A long time ago, I talked about the way that evangelicals redefine common words. Their redefinition of love figured prominently on that list. That was nearly ten years ago. And today, I see that they’re still redefining that word. Worse, they’re doing it for the same reason we identified a decade ago: to give themselves permission to ignore direct commands in the Bible they idolize.
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Person-to-person love, Bible style
1 Corinthians 13 is typically considered the love chapter of the Bible. It’s the passage many Christian couples like to have recited at their weddings.
Interestingly, it directly follows a chapter concerning spiritual gifts, which are the flimflammery, showy, spectacular parts of evangelicalism: speaking in tongues, prophesying, magic healing, and so on. The writer of the book cautions Christians not to get hung up on who gets what gift.
And then, he writes a bunch of stuff about what love looks like in action. That’s why we find that discordant note about spiritual gifts at the start of chapter 13. It serves as a warning to Christians. If someone claims to have spiritual gifts but acts conceited and hateful, then they’ve Jesus-ed all wrong. Those with spiritual gifts should be acting like the rest of the chapter.
For what it’s worth, I like the love chapter, overall. If more Christians acted that way, nobody’d have a problem with them. They’d be way too busy being loving to grab at anybody’s human rights.
Instead, they recite this chapter at their weddings and then forget it exists forevermore.
Another chapter about love, this time more specifically Christian-y
Romans 12 represents another kind of love. This time, the writer has been instructing Christians how to behave like they actually believe in Christianity. And he follows those instructions with a curious set about love. This time, it concerns more specifically Christian ideals:
9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
And again, if Christians actually followed those directions, nobody’d ever have a problem with them. If they did any of this with regularity and consistency, they’d be far too busy to do much else.
This chapter destroys their culture wars completely. It sucks most of the fun out of petty politicking in church groups, as well as running their so-called ministries that are obviously just money and power grabs. And it commands them not to run charities that are less about helping people and more about finding more recruits for their churches. Above all, Christians must not have ulterior motives in helping others or doing Jesus-y stuff.
When Christians talk about love chapters, they almost always mean that first one in 1 Corinthians. But I found a recent Southern Baptist Bible study that talks more about the one in Romans 12.
And its writer still gets it completely wrong.
Speaking of ulterior motives
The Bible study we’re talking about today comes to us from a recent post in Baptist Press. This is the official news site of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Anything found in it may be considered the SBC’s official position on that topic.
Over the past year, I’ve begun noticing the Bible study articles in Baptist Press. They’ve been doing them for a long time, I see from a Google search (the search function on their actual site is far worse than useless). But I only just began noticing them.
Usually, the byline for these Bible studies is just “Lifeway staff.” But sometimes, as in today’s case, we get a specific name. Part of me suspects that Lifeway sometimes lets other people write these things as a sort of reward for good service. This time, it’s Katie McCoy, who is billed as “director of women’s ministry for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.” The Texas chapter of the SBC hired her in July 2021. Her role appears to be finding ways to get more women involved in volunteer work while keeping them fully subjugated to men. As we’ll see in a minute, her post aims very firmly at women, and it pushes hard on their subjugation.
Whoever writes these Bible studies, Lifeway puts them in Baptist Press as teasers for their massive array of Bible study products. The beginning we find in all of these Bible studies makes that very clear:
This weekly Bible study appears in Baptist Press in a partnership with Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Through its Leadership and Adult Publishing team, Lifeway publishes Sunday School curricula and additional resources for all age groups.
This week’s Bible study is adapted from the Bible Studies For Life curriculum.
Wanna know the rest? Hey, buy the
A study in how to mangle clear instructions about love
It has always amazed me to see Christians who seem to know with their heads what the Bible demands of them in terms of loving behavior, but then completely mangle those instructions. This Bible study is one of those situations. Here, we see the right lesson recited, then immediately mangled. It’s really remarkable!
In verse 13, Paul makes it clear that those relationships also mean we consider all we own as opportunities to serve one another, showing “hospitality.” Paul also commanded the Romans to “share with the saints in their needs,” even when inconvenient.
We honor others by serving them in love. [. . .]
Loving one another requires us to show honor by giving of ourselves even at personal cost.
Wait, what? Verse 13 is not about “honor.” It’s not about considering one’s possessions as “opportunities to serve one another.”
The chapter’s writer tells Christians to share their own resources with any fellow Christians who need material help. It literally says “share with the Lord’s people in need,” with “practice hospitality” at the end.
Maybe Southern Baptists don’t know what hospitality actually means, but to all the pagans I’ve ever known, it means letting people into your space and sharing your material resources with them. It means sharing food and shelter, participating in community-based events, and contributing to one’s local area in some meaningful way. It was hospitality that drew me in great part to paganism in the first place. Hospitality was a very new concept for me back then. It still pleases me.
But I rarely ever found real hospitality among Christians. In fact, they royally flunked verse 13 almost every single time I needed help. But I found it in spades among heathens of all stripes.
I guess Christians were just too busy rewriting the Bible to give themselves permission not to show hospitality.
How a demand for material help turns into “showing honor”
Even knowing evangelicals like I do, it still blew my mind today to see this paragraph at the end of Katie McCoy’s Bible study post:
Loving one another requires us to show honor by giving of ourselves even at personal cost. We may not have a name as well-known as Paul the apostle, but we can all know and display the joy of loving and honoring. Let’s grow in the skill of loving others well by giving them honor.
(Narrator: And that, folks, is how I became a meme image.)
