I recently came upon an article called “Jesus Is Ruining My Love Life: Is Religion a Deal-Breaker?” on The Atlantic. In the article, Natasha Scripture, a non-believer, speaks of her evangelical boyfriend and expresses shock at their following exchange:
“Jesus used to say…” (boyfriend says)
“Please don’t quote Jesus. You know it makes me uncomfortable.” (me, all squirmy)
“I wish you would open your mind a bit more. You would be such a powerful Christian woman…” (him, being sincere)
“You’ll never convert me! I wish you would read Dawkins!” (me, in near tears)
“Jesus’s love for me is real.” (him, unwavering)
“I wish you would read Hitchens!” (me, in near tears)
“Jesus sacrificed for us. All of us.” (him, unwavering)
“You love him more than me.” (me, in tears)
“I do. I can’t help it.” (him, pious)
Natasha’s shock at this made me laugh. The reality is that if you ask, an evangelical will tell you that he or she loves Jesus more than anyone or anything else. It’s sort of a requirement. If an evangelical loves someone else more than Jesus, that means he or she has set that someone else up as an “idol.” This is, for evangelicals, a very bad thing.
In fact, evangelicals are frequently urged to examine their lives to see if they are putting anything before God – that cool new car, the career that’s finally looking up, or even that awesome boyfriend or girlfriend. Putting anything – or anyone – before God is seen as completely and absolutely unacceptable - and even a threat to one’s eternal salvation. Even putting your family before God is committing “idolatry.”
In her article, Natasha wonders if this is a problem, or something that can be overlooked. The thing she seems oblivious of is that when her boyfriend says he loves Jesus more than her, he really means it. It isn’t just hypothetical or so much superfluous God-talk. It has real world consequences and real world implications.
Now to an evangelical, this isn’t seen as a problem. If you’re an evangelical and you’re dating someone and he says he loves you more than Jesus, that’s a problem. Evangelicals would argue that loving Jesus first allows them to better love their friends and families, and to be more fulfilled and better protected against the buffets of this world. Putting Jesus first is important.
This doesn’t usually cause as many problems in relationships between evangelicals, since all involved expect that God will be put first and share the same general beliefs and values, but in relationships between evangelicals and non-evangelicals, or between evangelicals and evangelicals who transgress the party lines, it can cause serious trouble.
For example, in her work Bible Believers, Nancy Ammerman studied a fundamentalist church in New England in the 1980s and found that those in the church had problematic or even nonexistent relationships with relatives who were not “saved” because they made their relationships with their “unbelieving” kin into extended and unceasing proselytizing. These fundamentalists held that God and what God wanted must come first even if it meant damaging their relationships with their “unsaved” relatives.
I can also speak from experience here. Growing up in an evangelical home, we all spoke of loving Jesus more than anyone or anything else. It was just a matter of course. But then I saw it put into action as my parents chose Jesus over me. When I started asking questions and striking out on my own, my parents’ belief that they must put Jesus first at all costs and do what he wants of them at all costs led them to completely sabotage their relationship with me.
Each and every day, I know and am painfully aware of the fact that my parents love Jesus more than they love me, and that they would and did pick him over me. More than that, they would admit that and say it’s a good thing and how it should be, as would any other evangelical. While I understand where they’re coming from because I used to think like they do, I have to say, it kind of hurts.
But it’s slightly more complicated than this. Evangelicals would argue that constant attempts to proselytize or bring a straying child “back into the fold” are actually more loving than allowing a friend or relative to walk headlong into hell. Causing temporary pain or uncomfortability or broken relationships are worth it if it helps bring about that individuals ultimate conversion. In other words, they cause others pain in the name of love.
And that makes it all so much more twisted. How could I fault my parents for simply doing what they considered most loving? How could I blame them for wanting what’s best for me? When I look at the broken relationships and pain that has resulted from their desire to save me from eternal damnation, I am at a loss for who to blame. This is one thing I find highly problematic about religion: it can lead otherwise good people to do cause others pain in the name of love.
My advice for you, Natasha, is to get out and stay out. Yes, your boyfriend loves you, but as long as you remain “unsaved” he will end up sabotaging your relationship. Your beliefs and values are incompatible, and yes, he loves Jesus more than he loves you.