Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christian Love & Telling the Truth

From my friend Laura's comment she left in response to this entry from two years ago:
I simply cannot understand someone invoking Jesus Christ while fostering intolerance and hate.

Upon adopting the ultra-conservative brand of Evangelical Christianity in my late teens, I put my moral compass through rigorous recalibration in my quest to fall in line with the tenets of my newfound faith.

Some may call it indoctrination. We called it "discipleship." As a new convert, I was taught to rid myself of my "old nature," which involved renouncing the depraved ideas planted into my head by the "world," and thus radically reorienting my worldview.

The concept of "love" was among the first to be redefined.

The most important aspect of love, I was told, is telling the truth. The world's definition of love is spineless, perverse and mushy, and it fosters an environment of sin and immorality, the thinking went.

If someone is living in sin and rebellion against God, which is the case with the outside world, the "most loving thing" to do is to tell the truth that he is on a collision course with God's wrath and eternal damnation, I was taught.

Don't take my word for it. Follow this link and watch the Youtube clip put together by a Christian radio talkshow host named Todd Friel. His five minute video presentation pretty much covers all the standard talking points and illustrations of what love is and isn't according to his belief.

If a patient's diagnose showed cancerous growth, he argues, what would be "the most loving thing" that a doctor should do? Sitting around and listening to the patient's hopes and dreams, and telling them how much he loved him would amount to malpractice in the face of the deadly disease. A good doctor would "tell the truth," and make plans for a painful, but necessary treatment regimen, and that is how the good doctor would show love.


This redefined meaning of love served as the overarching theme of my faith through my formative years and well into my 30's. Deeply entrenched in the "truth" mindset, I was absolutely impervious to outside criticism. I would have dismissed Laura's observation as sour grapes from hell-bound people who did not want to hear the truth. They were rejecting the message and Jesus, we assured ourselves, not just us.

Accusations of intolerance and hate only emboldened us. We viewed them as a badge of honor. It was a sign that we were doing it right. We could not afford to water-down the message in the Rodney King can-we-get-along fashion to make people feel good about themselves.

We frowned upon "liberal" Christian charity organizations. What good is it bring food and shelter to people when we don't "tell the truth" about God's wrath and looming eternal damnation, we lamented. Mother Teresa often took the brunt of our vitriolic invective for her part in filling people's tummies with food instead of the badly needed truth.

The "truth" mindset also manifested itself in how I approached Scripture. Every verse and passage in the Bible hinged on the doctrine of "telling the truth."

For example, the Bible says love is kind. Sounds straightforward, doesn't it? Doesn't this mean when we show love by being nice? Not so fast.

Since telling the truth was the most loving thing one could do, telling the truth was also the kindest thing one could do. That the world did not see kindness in us did not necessarily mean we weren't being kind. In fact, we were exercising the the truest form of kindness even though you might perceive it as hate and intolerance.

Get it?

As convoluted and contrived my one trick pony Christianity looks in retrospect, the aforementioned methodology enabled me to explain away and work around virtually every Bible passage which appeared to repudiate my strident and belligerent rhetoric and attitude. The system I embraced, through hundreds of hours of listening to sermons and reading books, was a well-oiled machine with ready answers to every criticism leveled at us.

But there was this one troublesome Bible passage which I could not come up with a workaround for. It haunted me. The more I tried to ignore it, the more it ate at me.

Just hours away from facing the gruesome death on the cross, Jesus huddled together with his disciples and delivered his final message. See it for yourself, and don't let me contaminate you with my interpretation of it.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
- John 13:34-35

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another....

Here 's the bottom line: You are known for what you are known for.

Surely you may or may not be what you are known for. Don't worry about what others think of you, most of us have been told, because what others think of you is not necessarily a true portrayal of who you are.

But that is not what I am talking about.

You are known for what you are known for. Scream and complain all you want if you don't like what you are known for. Life isn't fair. Blame the liberal media which has become a favorite pastime for conservative Christians. But at the end of the day, you are still known for what you are known for. Perceptions suck, but good luck fighting them.

I have never met outside the Evangelical community, anyone who views conservative Christians as the champions of love. Have you?

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another....

One may say the reputation of intolerance and hate stems from the world's distorted understanding of love.

If you believe that, you have a monumental task of reeducating six billion people out there with your true definition of love, and then convince them that you are full of love, so that "all men will know" you for your love as Jesus declared in the passage quoted above.

At 5'7", I would love to be known to be tall. I want "all men to know" that I am tall. Much like you, I too would need to reeducate a lot of people, but not nearly as many people you'd have to. Not even close. I can skip over Gary Coleman's house in my mission to redefine what tall is, so that "all men will know" that I am tall.

I really don't think you have that luxury.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another....

Comment Policy

It's very simple. Talk to me, not to other commenters. Talk about this post, not what other commenters have to say.

I wholeheartedly welcome dissenters as well as supporters, and hope to engage you in productive dialog, but I am not hosting a free for all debate forum.


At December 02, 2007 3:59 AM, Blogger Amber said...

Excellent post David.

Truth wthout grace is no longer Truth.

At December 02, 2007 5:12 AM, Blogger L-girl said...

Thank you for writing this, David. (And of course thank you for the prominent mention!)

"You are known for what you are known for."

That is a simple and beautiful truth.

I'm grateful you found your way back to tolerance and love. The world - and you - are better for it. (Plus how else could we be friends?)

At December 02, 2007 9:36 AM, Blogger mountii said...

i'm in highschool and still in the closet...religion has dealt some pretty harsh blows to me, i found passage that battered homosexuality and scriptures that said no matter what god loves me

i was just confused because the bible only made me more upset and i didn't know which way to go

At December 02, 2007 10:24 AM, Blogger David Cho said...

