Hi and welcome back. For many years now, evangelical Christians have attempted to seize a monopoly on love. Since before I was even one of them, they’ve been trying their best to control how this word is used. They make these attempts through redefining the word to allow for their brand of authoritarian abuse. Recently, an evangelical megachurch pastor and abuser-for-Jesus, Matt Chandler, whined to an evangelical audience that people just aren’t accepting his favorite redefinition these days! Today, let’s check out that redefinition — and marvel together over how much the real meaning of love differs from it.
Words Have Power.
Evangelicals’ attitude toward language reminds me of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis on steroids.
Back when I joined evangelicalism as a teenager, those indoctrinating me hammered repeatedly at one concept above almost all others:
Words have power.
I learned that Yahweh had sung the universe into existence through words. That he had given Adam the power to name the animals as a sign of humans’ dominance over all animals. That through words — like the so-called Sinner’s Prayer — he’d given humans a chance to escape an eternity of torture at his hands.
By removing various words from their followers’ vocabularies, in turn, religious leaders disempower their followers to conceptualize their own abuse and to share their experiences with others. (“Consent” is a good example of this removal. Plenty of evangelicals reach adulthood having no idea what it means, except to hate it for being worldly.)
In that world, those who control definitions and names control language, and through that control, they harness people’s very minds to their will.
One of the most important words evangelicals seek to control is love.
I can see why. Love destroys authoritarian control. It disrupts evil. The kind of terror that benefits authoritarian leaders, that gives them so much power over their followers, just can’t co-exist in the same heart as real love. It is love that gives a frightened pew-warming sheep the courage to stand up to an abusive shepherd, love that keeps someone fighting a lost cause, love that pushes us to our ultimate limits and past them and beyond — and we’ll do it gladly, because love is worth everything we’ve got.
No wonder evangelical leaders need to redefine it.
In their hands, redefined love becomes a permission slip for abusers in leadership ranks to work their evil upon victims. It becomes a way to keep victims in relationships that hurt them time and time again. It devalues and hurts people, tells them they’re worthless without their abuser, tells them they don’t deserve better treatment.
And it tells them all of this in the name of a supposed god of love.
Nothing about evangelicals’ redefined love actually looks like love. It never has, and it never will.
But if this definition of love is the one the flocks mistake for the real deal, then controlling them becomes that much easier.
And now, an evangelical pastor with a long history of abuse sounds super-upset that his preferred redefinition of love is falling out of favor.
Everyone, Re-Meet Matt Chandler.
In 2015, a woman in his congregation discovered that her husband, Jordan Root, consumed child pornography. Immediately, she tried to alert her church leaders and fellow congregants to the situation and its obvious risks to the church’s children. In response, TVC’s leaders tried to protect Jordan Root from the repercussions of his choices. They tried to silence her as well.
Matt Chandler’s abuse of this woman went viral nationwide, however. He had to apologize and eat some crow over the scandal.
Then, in 2019 Matt Chandler got in trouble again — for almost the same thing. Really. This time, the pedophile he tried to protect at the expense of children’s safety was Matt Tonne, one of TVC’s youth pastors. Chandler described Tonne as “a family friend.” Later that year, one of Matt Tonne’s victims sued TVC for a million dollars for mishandling the situation so poorly.
And in October 2019, Wartburg Watch discovered that Matt Chandler had responded inappropriately yet again to yet another pedophile scandal at TVC. Andy Landrum, the accused pedophile in this case, worked as a volunteer in one of TVC’s branch churches’ children’s ministry. Chandler ignored a whole series of red flags about Landrum’s behavior and social-media postings, then refused to meet with concerned parents who’d noticed those red flags because he wanted to attend a football game.
I’m also noticing a more recent potential scandal that might be brewing for TVC. At least this time, everyone involved is probably over the age of 18.
In short, Matt Chandler is a real piece of work. His obvious prioritization of his church’s reputation over the safety of children speaks loudly to just how loving he is.
Despite his shocking ineptitude and abusiveness or perhaps because of it, Matt Chandler feels completely qualified to set the definition for the most important concept in our entire world — and entitled enough to expect others to adopt it.
Matt Chandler Is Upset, Y’all.
This story comes to us from Christian Post a few days ago. Matt Chandler gave a New Year’s Eve sermon to a virtual crowd for the Passion 2021 Conference. And oh, what a doozy of a story title:
Matt Chandler warns love has been ’emptied of its meaning’ in post-truth culture
OH NOES! Friends and brethren, what shall we do?
The story begins,
Village Church Pastor Matt Chandler said Christians must recapture the biblical meaning of “love” to have an impact in a post-truth culture where the word has more to do with “Tinkerbell and Peter Pan than it does with the Holy God of the Bible.”
Actually, that’s not true. You’d be hard-pressed to find a decent-hearted person who’d describe love by reaching for old Disney movies. But without being able to build their strawmen, evangelicals would be lost.
As well, bear in mind that “biblical” is a Christianese word and a dogwhistle. When evangelicals use it, they’re describing something friendly to their control-grabs and culture-wars. In this case, Chandler refers here to the tribe’s redefined version of love that allows them to trample and abuse other people.
