“But the law of loving others could not be discovered by reason because it is unreasonable.” ~ Leo Tolstoy
In his book “Sources of the Self,” Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor suggests that our self-identity is not passed on to us by our family, heritage, and tradition in our current age, especially in Western culture. It’s unlike any other time or place in the history of the world. Throughout history, especially outside the Wild West, your family told you who you were, instilled family values, and helped groom your ethics and future. It’s where you would discover your identity and gain self-worth. In present times, especially in Western culture, we are free to choose our own identity and then expect and demand others to affirm our choice. Taylor calls this process “internalization.” which means that reason is made, not found,” in other words, it’s relativism.
In our polarized culture, if you don’t affirm someone’s identity, e.g., regarding a person’s sexuality or gender, you are accused of being racist, a hater, homophobic, unreasonable, self-righteous, hypocritical, unloving, etc. Is that fair? For those who lean on their religious heritage, scripture, etc., for wisdom and guidance, their history and writings strongly suggest that a male born with male parts is a male, and a female born with female parts is a female. Because these parts were meant to serve the other and not the same sex, sexual and gender autonomy can’t be affirmed. In Western culture, many would say “nonsense,” in some cultures (including some places in the West), you risk your life if you choose to be autonomous.
We live in times when the world is deeply divided over such issues as sexual and gender autonomy, religion, race, classism, caste, education, homelessness, illegal migration, criminality, addiction, alcoholism, etc. We are referring to the world’s wounded, suffering, and excluded. If you are considered an outcast for any reason, you fit into this definition.
The outcast and marginalized are considered a threat, perverted, dangerous, twisted, demented, and a menace to society. Some people and groups feel the world’s outcasts should be irradicated somehow and in some way, and it needed to happen yesterday. Many relationships, communities, homes, churches, businesses, and opportunities have been torn to shreds or squandered over such issues. We hear the cries and demands of oppressed people and groups demanding their choices be affirmed or a call for them to shut up and be forced to leave by the opposition or if you wish, the oppressors.
A question often posed is, “Can I genuinely love another person without affirming their choice of identity, whether it’s sexual or gender autonomy, politics, religion, lack of religious beliefs, etc.?” Can someone say, “I love you, but I can’t support, for example, sexual or gender autonomy, illegal immigration, or legalized mood-altering substances?” What do you think? Is it possible and reasonable to assume one could genuinely love another without affirming their choices, or is it as cut and dry as, “If you don’t affirm me, then you don’t love me?” What do you think? This awkward question and position materializes countless times daily around the globe, so what is your response? Why?
The great teacher, wonderful counselor, waymaker, Savior, and person Rabbi Jesus would say historically and with much credibility, “YES.” The outcasts of his day were attracted and pulled to him; why? It drove all those who wanted the outcast of their day quieted and irradicated at all costs out of their minds. Their resistance to Jesus loving these people led to the plans to kill Jesus; why? Now, here is the ultimate question: Because Jesus went to great lengths to attract and love the “lost” (outcast) of his day, did it equate to him affirming their identity and choices?
The answer to this question is crucial because saying “YES” leads to an “anything goes society.” One could strongly argue we are well on our way to an “anything goes society” or already living in such a culture. On the other hand, if you say “NO,” how do you love people and groups and not affirm their choice in self-identification without driving a wedge in the relationship, hurting their feelings, or pushing them over the edge where self-harm becomes a real possibility? Jesus did it, so Christians are without excuse; Jesus modeled this approach: love everyone, including your enemies, not just in theory, but with strenuous action, evidenced by the fruit of such action.
The water only gets muddier when you take the words of Jesus and then try to assume who and what spiritual principles he affirmed and which ones he did not. These attempts to do just that have led to much CHURCH (Capital C Church) division, with many churches splitting and disaffiliating altogether from mainline religions.
There are serious warnings throughout scripture for anyone attempting to twist the words of scripture to tweak policies and agenda for their own self-interest or to affirm certain people and groups inside the world system:
36 “But you must not mention ‘a message from the Lord’ again because each one’s word becomes their own message. So you distort the words of the living God, the Lord Almighty, our God” (Jeremiah 23:36.)
6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and is turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10.)
Scripture is clear that we can love anyone without affirming those who choose to live for their self-proclaimed identity and own self-interest versus their true identity as a child of God and choosing to live for God’s ambitions above their own. Many of us have family members and close friends who live outside the will of God. Our job is to love them as we should everyone else, including our enemies.
Everyone is welcome to God’s table, everyone. It’s a self-defeating statement to say, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” We say things like this because of self-righteousness, a holier-than-thou position. We are as lost as anyone we deem an outcast for any reason, including sexual and gender autonomy. There is no “Sin-Scale” sin is sin, all rooted in extreme self-centeredness and capped off with the strong desire to be the God of our own lives.
God’s Word has a lot to say about love; let me conclude this writing with a reference to some of the most famous words quoted from scripture:
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to people experiencing poverty and give over my body to hardship that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13.)
Jesus gave his followers a new commandment:
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34.)
My good friend, Don Majors, used to say, “If God is love, then love is God.” The best way we can praise and honor God is to love each other, and we can do that without affirming anyone’s choices, identity, and desire to live outside the will of God. Nor should anyone affirm our behavior and choices when we fall short of a Jesus-centered life. We need each other for accountability and to effectively embrace God’s design for living.
God’s spiritual principles are what they are for His glory and to equip humans to live the best life possible on earth as it is in heaven. We must quit giving into the delusion that we will be happy, joyous, and free when we can finally do whatever “The Flesh” wants, and people learn to affirm our self-directed identities and choices. We must quit trying to fill a void in our soul with our selfish plans and schemes that only God can fill. We will never be liberated or satisfied until we get the formula right: spiritual principles and practices over worldly vices, not worldly vices over spiritual principles and practices.
God of Love, we pray that Your will not ours be done in every aspect of our lives, including our identity, choices, and need for affirmation. You already affirmed us by creating us and then justifying us by the life, death, and resurrection of Your only Son, Jesus. We praise You with much gratitude for Your unmerited grace, poured out to anyone who says “YES” to your invitation to the great feast (salvation). May we all choose “YES” and come all the way in, sit all the way down, and stay, one day at a time. In Your Son’s precious name, we pray these things. Amen.