When Love Becomes a Weapon

Ladies and Gentlemen, we gather here today to mourn the loss of our longtime friend and ally, a supporter who has seen us through the darkest days of our lives and given comfort and aid to billions upon billions of suffering souls throughout history. Goodbye, LOVE, you will be missed far more than we can know, because, as it turns out, we never really knew you that well in the first place. …

OK, so maybe I’m overstating things a bit. Maybe love isn’t dead. But let’s face it: The word has been severely wounded in recent years, adding to centuries worth of battle scars, the most obvious of which came in the form of two nail-pierced hands.

It’s always been troubling that we use the word so loosely – you know … I love pizza, I love golf, I love sunsets, I love a good story, I love popcorn, I love photography … The word too often gets stripped of its depth and sense of sacrifice. John 15:13 tells us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I have that type of love for my wife, but I won’t lay down my life for pizza.

What’s more troubling lately, however, is that love has been co-opted into a weapon in the raging political and cultural wars. For example, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently spoke at a chapel service for John Brown University, a faith-based college in my area. So a few students and alumni organized what was a very peaceful protest in opposition to some of Huckabee’s opinions and policy positions.

That’s all well and good. It’s the American way, right? Sure, it seemed a bit contrived. To paraphrase one pundit, is Huckabee really worth protesting? But no one burned cars or littered the streets or wore pink hats with profanity inscribed across the top, so it was all good, clean civics.

On the other hand, the protesters butchered the word love in the name of their politics. A few wore T-shirts that collectively spelled out, “We Stand for Love.” And the organizer was quoted as saying, “I’m so proud of the students who chose to stand for love” and “I think we all realize, more than ever, that we must stand for love.”

What’s wrong with standing for love, you ask? Nothing. Who doesn’t want to stand for love? And that’s the point. These and many other modern protesters often imply or outright say that the only way to “stand for love” is by embracing their politics and values. Otherwise, you stand for hate or you are somehow an opponent of love. I’m not naïve enough to think some people aren’t motivated more by hate than love. But they weren’t protesting Hitler or the KKK. I mean, does anyone really think Mike Huckabee stands for hate or that he doesn’t stand for love?

Here’s the reality: Love isn’t about getting our way or giving others what they want. In fact, we often demonstrate our love for others by not giving them what they want, but what they need. Or by sacrificing what we want or need for the greater good of others. But in a room (or world) full of grownups, there’s often honorable disagreements over what people need and how to go about providing it.

I can love refugees and believe we should have no limits on which ones we allow in this country or how many we allow in. But I can love them just as much if I support stronger screening policies and stricter limitations. I can love someone who is gay and believe he or she is living a completely moral lifestyle. But I can love that person just as much if I believe that lifestyle is sinful and unhealthy. I can stand for love if I voted for Clinton or if I voted for Trump or if I voted for neither of them.

1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the “love” chapter, reminds us that “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The chapter doesn’t talk about love as a feeling, as a political policy, or as a moral high ground to claim and use against those with whom we disagree. It’s an attitude that drives an action. So before we allow love to be laid into the grave by co-opting it in protest statements, let’s do our part to restore its dignity, its life, and its purpose – in the way we think and the way we act.

Jesus was and is the ultimate example and embodiment of love. He didn’t agree with everyone he encountered. He didn’t always give them what they wanted. He didn’t ever condone their sin, even as He died to forgive those sins. And he didn’t use love as some sort of linguistic dagger. Instead, He lived it.

Here’s the challenging portrait of how that looks: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

That sort of love has motivated some amazing protests throughout history. But if we want to stand for love, there’s a great alternative to using it as a weapon: Adopt it as a way of life.