Tag Archives: agape

Rightly Ordered Loves, Part 3: Sexual Sanity

When historians look back at some of the moral currents of the early 21st century, they will call it an “era of anthropological confusion.” It is good that we are no longer imprisoning consenting adults for private activity and that there is robust dialogue of gender and sexual identity and practice.

I have forthright opinions of sexual identity and morality; however, these are not the focus of this essay. Persuading folks that disagree with my Christian convictions is better done in civil, personal dialogue or in lengthy communication. Here I want to argue that all sides of the current disputes on gender and sexual identity and practice are missing an important factor as they seek to persuade, or, in some cases, coerce conformity to their understanding of what is moral and tolerable.

The mistake our entire culture is making on sexuality is profound: we have made Eros the Almighty and sexual pleasure the defining characteristic of human identity. This is tragically deficient anthropology, reducing identity to one’s current sexual proclivities. There are great complexities involved in how people feel and think about gender and sex, and no one should feel marginalized. We do, however, need to dialogue on these issues, especially regarding the education of children, without labeling and libeling those who disagree with us.

If agape love is our starting point, then other loves will find their place. Agape compels thoughtfulness concerning our loyalties and pleasures, our motives and our practices. At this juncture I am only calling for thoughtfulness about sacrificial love. Agape sees people as made in God’s image, worthy of dignity and respect. Agape love helps people not objectify others or abuse people for pleasure. Friendships rooted in mutual interests are possible without the intrusion of unwelcome erotic demands. Comradery in a cause can include people of all orientations and persuasions as they sacrifice for the common good.

We are more than our erotic passions, wonderful as they are (in boundaries of morality and mutuality). Choosing self-restraint is not repression, but a loving decision. People of all persuasions can offer their best efforts toward the common good. There is still a place for debating gender and sexual issues in an environment of love and respect. Even where we radically disagree, a commitment to sacrificial love allows us to unite for noble causes.

Will we stop bowing before idols of immediate pleasure and choose noble pathways of love and service? Can we debate without rancor and stop labeling and libeling? Our preferred future depends upon a social compact of principled liberty for all.

Rightly Ordered Loves, Part 1 Understanding Our Challenges

In these contentious days, it is hard for voices of sanity to be heard about the name-calling and ideological noise. In this four-part series, I want to present a new vision and voice for public dialogue that offers hope for both peaceful engagement and prudential solutions to our seemingly intractable problems.

It is my conviction that underneath all the anger and insults are disordered human affections. Our “loves” are confused. “Passion” has replaced principle and emotions seem to triumph over ethics. When politicians argue that, “facts do not matter if you are moral” we have a serious confusion of categories, a loss of critical thinking, and signs of inner chaos.

Ancient sages often speak of at least four kinds of love: familial bonds, brotherly/sisterly affections, the comradery of soldiers and workers, and romantic attractions. Whether the stories come from China or Greece, Africa or India, such affections and their proper ethics are universal.

There is another type of love that the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian theology have brought to the world: the covenantal love of the Almighty (Hebrew: hesed) the unconditional and self-donating agape love embodied in the person and work of Jesus. This altruistic, holy, and sacrificial love helps all other loves find their proper place. Familial and friendship love are now rooted in sacrifice, and comradeship is more than suffering together – it can take on nobility. And erotic attractions – powerful as they are – have boundaries of behavior and loyalty.

So much of contemporary confusion comes from eros overtaking agape and the perversion of other categories that arises when self-fulfillment overtakes service. Whether it is sexual attractions and actions, economic policies, political discourse, or cultural expression, disordered loves subvert the common good and leave everyone ultimately impoverished.

We need visions and voices rooted in agape that considers others before self, and refines actions according to their long-term consequences and not immediate power and success. Stay tuned for the applications of agape to the challenges of our day. There is hope – but not in the lowest denominator of human passion, but the highest aspirations arising from the image of God in humankind.