Northern Churchman: Love is Love?

The Northern Churchman Commentary

Love is Love?

“Love is love” is the mantra of many in society, and indeed within the Church. Three simple words can settle any debate, no matter how complex. TV personality Sandi Toksvig developed her own hashtag version of it following her much-publicised cup of tea with the Archbishop of Canterbury: #standupforlove. The same hashtag was quoted by Steve Chalke when interceding to Qantas that Jayne Ozanne be given a free upgrade on her long haul flight. However, on this rare occasion the invocation did not work its magic.

Of course, the sentiment “Love is love” sounds so reasonable. Who would argue against love? Presumably only people with hate in their heart could be on the other side of this debate, and hate must be their only motivation. Yet “Love is love” is an argument devoid of nuance, and ironically, also an argument that demonises the other side. Classifying those who disagree as ‘haters’ is not loving opponents enough to consider the merits or otherwise of their case. There is an unloving aspect to such ‘love’.

Does the Bible simply say that “love is love” and leave it at that? Proponents might quote 1 John 4:16 – “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” This text, used at the start of the Common Worship Marriage Service, is cited by some in support of blessing sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage.

However, in another epistle, St Paul highlights passionately loving people to indicate that love is not all you need. These folk are passionately committed and faithful to their beloved in the long term; there is undoubtedly a stable and permanent relationship between lover and beloved. No one can question the sincerity and depth of the feelings; in fact they are most certainly defined as love. Should the Church now seek to bless these loving relationships also?

The passage I refer to is 2 Timothy 3 from verse 2 onwards: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

Lovers of self, of money and of pleasure. I have known people in love with such things; indeed they are in faithful, committed, long-term loving partnerships with them.

Perhaps it shows the debate isn’t really about the amount of love present, but the object of love; not how loving and committed people are, but where that love and commitment are placed. Not all committed relationships are to be blessed, just because love is present.

Jesus said, if you love me, you will obey my commandments. All other loving, permanent, faithful, committed relationships arise from that. It is reasonable to say that Jesus, the true and perfect human being, did not marry. Yet was not any less human because of this, and certainly not restricted in his flourishing as a person. Singleness for those not married to the other sex is not a diminishing of humanity, nor a deprivation of human rights. No-one has a right to sex.

What are we to do with people in loving relationships with themselves, with money or with pleasure? Rather than embark on a lengthy listening process or or proposing prayers of blessing, Timothy and his church are to avoid these people. Indeed 2 Timothy 3:7 might be an accurate description of some participants of the Living in Love and Faith listening process!

2 Timothy 3 goes on to explain how to deal with these ‘loving relationships’ – loving self, money and pleasure rather than God: “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ.”

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” That is the loving, committed relationship where the blessing of God is primarily to be found, and that throws light on all other relationships, and whether they are blessed by God or not.

The Northern Churchman has served in pastoral ministry for over twenty-five years.