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 Volume 1.20  This View’s Column June 24, 2002 

“Love is not all”

The Gospel is not Merely Love

To justify a Christian acceptance of active homosexuality, a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times attempts to reduce the Gospel to nothing more than “love” — by which she seems to mean the unthinking acceptance of whatever makes people feel good. Similar attempts have been perpetrated since at least the early part of the nineteenth century. Of course, the Gospel is Love — in a properly and strictly defined sense allowing for necessary distinctions. But the absolute equation of Christianity with non-judgemental love is simply false. And, applied loosely as a general principle, non-judgemental love can be used to justify, and to demand acceptance of, any actions whatever.

God Doesn’t Make Junk

Edna St. Vincent Millay, winner of the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, wrote some of the most powerful sonnets ever to enter the canon of English verse. One of them is especially noteworthy for its muscular, sinewy — and paradoxical — expression of a very romantic notion:

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

(Sonnet XXX in Fatal Interview, Sonnet XCIX in Collected Poems)

Somewhere in my heart, I think that I too would say, “I do not think I would.” Yet, my head tells me the poet was right at the start: “Love is not all”.

Cathleen Falsani, religion writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, would seem to disagree with me. The newspaper published an opinion piece by her, May 26, called Film asks: Can a Christian also be a homosexual? It is a reflection prompted by her viewing of Family Fundamentals, a documentary that was showing at the Art Institute in Chicago. The film takes a look at three “gay” persons from what Falsani calls “conservative Christian homes”.

I have not seen the film, so I’ll take her at her word for whatever she says about it. And here is what she said about it; I quote her column in its entirety, lest I take anything out of context. I also intersperse my own remarks.

Ten years ago, in the summer after graduating from our religiously conservative alma mater, two of my closest college friends came out. Since then, five more of my college friends have stopped keeping their homosexuality a secret. In every case, the decision to come out of the closet was gut wrenching. They worried about whether their family and friends would still love them. But more than that, they questioned whether their God would still accept them.

How about that? These individuals think, or thought, that how they behave might actually have a bearing on their relationship with God. Er... excuse me... on their relationship with “their” God — whoever He/She/They/It might be.

Can a person be a Christian and a homosexual? We all heard the same answer in our college classes: No. Homosexuals who acted on their sexual urges were living a life of sin, we were taught. Christians are supposed to be transformed in mind and spirit, we were taught. Hate the sin but love the sinner, we were taught.

As far as I can tell, Falsani was taught right. As you might already expect, though, she has apparently come to think otherwise. Indeed, I suspect her column would not have been written or published if she hadn’t.

After he came out to his conservative Christian family, one of my friends told me that growing up, at the beginning of every school year, he would pray for hours that God would make his homosexuality go away. He didn’t want to be gay. He begged God to change him. The balance of his faith and his sexuality remains tenuous. His family would not accept his sexuality, though they don’t shun him. But they don’t fully support him, either. Another friend’s family has disowned him. And he disowned the church because of it.

The homosexual young man begged God to change him — and God didn’t. And that means?... Apparently, it means that homosexuality is right by God. After all, in the words of that unfathomably deep theological maxim, God Doesn’t Make Junk. Right?

Now, I don’t know any pedophiles, so I can’t say this for sure. But I would be rather surprised if there has never been a pedophile who begged God to change him. He didn’t want to be attracted to the seven-year-old across the street, don’t you know. And God didn’t change him, either. So... that means pedophilia is right by God. Right?

As I watched “Family Fundamentals,” a documentary that premiered at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute Friday, I saw the faces of my gay friends from college. I saw the pain in their eyes. I saw the longing in their hearts. I saw their love for God and stubborn faith in Jesus Christ.

“Family Fundamentals” follows the stories of three gay children from conservative Christian homes as they grapple with their sexuality, their faith and their families.

I suppose this Family Fundamentals could be an interesting documentary.

I also suppose that following the stories of three “gay” children from liberal homes, Christian or not, who underwent therapy and now live healthy heterosexual lives as conservative fundamentalist Protestants would make for an interesting documentary, too.

Where is that one showing? (I know: not at the Art Institute in Chicago.)

There is Susan, the lesbian daughter of a Pentecostal Christian mother who is active in a religious movement that believes homosexuality can be “cured.” There’s Brett, the gay son of a Mormon bishop from Utah, who was discharged from the military and is estranged from his family because of his sexuality. And then there’s Brian, the gay Republican who has been shunned by his surrogate father, a conservative Roman Catholic former congressman known for his diatribes against homosexuality on the floor of the Capitol.

What Capitol might that be? How come I have never heard of this before?

“I feel like a fly on the wall, or a shadow,” Brett says. “What makes them think that my faith is any less than their faith? What makes them think that they can try harder to make me straight than I already have? Anything that they can’t refute is the devil’s work because they have their faith, they have their belief, they know what’s right,” Brett says as he begins to cry. “Heaven forbid they should have to go through this.”

