Nearly every church I have been a part of, spoken at or visited shares a common theme: they all claim to love people. Some of you may be like, duh Anna, of course we love people. Isn’t that the whole idea of the gospel? While others of you are like, heck to the no. I felt ANYTHING but love at my church.
And this is exactly why I wanted to write this particular post.
Let me just start by saying, I believe (for the most part) that the majority of people inside church sincerely believe they are loving. After all, it is what Jesus told us we would be known for: our love for each other. And, yet, there is this tension around the whole idea of what love means and what love should actually look like inside Christianity.
Many people have asked me similar questions regarding what showing love should look like with those they believe are sinning or living contrary to scripture: Do I tell them they are wrong? Do I correct them with scripture??
I have also (more times than not) listened to the heartbreak of those who felt betrayed, hurt and abandoned by people inside their church who “corrected” them in the name of love.
Inside both camps they share a common theme of correction: either the one correcting or the one being corrected.
It was widely taught through most of my church experience that to love someone meant you needed to correct them if they stepped outside Biblical lines. Lovingly, you needed to show them the error of their ways. Because, by doing that, you were doing the most loving thing for their eternal soul.
I suppose, in theory, this is a lovely idea – but in practice? I have rarely seen much good fruit come from this approach. And I’ll tell you why:
Life is complicated.
People are complicated.
The Bible is extra complicated.
Because the Bible isn’t always super clear (especially if you explore it within culture, context, etc) and God doesn’t speak to us all the exact same way. What he speaks to you may be entirely different from what he speaks to your neighbor. When we begin to “correct” or shame someone’s personal experience or conclusions with God, we are stepping inside territory way above our pay grade.
So, although your journey may have led you to certain conclusions and absolutes, someone else’s journey may have led them to a different place.
And that is OKAY.
God can handle our differences.
He is quite capable.
God is love. Love with an agenda to change someone’s behavior or personhood, is conditional love. And, I don’t know about you, but I have never felt conditional love from Jesus. Not ever. Nor would you find pictures of that in the gospels; it just wasn’t the way of him.
So, if Jesus didn’t offer this model, where did we get it from?
I’ve been around church and Christians a long time. I’ve witnessed loads of “loving correction” – I’ve equally witnessed those who love without the need correct. After a lifetime of observation, I’ve concluded there is one thing that separates these two groups of people.
Yes, that’s correct. ONE THING.
And you might be surprised that it’s not theology, denominations, family dynamics or faith practices.
It’s NONE of those things.
It’s something much simpler and yet more powerful than all of them combined.
I’ll give you a clue: it’s the opposite of love.
Fear is the one thing that separates a person from being a constant corrector or an unconditional lover.
Those who are filled with years of religious fear, childhood fear, spiritual fear, etc – they seem to be the ones who react – they don’t respond. They have a panicky, frantic reaction where they constantly chase down their friends, family members, thought-leaders, authors, etc in order to “correct” with scripture, videos, people’s sermon’s, etc to show the error of someone’s ways.
It’s as if they project all of their own fear onto those around them.
However, their counter-parts don’t react like this. They seem to be able to stay in relationship with those who hold different beliefs and don’t feel compelled to correct or prove they are right. They don’t react in fear – they respond in love.
These people usually carry a light, at ease, peace-filled presence – which, they willingly share with those around them. They are not worried, stressed out or held by fear – they are steady and at peace.
I believe this difference holds the key to why some feel compelled to correct and others don’t.
Why some feel the need to push out while others include. Why some want to bash and others want to protect. Why some want to use scripture to prove they are right and others don’t.
The root of each of their behavior is fear.
One driven by it and one free from it.
Fear is a powerful tool.
Fear has historically united groups of people for centuries. It unites people on what they are against. It feeds the need to close doors, close relationships and close groups.
It should be no wonder that fear has been and continues to be a dominant player inside religion.
Yet, the gospel message of Jesus was absent of fear.
After all Jesus said, our burden is light – not heavy. He offered himself as the prince of Peace. And he continued to model a picture of a fearless life. One that opened doors, opened relationships, opened conversations and opened groups. One that united people on what they were for instead of what they were against.
My sweet friends, you are called to be free from fear. You are free to open your arms, open your doors and unconditionally love those in front of you.
Because love brings life – fear brings death.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THEIR SALVATION?!?
There was one group in scripture that was very concerned with correcting people on the basis of their eternal soul and/or perceived holiness: the Pharisees. They habitually corrected people by use of scripture, continually deciding who was the “real” kind of holy and who wasn’t. Who was interpreting the Bible correctly and who wasn’t. They told people what to do in order to ensure their level of righteousness and shamed people by standing on “scripture”. That was their MO – because they believed God was like that.
But, Jesus came to show a better way.
Jesus came to show what God was really like. And Jesus, unlike the Pharisees, did not seem concerned with fear messages of hell or anything of the like. It just wasn’t his method.
As for me? If I am going to error on any side, I choose to error on the side of love and peace.
I choose to error on the side of treating others the way I would want to be treated and that is not one of constant correction (unless of course you are afraid and constantly need people to tell you what you are doing wrong. If that is you, I am so so sorry. Please know that God is fully capable of talking with you directly and showing you the right path for YOU – not the path for someone else. Sweet friend, you are free to let go of that need and embrace your own path, whatever it looks like).
If your head is spinning and you want to fearlessly love those around you, but feel trapped by the fear messages that tell you you’re not doing it right, just breathe. Just stop and breathe.
Rewriting the script in our head can take some time. When we’ve always done something a certain way, it can be difficult to know how to change. But, I promise, the change is so worth it. Especially in this area.
Here’s a few starting points:
Before correcting someone’s theology: stop and ask them how they are doing. Look them in the eye and ask them how their kids are. And, ask with an intent to listen and understand. Ask them about their life and their pain. Ask them to tell you their story. (And, please don’t ask as though it were an item to check off your list before barreling in with your thoughts on correcting them. People can sniff an agenda super quick) I venture that in doing this, you may find more commonality than not and the need to want to correct may not seem as necessary.
Before judging someone’s decisions or lifestyle: take the time to get to know them. Invite them over for a meal or take them out to dinner. Embrace their family and their life the way you would want someone to embrace yours. Get comfortable inside the arena of something different and invite yourself into someone else’s story.
When we embrace this idea of connection, we inch a little closer to Jesus’ table.
You are free to love every human in front of you without prejudice, judgment, disapproval or fear. You are made in the image of God and so are they.
PS: I talked with pastor, author and blogger Carlos Rodriguez about his thoughts on Jesus’ definition of love and correction in a recent podcast episode. You can listen to our conversation and his thoughts here.