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The Law of Love – Part 3 of 4

July 26, 2013
Psalm 51

Psalm 51 (Photo credit: Daniel Y. Go)

Personal experience

Perhaps it would help if I told of my own experience, not because I like to talk about myself, but because it could make things clearer and more relatable. To start, I think it’s safe to assume that, at the time, we all agreed with the theological reasoning behind the LL. We liked how it removed the fear, constrains and guilt trips, usually associated with religion, and allowed us to simply follow Love. This opened a wonderful new road, one that we were already predisposed for, but for which none of us was fully prepared.

Liberation from pre-packaged morality and dutiful religious behaviour, lead us to learn by experience what worked and what didn’t, and it wasn’t a painless process. Where personal conscience remained intact, it was a valid compass for when we didn’t feel so loving, to keep us on track in spite of our human weakness. If we listened to it, conscience told us what the right and loving thing was.

I am ashamed to admit, however, that I often ignored that voice and did my own thing. I have been young, selfish and immature. I have had my fun and done things which I regret, thankfully, no sex with minors. Come to think of it, it is not the sexual freedoms that caused my biggest regrets, but shutting myself off to others. I wish I could go back, apologize and make things right, but some of it might need to wait for the next life.

As liberating as the LL is, it does not erase guilt, but increases it, because it demands a higher ethical standard. For example, the LL does not allow us to hide behind religious legalism and shun “difficult” people, labelling them as sinners, apostates, heretics or whatever. The LL is indiscriminate in its love and removes all excuses for not loving others as ourselves; therefore it causes us to need God’s forgiveness even more, as well as that of others.

So the LL had a double effect on me, it liberated me but also pointed me to higher standards for life. In the end, it isn’t so much the mistakes I made trying to apply it, that shame me most, but my failure to aim for it more fully. It’s the realization that I have been a poor husband, a poor father and a poor missionary; that I sought my own comfort above that of others, that I acted selfishly and hurt others, in word and in deed, by my indifference; all this while hiding behind the pretense of a “greater good”, thinking I was following a higher code of love, permitted to me by the LL. Under such pretense, I did not so much seek sexual exploits, but worse, I distanced myself from others, I pushed them away, even those who had previously been by my side, and caused them grief.

In hindsight, I see that this would have most likely happened anyway, LL or no LL. I am what I am and, regardless of religious beliefs and expectations, it was still me. The problem, with religious institutions, is that one can hide behind a role, an image of sorts, advance his religious career and masqueraded his true self.

Role playing can be positive, if it helps to reach for better things, but it can also be deceiving. I said earlier that the LL eliminated hypocrisy, but I was referring mainly to a specific type of it, that sanctimonious, ascetic-like pretense of the religious moralist. Our application of the LL, on the other hand, produced another type of hypocrisy.

Liberty can be faked, peer pressure and the tendency to model one’s behavior after that of “exalted” individuals, can cause pretense. With us, if most people did something, it became accepted, if a leader did it, it was as if “recommended”. True of every institution or group? Yes, indeed! – But good to recognize it nonetheless.

The down side of such group dynamics is that personal conscience and self-determination are lessened, and sometimes overruled. That’s where and how the principles of the LL were unable to function as intended and, in some cases, even resulted in sexual contact with minors.

Whether this might have originated with David I can’t say, but I know that in the mission field, where I was most of my adult life, I did not see it happen. Our constant engagement in missionary work did keep us pretty focused, and even the LL was mostly seen in relation to our mission.

It is not that there weren’t moment of relax and simple humanness, in which mistakes could have happened relating to the LL, for they did. But in the thirty years that I lived in mission fields I never witnessed the kind of abuses that I was told happened elsewhere.

I have lived and worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of people during that period. They were first and foremost missionaries, parents and dedicated people who wouldn’t have thought of using their liberties in such a way. Of course I could have missed what happened behind closed doors, but in a communal setting it’s hard to.

I assume that such an environment was made possible by the fact that personal conscience remained intact. Though nobody is sinless, the voice of the LL within our hearts, didn’t allow us to stray too far. We read the same things, believed the same things, but never saw within it a license to take advantage of others.

Was the Law of Love the problem?