The writer begins by correctly stating that the chapter demands “giving of ourselves,” but she turns it into an emotional transaction rather than the resource-based one that the Bible demands. And she does it after correctly stating that verse 13 is about resources, not emotional support. Romans 12:13 describes giving till it hurts and then some. Notably, verse 13 is the only verse in the chapter that describes physically giving resources to others. And she manages to turn even that into an emotional transaction.
Notably, the entire concept of honor itself appears only once in the chapter, in verse 10. I suspect that here, McCoy takes it to mean deference, obedience, and submission, though she never defines the word beyond “serving in love,” which itself gets poorly-defined as:
patience with others when they mistreat us, and a refusal to give up on asking God to intervene in our circumstances.
She never makes the leap successfully between resource sharing and “honor.” What she comes out with doesn’t even vaguely sound like what Romans 12:10 describes. But forget it, she’s on a roll.
Really, this is just such a highly confused Bible study, even by evangelical standards.
Bungling the so-called Greatest Commandment
In both of these Bible chapters, we see ideals of behavior that Christians have largely completely ignored for millennia.
Nobody cares if Christians are showing honor to those they help. It’d be nice if they could just do the helping part without an eye toward evangelism and plunking more butts down into pews. But evangelicals in general start getting cranky and critical when they think a Christian charity isn’t doing enough recruitment.
That’s why Humanists UK warned a couple of years ago about that evangelical charity that sends shoeboxes of Christmas stuff to poor children around the world. It wasn’t enough for evangelicals to show kindness and share resources with those children. They also had to tuck tons of indoctrination materials into each box. If somehow prevented from including those materials, the evangelicals involved would, without a doubt, simply abandon the charity drive itself. (In that link, Humanists UK names other shoebox-gifting charities that operate “with no ulterior motive.” I love how they put that, in light of Romans 12’s implicit criticism of charity done with ulterior motives.)
For that matter, when we covered Beach Reach a while ago, one of the main lessons we learned there was that Beach Reach is about training SBC-lings to see sales prospects in every interaction. It’s not about giving drunk normie college students a safe ride to their hotel. Nor is it about feeding pancakes to hungry hung-over normie college students. Hell, it’s not even really about actual recruitment, though plenty of attempts will get made. It is about teaching young SBC-lings how to sell, and then how to always be selling.
Make no mistake: The Christians operating with full-on ulterior motives will always insist to the skies that they are totally being sincere.
Sidebar: Written by women, for women
As soon as I started reading this Bible study today, I knew a woman had written it. The last paragraph clinched it completely. When the name of the writer appeared afterward, I wasn’t even half surprised that it was a woman, nor that she was “director of women’s ministry” for one of the SBC’s state-level conventions.
It is very hard to imagine a male Baptist leader talking about how to “show honor by giving of ourselves even at personal cost.” I plugged “name” + “show honor” + “personal cost” into a search engine, with “name” being oodles of male SBC leaders’ names, and not one returned a single result. Removing the name gave a few results, but none look directly connected to the SBC. Adding “SBC” just returns a bunch of hits on “personal cost,” without much at all of showing honor. When we take “personal cost” out of the search, oh boy we start getting results with male leaders’ names.
These search results track with everything I remember reading on the topic of showing honor from SBC men. Showing honor to the point of it costing them personally just isn’t on their radar.
But it’s definitely something women get taught to do in SBC culture. I’ve seen countless evangelical blog posts about the vast and essential importance of showing honor, which evangelicals usually call “respect,” and which means exactly the same thing: deference, obedience, and submission. This form of honor must be shown to the very fragile men of evangelicalism without fail, even and especially if they don’t deserve a speck of it.
Given that one current major slapfight going on in the SBC right now concerns female pastors, this Bible study’s timing doesn’t feel accidental at all. It feels like the SBC’s leaders are pulling hard on women’s leashes. And they’re using a woman to do the actual yanking. It’s so gross.
Getting love all wrong is the toxic Christian way
We’ve likely all known truly generous, kindhearted Christians. I’ve even heard of one, a pastor, who opened her home all the time to people who were down on their luck. She got them jobs, found them their own places, got them rehab and therapy, whatever they needed. And she did it without requiring they attend church or do Jesus-y things.
For her troubles, this pastor got robbed a few times. Once, a robbery almost turned violent. But she never stopped doing it. It was, she felt, what Jesus had commanded her to do through the Bible.
I’ve read her writing. She wrote a lot. It’s all absolutely beautiful, even if the god she describes in it doesn’t exist in reality. Consider him a best-case-scenario god, if anything, the god from the few good bits of the Bible.
That god is entirely foreign and alien to the Southern Baptist Convention. If he showed up at any of their Sunday services, they’d whip him right out again and then maliciously gossip about his utter audacity for years to come. And if he actually spoke to the hearts of any Southern Baptists, they’d immediately assume he was Satan whispering heresy to them.
What made this pastor so kind and generous wasn’t a god. It wasn’t even a couple of love chapters out of the Bible. She was just a superlative human being doing her best to make the lives of other human beings a little better. She just found a flavor of Christianity that gave a thumbs-up to the kind of life she wanted to lead, just like toxic Christians do all the time.
I’ve no doubt that anybody in the SBC who learned of her would just snort that she was a fake Christian, dismiss her fine example, and insist that attaching strings to charity is totally what Romans 12 is really all about.
But the rest of us know better. Christians can redefine words all they want. We’re not obligated to start using their redefinitions, even if doing so would make their lives a lot easier.
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