this labeling of Christians is happening a lot, and those that are the loudest in their labeling seem to be the fundamentalists with staunchly authoritarian leanings whose aim is to win the culture war by attempting to force everyone to believe and behave as they do because in their minds this is how Christians have always believed (which is wildly incorrect.) While I have come to agree with exvangelical writer Dr. Chrissy Stroop that Christians are who they say they are, i.e. the most bigoted Christians who often ignore the Bible’s social justice themes or Jesus’ teachings are just as Christian as Saint Francis of Assisi, I also have to insist that there are Christians whose lived faith is radically different from the faith of Christofascists like Matt Walsh and Doug Mastriano, and this the broad brush generalizations are inaccurate.
To highlight this inaccuracy, I want to provide a theological take on the notion of “living Biblically” as so many right wing Christians insist that people do. When they say it, they hone in one passages or verses of the Bible that they believe give credence to their personal authoritarianism, racism, anti-LGBTQIA bigotry, sexism and misogyny, dominionism, and Christian nationalism. In other words, the use the Bible as a weapon to legitimize their bigotry, male chauvinism and androcratic beliefs, and pro-American militarism. They wield the Bible in a way that perpetuates the marginalization of other people as they seek to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” As I have seen people say so often in recent years on social media, “There’s no hate like Christian love” Yet, these conservative Christians, are not only often mistaken in their reading of scripture because of mistranslation or taking things out of their social and historical contexts, they are also selective in their reading of the Biblical texts. To highlight this, I would like to look at some well known passages about love that are found in the Bible and then suggest people live those out instead.
Known as “the love chapter” 1 Corinthians 13 is a passage beloved by many Christians and is often read at weddings despite having nothing to do with romantic love. Rather it is agápē love – that is love that is selfless, unconditional, and “imperishable” according to Laurence L. Welborn’s commentary on 1 Corinthians in The New Oxford Annotated Bible 4th Edition with Apocrypha. aka NOAB4(1) The apostle Paul’s view on agápē love was so strong that he said it was greater and more important than speaking in the tongues of angels, the power to prophesy, or having a faith that could move mountains. Without love Paul wrote, “I am nothing.” Love, in contrast to the idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin, is patient and kind, but not envious, boastful, or rude. Christians espousing bigotry in the name of faith definitely miss the mark here. There is nothing kind about telling LGBTQIA people that they are abnormal, choosing to live in sin, all while trying to strip away their human rights and dignity. There is nothing loving about telling African Americans that whiteness is normal and wokeness must be stopped, that slavery was a long time ago, that all lives matter, and that systemic racism doesn’t exist. There is nothing loving about insisting upon American exceptionalism that creates an US versus Them world in which “might makes right” in a complete disavowal of everything Jesus stood for and endured at the hands of the most powerful empire of his day.
As for the supposed certitude of conservative Christians who believe that only they know the truth, Paul addressed that type of thinking to end the “Love Chapter” by writing, “For we know only in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult I put an end to my childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (2) He does not say that power endures, that we should force others who are different from us to live as we do. He says that we should love people unconditionally or we are nothing regardless of our faith, our spiritual gifts, or our mistaken certitude.
Another Biblical writer, this time an anonymous one, proclaimed that “God is love” in 1 John. As Biblical scholar Mark Allan Powell notes, there are only two instances in the entire Bible where the writer say unequivocally that “God is love,” and both are in 1 John 4 – inverses 8 and 16. Love, writes Powell, is ” a defining attribute of God, an ultimate quality that must always be taken into account.” (3) The context that 1 John was written in was to a specific church community in the early Christian period and the focus is on loving the members of that community and not as Powell notes, loving one’s neighbor or one’s enemies. Yet it does proclaim that those who don’t know love, don’t know God because God is love, and “perfect love casts out all fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (4) Evangelical culture warriors should keep the latter in mind as they fear monger about wokeness, CRT, drag shows, immigration, or people on public assistance being harbingers of the decline of civilization. They aren’t.
Though 1 John does not mention loving one’s neighbor or enemies, Jesus most certainly did, and he placed a great deal of emphasis upon it during his time teaching on Earth. In yet another era of cultural warfare, Christians can live Biblically by focusing more on the unambiguous aspects of the Bible like the aforementioned love chapter and 1 John 4:8, 16 than on the texts that authoritarian, misogynistic, bigoted, and generally misguided Christians focus on. We can then read 1 John 3:17-18, which says, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need yet refuses to help. Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and in action,” -in the light of Luke 10:25-37, John 13:34; Matthew 7:12. (5) In so doing, we can then see that some of the world’s goods we have may include the unmerited advantages of white privilege, hetero-normative privilege, androcratic patriarchal privilege, economic privilege by virtue of being born in America and the ill gotten gains that come with it. In so seeing, we can take up our proverbial crosses by laying those privileges down in loving solidarity with those who have been excluded and marginalized by the people who jealously guard white supremacy, heterosexual normativity, the patriarchy, and American capitalism backed by American weaponry, in order to stay in positions of power, supremacy, and privilege. By laying aside our incomplete knowledge as Paul insisted, we can listen to the voices of those marginalized by the Domination System (6) with hearts of love. Only through love can Jesus’ vision of the Kindom of God be realized. It cannot be brought about by Christofascists, or authoritarians wielding Christianity as a weapon. That has been tried many times throughout history in religious wars, Inquisitions, colonization, enslaving Africans and indigenous peoples, and in Nazi Germany. Those attempts to wield the Bible as a weapon have always been antichrist and have all done irreparable damage to humanity and Christianity. Let us try love instead.
1) NOAB 4, Page 2018.
2) 1 Corinthians 13:9-13 NRSV; NOAB 4, page 2018.
3) Powell, Introducing the New Testament: A Historical , Literary, and Theological Survey, p. 493.
4) 1 John 4:18b
5) Luke 1025-37 is the parable of the good Samaritan where Jesus says what the greatest commands are. John 13:34 is where Jesus says that his new commandment is to love as he has loved. Matthew 7:12 is the golden rule.
6) See Walter Winks’ series of books on the Biblical principalities and powers, especially book three – Engaging the Powers for a fuller understanding of the Domination System.
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