Were we to examine the reasons and rationale for abuses, which occurred under the pretext of the LL, we might discover that the LL was not the real cause. Most likely there were other factors, and the LL was the excuse. In the case of paedophile priests, for example, the blame is often placed on the opposite condition, on their strict celibacy. The fact is that the real reasons go much deeper than what can be blamed on an overly permissive or overly rigorous environments.

Clearly there needs to be safety nets, and that’s why there are laws, both for the liberal and the conservative. In each country, it is the legal authorities who enforce these, employing deterrents, even fear of consequences, to curb abuse and crime. Though religion is also concerned about human behavior, it takes a different approach.

Christian ideals and methods do not mix well with politics and legal systems. For example, being a Christian does liberate a person and does also restrain him from wrongdoing, but it’s something that comes from within and not from without. The liberty and self-control of a Christian, do not derive from legal or political pressure. Undoubtedly, Christianity does impact politics and the formation of legal systems, but it can never substitute itself to them, and the reverse is also true. That’s why so many favour the separation of state and religions, because when the two are joined you can no longer tell them apart.

The Christianity that Jesus taught, can never be a complete system in itself, but must work within this world and its powers, as the apostle Paul also recognized (Romans 13). In fact, when Christianity imposed itself, through imperial laws and decrees, it stopped being what it was and turned into something else.

It is well understood, that imposing right behaviour through rules and consequences, does not change the inner disposition of a person, but merely controls it from without. Clearly, such impositions are necessary to the proper functioning of society, but we could never consider them the final aim of our existence, nor the way to attain to it. From a Christian standpoint, knowing that God desires inward truth, it’s obvious that rules and consequences are of a limited and temporary scope, like that of OT laws.

Contrary to some interpretations, the aim of Christianity is not to replace this present world with the Kingdom of God. That, if anything, is God’s work but, from Constantine onward, many kings and bishops tried to steal His thunder and do it themselves. The results were anything but Christian. Christianity’s aim is to simply bring the Kingdom of God, and His ways, into individual lives. God is first and foremost a personal God and his kingdom starts within each of us.

Within this context, the liberty of the LL is a forward-looking view into a kingdom in which Love rules, which may already be here, for a few, but not for all, and not even a majority. It’s like a goal, a principle and a vision that some can aim for, grow towards and even apply, but to a degree and never fully. Because of human nature, it’s something that can never be applied across the board, on any society. If it was, only some would find it mentally, emotionally and spiritually liberating, while most would find it abusive and disastrous.

Variety of perspectives

In our seeking to build the ideal society, we did try the LL across the board, as a guiding principle for all. Thought it first appeared as a revelation, a doctrine, a fundamental principle of New Testament Christianity, it soon became policy. As it impacted the sexual sphere, some took unfair advantage of it and the first problems arose.

The undesired offshoots of the LL were resolved by declaring that David hadn’t foreseen them, and thus failed to institute sufficient safeguards. At the time this sounded reasonable but there was a bigger problem lurking behind it. The response, being rooted on the assumption that the LL was already an “instituted” policy, aimed at correcting problems by instituting similar countermeasures. By so doing, instead of lessening the institutional status of the LL, it further consolidated it.

This is how our directors thought at the time, so they invested much effort into making the LL a balanced and safe institutional system for everyone. Tomes were written, on how it should and should not be applied, to marriage, premarital sex, separations, and families with kids, minors, etc. It was all well-intentioned and it did remove all possible justifications for abuse, but there was a down side. Instead of lessening the institutional status of LL, it consolidated it even further.

The LL was finally and permanently removed from its idealistic and theological status. Instead of returning to the realm of faith and freedom of speech, it was effectively turned into law, for thousands of people around the world. By so accurately ruling out what couldn’t be done, by implication, we equally ruled in what could be done. That which could only belong to the realm of personal faith, was thus confirmed as “official” policy.

Imposed liberty is no liberty; it will turn into something else. That which violates personal faith and conscience, will not make people happy, but fuel resentment and rebellion. I know that, given the circumstances, it was probably the best they could do, but the effects were not as planned.

I believe this is why, at present, there are such mixed feelings about the LL. Some are enthusiastic, having experienced God’s loving power working through it, to change lives for the better. Other, instead, feel hurt because they were pressured into things which they would have not chosen for themselves. Many more, I believe, experienced a bit of both and that’s maybe why they concluded that the idea was too messy, so best to leave it aside and talk of it no more.

(End of part 3 of 4)

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