Amber, but grace means telling the truth! It is infuriatingly circular and contrived, but what can I say.

Laura, thanks, and I really treasure our friendship. Good thing you didn't run into me 5 years ago :)

At December 02, 2007 10:25 AM, Blogger David Cho said...

mountii, thanks for stopping by. I won't pretend to have an answer for you, and for a long time, I was part of the system that dispensed harsh blows to people struggling with homosexuality.

At December 02, 2007 4:35 PM, Blogger Julie R. Neidlinger said...

David, you need to be writing far more often.

This is a very fine post.

At December 02, 2007 11:00 PM, Blogger Friar Tuck said...

I love hearing your thoughts about being in recovery from fundamentalism. It is good for my soul.

At December 03, 2007 1:28 PM, Blogger grace said...

I was fascinated to discover what verse broke through the fundamentalist armor for you.

It makes perfect sense that it would be that passage. Ultimately, there is no denying the fruit of how we are known.

Great post! Thanks.

At December 03, 2007 1:39 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Julie, coming from a fine writer yourself, I appreciate that.

Friar and grace, I did not want to use the term "fundamentalist," since these days, nobody admits to being one. But for me, it really came down to taking what the Bible says seriously, which is what fundamentalism says to do.

At December 03, 2007 4:21 PM, Anonymous Will Humes said...

Great post David. I have been working on a similar one myself on judgment versus grace

At December 04, 2007 2:27 AM, Blogger Mad Ethel said...

Although I cannot blame others for my dissent from the church, I will say I have harbored great anger in my heart because of those who walk right up into your personal space and loudly ask, "Do you know the LORD?!" Nothing irks me more than that question because no matter how I answer, they always get personal and begin to break it down why I couldn't possibly truely love Him or have any type of valid relationship with Him. It's a no-win situation and it brings to light how shallow and misguided a lot of them really are.
I, myself, think a relationship is very personal and individual. It's not cookie cutter or one size fit's all. It's very individualized. The whole point of having the Bible is so I can learn how to manifest my very own personal relationship with Him.

We're all supposed to be on the same team but we are waisting our time beating each other down.

At December 06, 2007 7:15 PM, Blogger Gary Means said...

David, you nailed it perfectly. I think we would have gotten along quite well back then. Of course, your probably wouldn't have approved of my version of truth, and I would have been equally certain that you were somewhat misguided. I don't know what we would have disagreed about, but I am certain that we would have found something. Perhaps we could have argued about who was more disturbed by the world.

Thank God that we've both moved on and maybe grown up at least a little bit. If we sat down over coffee I'm sure that we could find things we disagree on concerning matters of faith, but I am also quite certain that we would focus on the areas of commonality. Maybe I'll have to wait until heaven to share that coffee conversation with you. We can get together at the Starbucks up there, the new one on the SW corner of the strip mall right inside the pearly gates.

At December 07, 2007 6:17 AM, Blogger Mike Y said...


I'll give you this, you have been a friend and have been kind to me when others have dissolved to self-righteous "love". In my book, that certainly leaves you as a man of notable stature.

Fundamentalist love is some of the most hateful sentiment I have encountered in my life. I realize not all people act like this. But it's common enough that it's understandable why most professing Christians have zero clout in society.

At December 15, 2007 11:27 AM, Blogger Momma Bear said...

Great Post -- It is right on time. I was looking for something Spiritual to read.

Thank you for this.

At December 17, 2007 1:58 PM, Blogger Barb said...

Wow, as an entrenched fundamentalist we learned this lesson well - Truth = Love. I have never heard anyone put it down as well as you have here. I'm now in my 50's just learning how to walk this out in real love. Thanks for this post.

At December 21, 2007 3:22 PM, Anonymous Max said...

Hi David.
It's been a long time since I've been by but just had to stop by and read a little.

Excellent post!

Max in Toronto. Merry Christmas!

At December 26, 2007 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With some time on my hands at Christmas, I decided to revisit some sites I used to read regularly. Glad to see you're still blogging.

Your narrative about being indoctrinated to believe "telling the truth" is the highest form of love sounds pretty familiar. Because it contains some truth it is all the more difficult to recognize for what it is—a deceptive, sub-Christian way of thinking. By "sub-Christian" I mean falling short of Jesus' standard: "...unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:20). Although the parallels aren't exact in every aspect, the proponents of "'telling the truth' trumps love" are generally the spiritural descendants of the Pharisees, hypersensitive to any perceived violation of the law but nearly devoid of mercy.

Once it's recognized, however, the trick is not to swing to the other extreme, something I've seen too many times as well. I think it's one of the things Paul was writing about when he described Christian maturity this way: "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching..." (Eph. 4:14). Making the corrections without being blown off course in the other direction is part of becoming mature.

At December 26, 2007 10:19 AM, Blogger Gary Means said...

Well said, David. Unfortunately, I've been there too. Thank God that we escaped!

At December 27, 2007 11:40 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Good to see you back, Dave.

Yes, balance indeed. Very well said.

At January 04, 2008 7:14 AM, Blogger The Black Swan said...

Thanks for taking my brain waves and putting them down on paper. I am not alone, yippee! A movement sweeping the nation, ACCD, which can be great and life changing, holds Truth above Love and I have wondered if I'll ever heal from the process. Reading your notes on Truth & Love has given me the vision to step out and boldy go back to Love, Mercy, Justice, Compassion, Kindness and away from trying to form others into my image in the name of Truth. Thanks!


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