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The Law of Love – Part 1 of 4

July 20, 2013

Here is the truth in a little creed.

Enough for all the road we go:

In love is all the law we need,

In Christ is all the God we know.

Nothing could better describe our particular brand of Christianity than our doctrine of the Law of Love. Forty years of publications and of communal living were permeated by its principles and overall perspective. The LL sat at the very heart of our theology, of our interpretation of scripture and, consequently, of our practical applications of it.

In essence, the belief that freedom is only made possible in love and, conversely, that love is only made possible in freedom, was with us from the very start. That idea, with its various outgrowths, defined our Christianity and set it apart from the rest.

That was the case until a few years ago, when we underwent a radical restructuring that practically ended our communal society. I am not blaming the restructuring for our demise, which was inevitable and already in sight, but I wish to explore the validity of what was once such a defining doctrine.

For a number of years, since our attempted reboot, the LL seems to have been quietly put aside, with no mention as to its past or present validity. There has been an awkward silence about it, as if it never existed, and I can only imagine why. As we know, not everything done in its name was always “loving” and today, just the mention of it, does evoke mixed feelings, raising memories that range from very positive to traumatically negative. If, however, I was to judge by the people I know, I would say that most are somewhere in between. A typical response is that it’s a thing of the past, alright then, but no longer applicable or relevant to the present.

For the most part the issue of the LL is avoided, perhaps for fear that it might cause discomfort, embarrassment, or doubts. Being that it was such a central tenet of our faith, there could be reluctance to raise difficult questions about it. Doubting such a core belief, could cause a domino effect, touching all other aspect of our faith, so it’s best not to go there. After all, what would the alternatives be?

I would like to challenge the veil of silence that surrounds the LL, share my thinking and explore what it could still mean for us today. To do that I must touch on its history and development, but I will not cover it enough to make it intelligible for those who are unfamiliar with it. I’ll be speaking to those who, like me, are well acquainted with it, but aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

Theological foundation

On the theological argument for the LL, it’s worth noting that we didn’t invent it; it had been around for a long time and there are many accounts of others, who saw the same things and interpreted the same way. After all, the scriptures have been there for a long time, and that’s where the premises for the LL are found.

Naturally, there were differences in its practical application, mainly due to differences in cultures and circumstances. Everyone is the fruit their time and ours was that of the youth counter-culture, of late sixties and early seventies. As such we carried many of the mindsets of that period and fused them with our understanding of the LL.

Some particular features, that got incorporated into our LL theology, were the sexually liberating ideas that we were accustomed to. That also was nothing new, as others had tried it before us, but in the context of current Christianity we were the only ones. That, more than anything else, drew us immense criticism from mainline denominations and put us at irreconcilable odds with them.

The LL is a broad all-encompassing principle. It is a whole different approach to life, religion, the bible, morality, ethics, and more. To define it only by its sexual implications is a gross misrepresentation but, since sexuality does interact with it, and always demands attention, I will need to address it extensively. This is not to neglect the broader spectrum of our LL theology, but simply to address some controversial aspects, which appear to be a cause of discomfort.

The sexual revolution

Just as the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies permanently impacted future generations, it also changed the environment in which Christianity existed. Institutionalized Christianity has never been noted for loving innovation and change, but rather for its reactionary posture and wanting to keep things as they are. To overcome this hardening tendency, it seems as if God does stir the pot, from time to time, with new waves of ideas, revivals, reformations or revolutions. For a while, we rode such a wave and even called ourselves “the revolution”.

The cultural revolution of the sixties, us included, had taken particular aim at the reactionary posture of religious institutions. Eventually, this had an effect and they also began to recognize a need for renewal. As they shed some of their dated mindsets, some of our “revolutionary” ideas became gradually accepted; for example, they adopted a more positive view of human sexuality, abandoned guilt-inducing doctrines equating sex to original sin, and all their negative offshoots.

Sex and the Law of Love

The sixties’ slogan “make love, not war” had paved the way to our sexual applications of the LL. In a way, we were already predisposed to it, as it would have been unthinkable to reverse our free, natural attitude towards sex, to traditionally religious ones, with all their taboos and negativity. Then, it was our communal lifestyle that gradually shaped the practical aspects. Through various stages of development and experimentation, we saw what worked and what didn’t, at least for us, and a new set of mores and regulations came into being.

Though we always maintained a positive view of sex, we did also recognize the potential for it to be misused. Thus, the pendulum would often swing from one side to the other, increasing or decreasing liberty, as we tried to avoid abuse and find the correct balance,

Being very mission oriented, our LL impacted also some of our outreach methods. Flirty Fishing, for example, was based on the idea that God’s love could go to any length to reach a person, even leading someone to love them fully, even sexually, in order to supply a genuine need and demonstrate love. Practically speaking, the idea had a huge potential for misuse, so the method was soon abandoned, but not in principle.

A dividing factor

Needless to say, the sexual aspects of the LL, created a huge gap between us and the rest of Christianity. This didn’t bother us, as at the time we had no desire for inclusion. We preferred to work with the unchurched and even regarded the sex controversy as an extra bonus, as something preventing us from compromise. In fact, it kept us from getting caught into Churcianity’s gravitational pull and allowed us to develop separately.

Had we not been so “heretical”, and thus so separated, we wouldn’t have discovered what lay outside of traditional orthodoxy, but would have remained circumscribed within it. Our lives’ experience would have been no different from that of church going Christians worldwide. Nothing wrong with that, but I believe God meant us to do something different, and we did.

Another point of divergence was the liberal view of the Bible that our LL implied. In some aspects we were rather fundamentalists, but for the most part we saw the Spirit as supreme and gave more emphasis to its present utterances than those of antiquity. We did not regard ancient chauvinistic ideas, Old Testament rules, Pauline injunctions on women, sex, marriage and slavery as “word of God”, at least not for today.

Love and Freedom

We understood the Bible, as well as Christian history, as a progressive revelation, in which God continually liberated people from man-made religious bondage.

Each age or generation of the church has taken another step or some new step toward such freedom from the harsh restrictions of the law to the total freedom of love through the grace of god; from material symbolisms and mechanised ceremonialism to spiritual realities and total spiritual liberty–“the spirits of just men set free!” (David – The Law of Love)

The LL was the principle which led us across the boundaries of religious traditions, and stipulated the terms of our newfound liberty. Without love, in fact, there could be no freedom, for “Love never does anything that is harmful to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” and “he who loves another has fulfilled the law”.

The golden rule “Whatever you want people to do for you, do the same for them” was to be observed. Freedom used for personal advantage, but to the hurt of others, was sin and no true freedom.

Human nature, however, is what it is and recognizing something to be right in principles, doesn’t necessarily mean that we are able to do it. When it comes to religious matters, then the potential for misuse is even greater. Religion deals with many “spiritual” concepts that, when put into practice, don’t always play out as intended. That’s because the final outcome is more often determined by personal motivation, than by the lofty ideals that are invoked. That’s how, even under the pretext of enacting the LL, there came problems and abuses.

(End of part 1 of 4)

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