Brett cried? You bet Brett cried. And you bet they got it on film. And you bet Falsani mentioned it in her article.

Did any of the parents cry? Or did they edit that out?

Like some of my friends’ parents, Brett’s mother and father have never cut off their love for their son. But they can’t have a conversation with him that doesn’t begin and end with a condemnation of his “lifestyle.”

I suppose this remark by Falsani is a criticism of the parents, though I may be taking it the wrong way. If their son were a pedophile, however, I suppose a similar remark by Falsani would indeed not be a criticism of the parents. Go figure.

The documentary does not give in to the black-and-white, anyone-who-believes-homosexuality-is-a-sin-is-small-minded-and-mean cliche. The parents are as complicated as the children, and their relationships are as complicated as any family relationships are.

Don’t tell me. The parents are complicated, and the relationships are complicated — but the parents are plainly and simply wrong. No?

Susan’s mother Kathleen truly believes she is right and what she’s doing is helpful, just as much as her daughter believes she is who she is and that’s OK with God. “The Bible says homosexuality is a sin and it’s wrong; that it’s a destructive behavior that will not bring happiness,” Kathleen says. “It’s just wrong. You can’t argue with that. That’s just the way it is.”

As far as I know, that is what Christians have believed for 2,000 years. But... wait! As we shall see below, Christians have gotten things pretty much fundamentally wrong for 2,000 years. Fortunately, God has sent us His Son... er... no... God has sent us a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times to set us straight.

Her daughter respectfully disagrees. “A relationship with God is constituted upon where you put Jesus in your life. If you believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and accept him as your savior, you have a relationship with God,” Susan says. “It’s not my mother’s responsibility to monitor my relationship with God. It’s my responsibility. It’s her responsibility to treat me with love and compassion and as a daughter and a family.”

I must agree: it’s not her mother’s responsibility to “monitor” her relationship with God.

But Susan’s minimalistic kind of theology — “If you believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and accept him as your savior, you have a relationship with God” — strikes me as pretty much brain-dead. (It is, of course, based upon taking snippets of Bible verses out of context, and setting them up as the entirety of the Gospel; but a discussion of these is beyond the scope of this essay.) Seeing as how David Koresh, Pope John Paul II, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush could all, I think, be said to have believed in Jesus as the Son of God and to have accepted him as their savior, I’m not sure I can see the significance of saying it here.

Unless, of course, it is to justify any (sexual) behavior, no matter what. I think Koresh, for instance, may have really liked this idea.

I’m on Susan’s side.

What a surprise.

See, I’ve been taught a lot of different things about what the Bible says and what it doesn’t say, what it means and what it doesn’t mean. But there are a few things I know for sure. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love each other and to love God. And somewhere in there I remember reading, “Judge not lest you be judged,” and “Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Well, let’s just open all the prison doors and let everybody out. And the Bible does say a lot more than that, too, doesn’t it?

I don’t know if homosexuality is right or wrong or neither. And I don’t think it’s my job to figure that out.

Does she really mean that? If so, why is she writing about this?

What I do know is that I must love people and that matters more than anything else. Whom they choose to love or not to love, to sleep with or not to sleep with, to judge or not to judge, is between them and God.

Yes, you must love people. And that does matter more than anything else.

But here we see, I think, that Falsani really does have an opinion whether homosexuality is right or wrong. And she think it’s right.

If she thought it was wrong, would she resort to It’s Between Them And God? How could she?

And if she really, really just did not know whether it was right or wrong, would she really, really argue to live and let live? Is pedophilia right or wrong? Are pedophiles just another misunderstood “sexual minority”? Is adult sexual attraction to seven-year-olds right, wrong, or neither? If you’re not sure, live and let... love. Something tells me Falsani would balk at giving that kind of advice.

Now, to continue the analogy, is not pedophilia between the pedophile and God? Who is Falsani to judge, after all, whether the pedophile has it right with God? Especially if he accepts Jesus as the Son of God and his savior? God, after all, does not make junk.

An adult lusting after... er.. I mean loving the seven-year-old across the street — well, keep your big noses out of that kind of relationship, people. It is love, don’t you know. Pedophilia actually means child-love. How dare you quarrel with something like that?

Besides, it’s between the pedophile — who loves children — and God. If you really love them, you’ll let them be.

There’d be a lot fewer shadow people if Christians could just get the one thing they’ve been commanded to do down straight. Love. With all your heart. Let God worry about the rest.

Wow. Finally. Someone has set us straight. Christians have gotten things fundamentally wrong for 2,000 years. And we have learned so by reading... a column by a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

God really does work in mysterious ways, His/Her/Their/Its wonders to perform.

