Ben White,, CC0 Licensing
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Today I want to talk about love. I know we’ve talked before about how many Christians have redefined the meaning of the word love to allow them to mistreat others. Abuse masquerading as love is one of the most defining elements to the makeup of a toxic Christian. Today, let me show you how we can see through a false facade of love.

(Bureau of Land Management, CC license.)

Redefinitions Exist to Destroy Feedback Loops.

Toxic Christians wholeheartedly buy into their tribe’s redefinition of love. They think it allows them to say they love those people they’re bashing or trying to control, while behaving in a distinctly unloving way. If anybody has a problem with that kind of behavior, they waft their palms heavenward with a shrug and a singsong chirp of “It’s all done in love!” This abdication of responsibility represents an explicit and implicit demand that we adjust our entire moral and ethical systems to accommodate their demand for an exception to it.

And I think that the rest of us are getting collectively fed up with this mindset. We’re seeing how harmful it is to others. The ones on the receiving end of “Christian love” are even less pleased.

The person who gets to define a behavior as “loving” is the person the behavior is being directed at, not the person performing the behavior. It doesn’t matter how “loving” a Christian feels as he or she is doing something or how “loving” the motivation for doing that deed might be. It matters how the person receiving that behavior perceives it. That is the only defining factor that matters when evaluating how “loving” a behavior is.

Motivation: Not a Magic Shield.

That’s why we correctly call a bigoted Christian’s behavior “bigoted” rather than “loving.” Of course the bigoted Christian will insist that abusive, controlling, paternalistic behavior is being “loving.” That’s how they’ve redefined it.

But the rest of us don’t care why someone’s being bigoted.

That the bigotry flows from a “place of love” doesn’t matter at all. We correctly perceive that this “place of love” is not actually love except in the weird bizarro universe that toxic Christians inhabit. We correctly get repulsed by bigots who think that it’s not only okay to discriminate against and dehumanize other human beings, but that it is laudable and noteworthy to do so.

When someone’s behavior looks exactly and precisely like the behaviors of someone who is hateful, then those observing that behavior shouldn’t have to carefully vet and police the motivations and feelings of the person doing the hateful-looking deed. “No, no, wait, everyone! Let’s go find out first if the hateful-looking person is actually feeling hate or what! We can’t call it hateful till we know!”

No, sorry. That isn’t how it works. We leave the thought policing to the toxic Christians. We don’t have to care what they’re thinking or know how much they love anybody. And we don’t care. What matters to us is actions and behaviors.

And toxic Christians have no idea how to deal with that mindset.

Cutting Straight to Hating the Sinners.

So when I see news about preachers saying we should “stone homos”, I do not feel compelled toward sympathy for how they are “hating the sin and loving the sinner.” That’s just hating those they think are sinners, and they’ve picked this one particular “sin” (which hurts nobody and which is none of their business) to pick on, since it is committed by a marginalized group that is still fairly safe to demonize and pick on. And they will go to their deaths insisting that they should be allowed to demonize and pick on LGBTQ people for being different.

And when I see news about yet another bigoted bakery refusing to make a fucking wedding cake for a gay couple, the bakers’ mealy-mouthed assurances that oh they just lurrrrrve gay people, they just don’t think gay people deserve basic human courtesy and decency or anything fall on deaf ears to me because I think about the gay couple that got turned away. Do you suppose they felt loved? Do you think they’ll look back at this and think “oh wow, the love in them was just sooooo strong! We should totally check out their church after our wedding!” No, I doubt it.

These “conscience exceptions” bigots try to enshrine into law, like refusing to sell a product to a hated group, derives from what someone once called “Reasons of Icky.” Bigots try to use their “sincerely held beliefs” to oppress, suppress, and marginalize people doing something that goes against their happy comfortable Christian bubble. They weaponize their disgust, then seek to use it to gain power over their enemies.

They never thought that strategy would fail. It never has before!

A Desperate Move.

We know that these are the last frantic flailings of a religious group that is fading into irrelevance. We witness bigots’ last-ditch efforts to claw back some privilege and dominance. In essence, they’re just trying to maintain superiority. They’re simply going to ridiculous lengths to do it. Denying newlyweds a wedding cake springs from the same emotional space as a toddler throwing a tantrum about not getting a new toy.

This rationalization is how bigoted Christians can force their views onto those around them and sorta-kinda get away with it. Bigoted bakers can’t express hatred of gay people any other way, but by golly, they do have this bakery, and if those gay folks want a cake, they will be sorely mistaken if they think they’re getting it from those bigots! But it’s all from a place of lurrrve.

And you know what? We don’t care why they want to discriminate. It doesn’t even matter.

Bigoted Christians want the right to discriminate against and treat people differently based on their beliefs, but we don’t really care what the beliefs are. They’re free to think whatever they want about gay marriage or women’s rights or whatever else. But in the public sphere, we expect them to keep up with us, and we are done being patient with their bigotry.