And if he wants to whine and complain about America being a “post-truth culture,” it might be useful for him to learn that evangelicals are the ones to blame for that situation — as well as the Americans who most fall prey to it.
Matt Chandler’s Preferred Redefinition.
Evangelicals’ redefinition represents absolutely the opposite of love, so you’d think I’d have expected that. Here’s how Chandler defines it, according to that link:
“If we don’t recapture the biblical meaning of this word, how will we ever love the world with the love of God?” he asked. “The love of the world for the world will be completely inadequate for us to shine like stars in the darkness.”
To define “love,” Chandler cited 1 John 4, which reads in part: “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” [. . .]
Because God is loving, He is “violently hot with wrath” toward sin and the sinner, Chandler said.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
This verse speaks of punishment, of fear, of escape from torture — not of love. I can see why Matt Chandler likes it. He wants to take control not only of his congregation but the entire world. This verse gives him implicit permission to do it.
As well, 1 John 4:9 allows Matt Chandler to see himself as a ruler, as the one “violently hot with wrath,” rather than as a follower who must follow orders to show charity, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice toward others. Nobody told him to take it upon himself to act like a god toward people. But someone important did tell him to be charitable, forgiving, and self-sacrificing.
No matter. Authoritarians love to identify themselves as mini-Jesuses, just as evangelicals love to identify themselves as the heroes and underdogs of all the Bible’s stories rather as than its oppressors and villains.
Writing Permission Slips for Himself.
Alas, cries Matt Chandler:
“In our day and age, love and wrath cannot commingle,” he said. “That word is so thin, what we ended up doing is we just embrace the thinness of these ridiculous sayings” like “love is love” and “God hates the sin and loves the sinner.”
It’s nice that he recognizes just how ridiculous evangelicals’ beloved phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” really is, but it doesn’t sound like he dislikes it for the correct (and numerous) reasons. No, he just wants evangelicals to insist that their god actually does, in fact, hate sinners:
“If you can’t define a word, you’re left with slogans,” Chandler contended. “The Bible says God hates sin, and He hates the sinner. God hates sin and He hates sinners because they destroy the beauty and glory of His name, fame, beauty and grace.”
I’d reckon that if mere people can so destroy this god’s ascribed qualities, then he’s nowhere near as perfect as his followers claim. But that’s just me. To me, it sounds like Matt Chandler just wants to cut straight to the hatin’ part he really wants to do.
Then, for good measure, Matt Chandler describes real love as “wrath” — along with offering yet another strawman.
“Love does not look like you get whatever you want, whenever you want it,” he declared. “That’s not love. That’s actually wrath.”
I truly feel terrible for every human being who has to deal closely with Matt Chandler. He has no clue in the world what love really is.
But he’s got a VERY good handle on hate and wrath. He just describes them incorrectly as love.
What Love Won’t Do.
People understand hate. They understand control-grabs. They know what it feels like to be silenced when they’ve suffered a great injustice. Nothing evangelicals offer is anything new, much less anything desirable or mystically impossible to comprehend.
It’s just not love, is all.
Real love doesn’t make people feel hated.
Or worthless, or clamped down and bolted-in.
Or terrified of their loved one’s anger.
The very moment someone tries to push onto you a redefinition of love that evokes, permits, and allows these emotions to sprout to life in you, know immediately that this person needs you to accept a redefinition of love that allows for abuse. If you refuse to accept their redefinition as real love, then their behavior pops into focus immediately as abuse.
It’s very telling that Matt Chandler, who constantly faces accusations of shielding abusers and ignoring and silencing the many victims of those abusers, uses exactly that kind of redefinition.
His redefinition of love allows abusers to flourish in his churches — and pressures victims into silence, when it doesn’t ignore their pain entirely.
Real love would not stand for any of that to happen. It would roar like fire through TVC to fix the situations as they came up — and to set rules in place that would prevent many of them from happening at all. And it would toss Matt Chandler out of TVC on his ear.
Love Never Fails.
The version of love Matt Chandler desperately needs us to accept allowed for every one of his scandals to occur. And I’ve no doubt at all that he’s successfully silenced several accusations for every one that’s escaped his contract-bound control.
Sooner or later, more compassionate and decent-hearted evangelicals will recognize overt authoritarian control-grabs as the signs of false love that they are. Until then, at least we know the truth.
Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
In a way, Matt Chandler’s sermon may indicate that at least some evangelicals have moved away from the tribal redefinition of love. I hope at least a few people listening to that sermon wondered why he felt the need to strawman so often in describing the real definition of it. Even by evangelical standards, these were egregious strawmen.
Now, egregious certainly describes Matt Chandler himself, and evangelicalism as well.
Love does not describe Matt Chandler or evangelicals at all. The only way they can get to love is by redefining the word so much that it doesn’t resemble the real thing at all.
NEXT UP: Despite numerous evangelical leaders’ assurances to the contrary, evangelicals will not actually face any kind of ‘reckoning’ over their antics. Not even now, not even after what they did yesterday in the Capitol. Tomorrow, we’ll explore why that is.
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(Mr. Captain: “Passion 2021? Sounds like a porn convention.”)