“Languid, Unmeaning Benevolence”

Enough of sarcasm.

I’m sure Falsani would disapprove of her “argument” for acceptance of homosexuality being applied to pedophilia. I’m also sure that the pro-pedophilia crowd rejoices to see her, or anybody, make such an “argument” for homosexuality: I cannot think of any reason why it would not apply — nay, is being applied already by its advocates — to their sexual perversion as well. That Falsani wouldn’t want it to be so applied is irrelevant.

The attempted reduction of Christianity to Mere Love, and to the acceptance of whatever calls itself love, is nothing at all new: this kind of dilution of the Gospel has been underway for centuries.

But I must take care here, for in a sense the Gospel is Love. By that, I do not mean that whatever calls itself love is compatible with the Gospel, but that whatever is done by a Christian must be done with love of God as its source and goal, and with love of neighbor founded on the love of God.

And love is the fulfillment of the Law. Surely. But that does not mean that whatever calls itself love is the replacement of the Law.

Cardinal Newman wrote about these matters, long before he became a Catholic. One of his more famous sermons, a discourse on the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, published in 1840, is called “Love, the One Thing Needful”.

From the title, it may seem that Newman agrees with Falsani. Not so. In his usual fashion, Newman analyzes the subject exhaustively, with an examination that exposes the Christian’s vague apprehension that love is not really his motivation. In his daily affairs, in his prayers, in the choices he makes — even when he knows he does the right thing, he feels that he acts more out of routine, or expectation, or some other lesser motive, than out of love of God. Newman ventured to say why this is so, and to what consequences:

These are some of the proofs which are continually brought home to us, if we attend to ourselves, of our want of love to God; and they will readily suggest others to us. If I must, before concluding, remark upon the mode of overcoming the evil, I must say plainly this, that, fanciful though it may appear at first sight to say so, the comforts of life are the main cause of it; and, much as we may lament and struggle against it, till we learn to dispense with them in good measure, we shall not overcome it. Till we, in a certain sense, detach ourselves from our bodies, our minds will not be in a state to receive divine impressions, and to exert heavenly aspirations. A smooth and easy life, an uninterrupted enjoyment of the goods of Providence, full meals, soft raiment, well-furnished homes, the pleasures of sense, the feeling of security, the consciousness of wealth, — these, and the like, if we are not careful, choke up all the avenues of the soul, through which the light and breath of heaven might come to us. A hard life is, alas! no certain method of becoming spiritually minded, but it is one out of the means by which Almighty God makes us so. We must, at least at seasons, defraud ourselves of nature, if we would not be defrauded of grace. If we attempt to force our minds into a loving and devotional temper, without this preparation, it is too plain what will follow, — the grossness and coarseness, the affectation, the effeminacy, the unreality, the presumption, the hollowness, (suffer me, my brethren, while I say plainly, but seriously, what I mean,) in a word, what Scripture calls the Hypocrisy, which we see around us; that state of mind in which the reason, seeing what we should be, and the conscience enjoining it, and the heart being unequal to it, some or other pretence is set up, by way of compromise, that men may say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

In another sermon, published five years earlier, Newman had addressed more nearly, though not quite specifically, the issues raised by Falsani:

There is a great deal of thoughtful kindness among us, of conceding in little matters, of scrupulous propriety of words, and a sort of code of liberal and honourable dealing in the conduct of society. There is a steady regard for the rights of individuals, nay, as one would fain hope in spite of misgivings, for the interest of the poorer classes, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. In such a country as ours, there must always be numberless instances of distress after all; yet the anxiety to relieve it existing among the more wealthy classes is unquestionable. And it is as unquestionable that we are somewhat disposed to regard ourselves favourably in consequence; and in the midst of our national trials and fears, to say (nay, sometimes with real humility and piety) that we do trust that these characteristic virtues of the age may be allowed to come up as a memorial before God, and to plead for us. When we think of the commandments, we know Charity to be the first and greatest; and we are tempted to ask with the young ruler, “What lack we yet?”

I ask, then, by way of reply, does not our kindness too often degenerate into weakness, and thus become not Christian Charity, but lack of Charity, as regards the objects of it? Are we sufficiently careful to do what is right and just, rather than what is pleasant? do we clearly understand our professed principles, and do we keep to them under temptation?

