What does it mean to love our neighbor? Maybe similarly, how do we define what love is? It is the central tenant of the Christian faith, but that does not mean there is a clear-cut answer. Is love personal? Political? Perhaps both? We can say that Jesus defined love but even that gets us only so far. Despite the popularity of the phrase “what would Jesus do,” different historical and social contexts render it rather difficult to determine exactly how Jesus would act in today’s world.
This has led many Christians to freely interpret a “tough love” that they deem necessary in order to correctly combat sin, best epitomized by the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra. These Christians stress kindness toward everyone while having a zero-tolerance policy against every perceived sin. They see Jesus as someone who desired to free humanity from their sinful ways. However, this tough love is not an accurate picture of Jesus and can be extremely problematic because it puts a standard on what is lovable based on our own fallible interpretation of sin.
Nowhere is this more obvious than with the LGBTQ community. Christians have been advocating for a tough love against them, claiming to accept them while rejecting their sin, often times not allowing them to serve in the church or sometimes attend if they do not change. In response, LGBTQ Christians have been leaving the church in droves. They feel rejected, and most importantly, unloved.
Why? Is it possible that tough love is not love at all? Would real love cause depression, anxiety and fear in the LGBTQ community?
One of the places LGBTQ youth feel the most unsafe is in Christian circles exactly like Northwestern. This should be incredibly concerning but not at all shocking. It should also cause us to reflect, not just on our attitudes, but also the theology that rejects part of the humanity of God’s people simply because of who they love.
It is uncontroversial in straight circles to define who we love as part of who we are. It is practically a rite of passage for straight people to have and show love for a significant other. However, we do not consider the same to be true of the LGBTQ community. For some reason, we think we can separate who they love from who they are even when science tells us that sexual orientation is not a choice. And in the case of transgendered individuals, we think it acceptable to directly challenge their Imago Dei.
It makes sense then why those in the LGTBQ community feel threatened by a Christian theology that permits us to only love a fraction of who they really are. We are letting our own fallible interpretation of biblical text prevent us from making LGBTQ students feel fully welcome and loved at Christian colleges like ours. Loving their queerness is not compromising your own beliefs, it’s acknowledging that there are things more important than our own interpretation.
At the very least, we should decenter love away from how it makes us feel and towards how it makes others feel. Love makes people feel welcome, not isolated or incorrect, and it certainly does not try to prove a point.
Jesus once told us that good branches produce good fruit while bad branches produce bad fruit. If so many fellow Northwestern students are experiencing bad fruit from our sexual theology, than maybe it is time to consider that that theology may be a bad branch.