What is love? Part 1

The words “LOVE WINS” were scrawled across the steps of the Dane County Courthouse a little over a month ago when Judge Barbara Crabb declared the Marriage Protection Amendment to be in violation of the U.S. constitution. The amendment, which was passed by both houses of the Wisconsin legislature in two consecutive sessions and then by a nearly 60% majority of the voters in 2006 has withstood legal challenges almost from its inception. However, once it was declared unconstitutional, the state of Wisconsin entered a state of legal limbo with respect to same-sex unions. I have been thinking about this current situation and its implications for our society and for the church, and I wonder if those words written with chalk on the courthouse steps are really true. Does love win when men are able to marry men and women are able to marry women? Many would say yes, tweeting out their approval with hash tags such as #loveislove, but when the definition of something becomes nothing more than a tautology then the thing really becomes meaningless. In other words, if love is love, then love is nothing and everything at the same time.

When love is conceived in this way, it quickly becomes self-centered and individualistic, characterized by a consumer mentality, a fear of meaningful commitment, and a skepticism toward any other conception of love. Love is self-centered when it demands acceptance and the freedom of expression, loving the way someone makes us feel more than actually loving that someone himself. It is individualistic when the purpose of love and life becomes our own, personal happiness, and we learn to negotiate every relationship according to our own individual values and desires. Of course, as our goals and desires change we are forced to renegotiate those same relationships, and so love becomes consumeristic as we do everything we can to maximize our profit. As consumers, the object of our “love” must be evaluated according to size, appearance, and performance so that we can choose the best one on the market within our purchasing power. In all of this, we must be free to continually reassess the wisdom of our purchase, since buyer’s remorse is an ever-present threat, so we tend to gravitate toward a commitment-less love. After all, if we are bound by contract to a prior purchase, it becomes that much harder to renegotiate more favorable terms as our needs and desires change. Instead of remaining committed to a love we have professed, our relationships become a function of whatever is currently advantageous to us. And once we have thus defined “love,” any attempt to anchor love to a truth-claim becomes too restrictive and unacceptable. How can we pursue complete acceptance, our personal happiness, maximum profitability, and the fulfillment of our ever-changing desires within the bounds of an unchanging and settled truth? As church elder Jonathan Leeman puts it:

The opposite of love, according to our thinking today, is judgmentalism, intolerance, or exclusivism, like racists, homophobes, and boundary-drawing churches. On the other hand, I know that you love me if you accept me as I am, and tolerate whatever I say or think without condemning it. In fact, loving me means more than just accepting me; it means accepting and affirming my lifestyle decisions as legitimate and good.

As Christians, we ought to define love as the Bible does, no matter how counter-cultural that may be, so next week we will begin to consider a biblical perspective of love.

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