Doomed to Fail.

And it’s so pointless, anyway. Anti-gay bigots are not going to disapprove of gay couples so hard that they just stop being gay or civil rights stop being expanded to include them. Gay people are not going to convert to Christianity as a result of being disapproved at, either, any more than women are going to suddenly stop caring about their human rights as a result of being refused healthcare. So all these bigots are doing is drawing attention to how backward and hateful they are.

With that said, you can imagine I was happy to see a post by Christian author and blogger Justin Lee sharing how Christians can actually behave lovingly toward LGBTQ people to match their stated desire to be loving. I think he’s giving most of these folks too much credit–it is painfully obvious that what they really want to do is hate, marginalize, dehumanize, and abuse LGBTQ people. They just want to do it with a big ole Jesus smile on their faces so they don’t have to come face to face with what hateful bigots and terrible people they really are.

But by taking them at their word and playing along, by agreeing that obviously they want to be loving, so here is how they can do that, Justin Lee forces them either to put boots on their statements of love–or else retract those statements and just admit they want to be hateful.

And we’ll know which it is by how they respond now that they know they are behaving hatefully.

How Feedback Should Work.

When a truly loving person gets told “That hurt me. That made me feel like a lesser human being. That did not feel loving,” then a person who genuinely wants to be loving is going to be horrified at learning that the behavior was interpreted that way–and will seek to amend the behavior, not try to gaslight the recipient into re-interpreting the abuse as loving. A truly loving person knows that it’s not his or her place to tell another human being how to feel about anything. A truly loving person respects another human being’s feelings.

As the saying goes, we are all entitled to our own opinions. We are not, however, entitled to our own facts. In the same way, our feelings are worthy of respect, and yes, that includes bigots. However, zealots and fanatics don’t get a free pass to do hateful things just because they believe very strongly in something.

We can address those feelings if the bigot asks for help resolving them. After all, most of it’s just ignorance, and ignorance is fixable. But the discrimination itself is not a feeling. Discrimination represents, rather, the outgrowth of those feelings. We already understand that we can show respect a person’s distress but also refuse to allow violence as a response to that distress. In the same way, we can respect bigots’ feelings of fear and hate while still making clear that we will not allow them to harm others as a result of that fear.

We’re not asking bigots to stop being bigoted. It’d be nice if they could do that upon request, sure! But they suffer from some very deep-seated fears and hatreds. We’re just asking them to express and act upon those feelings in a better way.

How to Show Me Love.

I liked Justin Lee’s list of how to treat LGBTQ people with love and respect. Good things can happen when Christians listen instead of talk. So here some ways that Christians can make me, an outsider to their religion, feel loved:

  • Don’t tell me what I believe or how I feel. In fact, don’t presume to know anything about me.
  • Don’t cast aspersions on my good-faith efforts to answer your questions. Don’t deploy a “No True Scotsman” by telling me I wasn’t ever a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, for example.
  • If you are unwilling to change your mind no matter what facts you hear, then you’re not discussing. You’re preaching. And I’ll reject that attempt.
  • Be respectful of my time and personal space. I don’t care what you believe in your private time. You need to grant me the same courtesy.
  • Don’t deny me my rights just because they make you feel uncomfortable. Love can’t coexist with threats, abuse, or oppression.
  • Don’t pull a DARVO, like a Christian did not ten minutes ago. In other words, don’t gaslight me by telling me that I’m the one being hateful because I reject your hatefulness!
  • Don’t use religion as an excuse to grab for control over me, my private life, or my intimate decisions. According to you, I’m going to Hell anyway. Thus, it hardly matters to you how I live.
  • I’m not asking you for help, advice, instructions, or opinions. Therefore, take it as read that your help, advice, instructions, and opinions are neither desired nor necessary.
  • If you feel the need to pray for me, that’s fine. Do it on your own time in private, like Jesus commanded. Don’t accidentally reveal that you know that prayers don’t work unless your targets know you’re doing it!

A Backfire for Toxic Christians.

As I write this, Fred Phelps, the leader of the viciously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, rests on his deathbed at a hospice. Whatever else he did, we can say this: he made nearly every person in America aware of what happens when someone hateful gets his hands on a means of browbeating and controlling other people. He polarized America in a way that no amount of pleading and rational discourse ever could.

His church’s antics might be helping his hated enemies! I have no doubt that bigots help along my country’s growing secularization. They show us–just like those snake-handling kooks and domestic terrorist forced-birthers show us–what happens when zealots redefine hatred as love.

Good, loving people will always reject such awful things. They will always reject zealots who dress their hate up as “love” and advocate it with big ole Jesus smiles on their faces.

To borrow the phrase, it is not loving people who have left Christianity.

It is Christianity that has left love.

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(This post was tidied up a bit by Cas on February 14, 2019.)

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...