#SKEPTIMERGENT: truth or love?

#SKEPTIMERGENT: truth or love? February 19, 2013

I have a theory: those so-called “liberal” or “progressive” people who are trying to understand what the Bible means today are doing so primarily because of love.

Here’s what I mean… I think a huge part of my own personal conflict within evangelicalism was a conflict between “truth” – or what was “right” – and love. The more I attempted to make sense of the Bible in light of my actual relationships with real people, the less concerned I was with being truthful or being right.

What if this is the fundamental difference between one type of religious person and another?

I’m not saying that those who are concerned about being right are not also concerned about how best to love people. But, I do think there is an intentional priority within each of us. Either we commit so strongly to (what we perceive as) “the truth” that we’re willing to defend that truth no matter what the cost, or we commit so strongly to love that we will flex on the truth.

I think it was John Wesley who said “better to divide over truth than unite in error.” That’s exactly what I mean here. I think this is a problem.

Maybe this is oversimplifying things, but it seems to be a pretty good description of my own religious story.

What do you think? What matters more to you, truth or love? Being right or being in relationships? 

A long time ago, I decided that whatever idea I was claiming to believe, I would put a human face on it. I would try to think “what if my mom ____?” or “what if my son ____?” This kind of imagination led me to change my views on homosexuality and abortion.

I can predict that many evangelicals will see this is a false dichotomy. They will say things like “the most loving thing you can do is speak the truth.” That sounds great in theory, but, in my experience, is a clusterfuck in practice.

We all have to make this choice.

"This was an awesome post! It really gave me a new perspective on relationships and ..."

Loss and Redemption in Relationships

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Frank

    You cannot separate truth from love. Without truth there is no love.

  • I actually agree with Frank. You cannot separate truth from love. And I think the the difference between progressives and conservative Evangelicals isn’t that progressives don’t believe in truth – it’s just that they believe that different things are true.

    For example, if you think I’m going to hell, then the most loving thing to do is to tell me what I can do to keep from going there. The prospect of eternal conscious torment changes the stakes and has a way of eclipsing the here and now. In contrast, I don’t tell people they might be going to hell – not because I’m bending on the truth, but because I don’t believe in hell.

    If you really think being gay is a grievous sin that is self-destructive, then it’s not terribly loving to neglect to mention that fact to someone you care about. But if you think being gay is perfectly okay, then being loving would of course mean ensuring that the LGBTQ community has full civil rights and ensuring that your personal church community would include them fully.

    Anyway, I don’t think that progressives are necessarily more loving than conservative evangelicals – at least on a one to one level – they just believe different things, which changes the way love is defined. The need to always be right in obnoxious fashion is an ego thing that, unfortunately, transcends theological or political opinions.

  • From someone who actually spends a lifetime studying these things:

    “When we are caught up in our own convictions, other people’s stories—which is to say, other people—cease to matter to us. … certainty is lethal to two of our most redeeming and humane qualities, imagination and empathy.”

    Schulz, Kathryn (2010-05-25). Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (p. 164). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

    To me? What we believe about (Agape) Love makes no difference. What we do through Love makes all the difference in the world. Click through my name for the longer version of this thought. But, in the end, I … just … don’t … know. And I am totally OK with that.

  • As a progressive Christian, I have to comment on your idea that we bend truth in favor of love. Christy has made the point wonderfully, above: it is a matter of following a different truth, though it is from the same Bible.
    The difference is like one of those trick pictures that looks like one thing from one angle, and like something else from a different angle. What an evangelical/fundamentalist view sees as “the only truth” (say, a god of fear, wrath, judgment, and human evil) is not what one sees when looking from the perspective of a different truth (a life-affirming, compassionate God challenging us despite our fallibility to learn how to care for each other and for God enough to make the Kingdom of God possible, as Jesus was teaching). That is not a bent truth; it is a different understanding of God.

  • I don’t think you can pit truth and love against each other like this. Scripture commends us to “speak the truth in love” and teaches us that ” love… rejoices in the truth.”. Your acknowledgement that liberal/progressives may be more willing to budge on the truth seems like a tacit acknowledgement that this is true and must be justified. Others are right that the matter is over different truths. Conservative-liberal rhetoric isn’t helpful because it oversimplifies and reduces to an inaccurate dichotomy. Nevertheless, the epistemological crux is do we begin with revelation (Jesus Christ and Scripture) or some other human device (humanism, rationalism, scientism, reason, experience etc) over Scripture. And I think the matter comes down yet again to who we believe is Lord, God Almighty or man intoxicated with the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

  • “And I think the matter comes down yet again to who we believe is Lord, God Almighty or man intoxicated with the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

    Interesting statement. I believe that man’s lust for knowledge and certainty is what created the religion we call Christianity. Religion is what put God in a box, a package deal fashioned by poring over the Bible for literal and factual details distorted from context to create the idol the church presents as God. Our lust for knowledge, our need to know exactly who and what God is, has kept us from drawing closer to Him.

    God is bigger than this, and deserves better. Perhaps love and truth are synonymous, and that love should trump any interpretation we have of God or what He wants. Perhaps where the two “conflict” in our minds is where we know our interpretation of truth is wrong.