The answer, then and now, is “No, we do not.” Newman continued:

I wish I saw any prospect of this element of zeal and holy sternness springing up among us, to temper and give character to the languid, unmeaning benevolence which we misname Christian love. I have no hope of my country till I see it. Many schools of Religion and Ethics are to be found among us, and they all profess to magnify, in one shape or other, what they consider the principle of love; but what they lack is, a firm maintenance of that characteristic of the Divine Nature, which, in accommodation to our infirmity, is named by St. John and his brethren, the wrath of God. Let this be well observed. There are men who are advocates of Expedience; these, as far as they are religious at all, resolve conscience into an instinct of mere benevolence, and refer all the dealings of Providence with His creatures to the same one Attribute. Hence, they consider all punishment to be remedial, a means to an end, deny that the woe threatened against sinners is of eternal duration, and explain away the doctrine of the Atonement. There are others, who place religion in the mere exercise of the excited feelings; and these too, look upon their God and Saviour, as far (that is) as they themselves are concerned, solely as a God of love. They believe themselves to be converted from sin to righteousness by the mere manifestation of that love to their souls, drawing them on to Him; and they imagine that that same love, untired by any possible transgressions on their part, will surely carry forward every individual so chosen to final triumph. Moreover, as accounting that Christ has already done everything for their salvation, they do not feel that a moral change is necessary on their part, or rather, they consider that the Vision of revealed love works it in them spontaneously; in either case dispensing with all laborious efforts, all “fear and trembling,” all self-denial in “working out their salvation,” nay, looking upon such qualifications with suspicion, as leading to a supposed self-confidence and spiritual pride.

That sermon — that prophecy — is entitled “Tolerance of Religious Error”.

Msgr. Ronald Knox, who had been, like Newman, an Anglican minister before he joined the Catholic Church, also addressed this mistaken notion of Christian Love. He concluded a sermon on Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, preached in 1956, as follows:

The Sacred Heart is the treasury of all those splendid qualities with which a perfect life was lived; is the repository of all those noble thoughts which mankind still venerate in the gospels. It was the Sacred Heart that burned with anger when the traders were driven out of the temple; it was the Sacred Heart that loved the rich young man, yet would not spare him; it was the Sacred Heart that defied Pilate in his own judgment-hall. It is strong and stern and enduring; it hates prevarications and pretences. The perfect flowering of a human life, not on this occasion or that, but all through, all the time, the utter sacrifice of a human will — that is what the Sacred Heart means, and there is no picture, no statue on earth that can portray its infinite beauty. (Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, “The Heart of Christ”, p. 488)

Love, the Killing Monster

Love can be the motivation for doing absolutely anything. Thus, the wider world, and not only Christians, have much to beware in using the excuse of “love” to justify certain actions, and in demanding acceptance of them as another act of “love”.

Without warning, Feb. 24, a woman stabbed a boy to death. A thirteen-year-old boy. She stabbed him 15 times, in his own bed in his own room, until he died.

Without warning, June 8, another woman shot two men to death. Two brothers. She shot them both in the head, in their nursing-home beds. One after the other.

Both of these women killed their children. Both of these women killed their children, they say, because they loved them.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle, March 10, tells the former story:

Donna Marie Burns Anderson was sitting in her ex-husband’s kitchen in Burlingame when her 13-year-old son Stephen walked into the room. She says she saw an “angel” in shorn locks and a bright white shirt, a beautiful boy who she was convinced was about to be taken away by pimps and pornographers. “Then I realized I couldn’t rescue Stephen,” Burns Anderson told The Chronicle. “I was the only one that was going to decide was he going to go in this child porn ring and be essentially alone for the rest of his life and be exploited, or was he going to be an angel and pass away, and I’ll take the torture. And that’s the decision I made.”

An article in the Los Angeles Times, June 20, tells the latter:

“I believe y’all are looking for me,” were the first words out of Carol Carr’s mouth. She was waiting on a couch in the nursing home lobby when the police came. She had just shot her sons, first Andy, 41, then Randy, 42. Carr had reached the end of her rope, plagued for years by a demon of an illness, Huntington’s disease, and couldn’t stand the sight of her boys wasting away in soiled sheets, unable to talk, move or even swallow. Now she faces two counts of murder. Today, Carr will be led into a courtroom in this small Georgia town, with its rusty old bridges and blooming magnolia trees, for what many here said was the ultimate act of motherly love. “She decided to go to jail for the rest of her life rather than watch her boys suffer like that,” friend Debbie Henry said. “That was her sacrifice.”

These women killed their sons. Though perhaps tainted with mental instability, their motivation was... love. What’s more, their motivation was a self-sacrificial love, knowing that they would be punished for what they did.

“Love is not all”

“Love” can motivate any action. Murder. Pedophilia. Homosexuality. Acceptance of any or all of them. Whatever.

The poet William Blake struck nearer the truth, I think, than did Millay:

The Clod & the Pebble

“Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”

    So sung a little Clod of Clay
    Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
    But a Pebble of the brook
    Warbled out these metres meet:

“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”

(From Songs of Experience in Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major Authors, Sixth Edition, pp. 1294f)

“Love” can motivate any action. That is why love must be the first and the last — not the only — criterion of judgement.

ELC 2002


 Volume 1.20 This View’s Column June 24, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”