April 6, 2012

"God is Love"

If there’s one thing that rarely gets much love on this blog, it’s the Bible.  Now, perhaps that’s understandable—Leviticus 18 tends not to get too many in the LGBT community excited for what follows (Leviticus is, admittedly, also the end of many Christians’ attempts to read the Bible cover-to-cover). And, for the LGBT community, what follows doesn’t seem to be particularly “Good News.”  Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1 don’t seem to contain the affirmation we generally expect in the LGBT community.

I was recently directed to a very interesting discussion of Scripture and homosexuality.  Matthew Vines, a student at Harvard who came out his sophomore year, has spent the last two years researching Biblical exegesis on this topic.  In a recent presentation, he discusses the passages in the Bible he finds to be cited most often in Scriptural arguments against homosexuality. After exploring each one of them in turn, he [spoiler alert] concludes that none of them can be used as arguments against a loving, committed, and monogamous same-sex relationship.

While the Catholic Church would end up disagreeing with Matthew’s conclusion, one of the things I love about his discussion is how it places the Scriptural passages he discusses in context.  One of the tenets of the Catholic faith is that any Scriptural passage must be interpreted within the Tradition as well as within its overall Biblical context.  While Matthew, being Protestant, doesn’t exactly discuss a ton of Catholic Tradition, his presentation does a great job of contextualizing the passages, and is definitely worth a watch.

One of the things that surprised me in Matthew’s presentation was not necessarily what he chose to include.  Rather, I found it very interesting one Biblical quote that he didn’t mention. It’s perhaps the passage that I have seen most quoted around this community: 1 John 4, “God is love.”  It’s an absolutely beautiful quote that is central to the Christian understanding of God and love both.  It is also a quote that is often used in an argument against the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.  The argument generally runs something along the lines of, “I can’t imagine a God who is love asking me to deny such a huge part of myself whom He created and called good.”

I think it’s particularly appropriate to talk about this argument today, because today is the day Christians celebrate Good Friday—the day we commemorate the death and crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross.  What does Jesus being tortured to death have to do with an argument predicated on “God is love,” you may ask?  Well, everything.

In my previous post, I asked us to reflect on what we mean when we say “love.”  When St. John writes, “God is love,” he specifically is referring to agape—Christian love. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, teaches that love is a “sincere gift of self.”  The ultimate expression of this gift of self is ultimately found on the Cross.

When a Catholic looks at a crucifix, (s)he sees this paradigmatic act of love.  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).  Christian love is a sacrificial love that looks beyond oneself.  It is a gift of oneself without thought to whether another “deserves it.”  Christian love is to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). 

This is why the Church looks with confusion on an argument that seems to say “God is love, therefore gay sex.” This argument makes multiple assumptions.  It rightfully assumes that we were ultimately created in order to love.  It wrongfully assumes that love necessarily entitles one to sex.  It wrongfully assumes that if I don’t have sex, I can’t love.  It wrongfully assumes that to deny one of my desires is necessarily to deny God’s ultimate plan.  Jesus said,  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  To derive from love a right—any right—seems counterintuitive to the love we are reminded of so clearly on Good Friday.  Where is entitlement in Jesus on the Cross?

God’s love on the Cross was all about giving everything when nothing was deserved.  That’s understandably unpopular in this world, and it’s a teaching that, admittedly, Christians often don’t live up to.  After all, today is the day we remember that when Jesus came preaching this message, we all rejected Him and tortured Him to death.  However, that does not change what love means, and it does not change that Christians are called to this understanding of love.

No wonder, with all the Scripture Matthew Vines used to argue against the traditional interpretation, he didn’t mention the argument from “God is love.”  That sentence contains so much of the Christian message. Yet, it cannot be taken out of context and argued that that sentence necessarily contain sex.  Today, we are reminded that love is about so much more than sex. 

I hope everyone has a blessed Good Friday and a happy Easter.


  1. First, from one Christian to another- a blessed Good friday to you, and a Happy Easter.

    So i was nodding my head with you for the first part of your post, but then i was very disappointed by the end. I hate the "God doesn't hate gays, just gay sex" mentality. To me it is a way of qualifying Gods love for us. To me it says God has full acceptance for straight people, but only partial acceptance for us. To love, is to accept.

    To be honest i feel kinda weird talking about God & Sex on Good Friday, but i think this is a good conversation to have. We must be careful not to qualify our acceptance in the family of God.

    God loves us for who we are, not with some sort of "unless you have sex" rule.

    -Peace of Christ

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  3. Hi Denzell,

    Thanks for your comment! I'm not trying to make claims about general acceptance of homosexuality in this post--just one regarding a single argument that I feel generally misinterprets the term love as used in one particular Scripture quote. It's intended to be really quite a small claim all in all, and I really hope people don't read more into it than what I inteneded to say. [sorry for the above deletion....I had a typo and the type-A-ness in me kicked in...]