Christian Living

Loving Someone Doesn’t Mean Accepting Their Behavior

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 03/01/2016

We all have people in our lives with whom we disagree. We’re against some people’s ideas. We’re against some people’s behaviors. We’re against some people’s attitudes and inclinations. Despite our differences, though, in most cases we’re still in a relationship with them. We might not say we “love” them, but oftentimes we do love them in a non-romantic, I’m-committed-to-you kind of love.

Sometimes I think our hypersensitive and superficial world wants to change that, though. If you say someone is wrong, you’re labeled as mean, hateful, or some other pejorative term. This is especially true when it comes to homosexuality. If you believe your friend or family member’s homosexual behavior is morally wrong, you’re probably thought of as unloving. Indeed, it’s no longer enough to tolerate a person who satisfies their same-sex attraction; you’re expected to celebrate them.

It’s not just non-believers who think this way. I hear this kind of talk even from Christians who adopt pro-gay theology, the view that the Bible is gay-affirming or neutral about homosexual sex. They usually baptize this idea by saying God loves everyone and we’re all His children. While it’s certainly true God loves everyone, He also makes moral demands throughout the Bible.

In fact, all through Scripture we see God and Jesus point out sin but still love the people who engage in it. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We not only engaged in wrong behavior, our attitudes and inclinations were against God. That’s because we’re all born with a spiritually genetic condition that produces a natural inclination towards beliefs, desires, and behaviors that God says are wrong. We’re all born that way. We all have an orientation towards sin. Despite our moral crimes and hostility towards God, He still loves us.

Why is it, then, that gay-affirming Christians don’t accuse God of being unloving when He condemns immoral thoughts, desires, and behaviors? He, of all personal beings in the universe, makes the most number of moral demands on the lives of free people. He also levies the harshest judgments. Given this harsh record, He’s still described as loving.

That’s why it’s possible for us, human beings made in God’s image, to do the same. In fact, we’re commanded to love people even though every person we encounter does wrong. Certainly there are some people who don’t love others with whom they disagree, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many Christians who love people they think are violating God’s commands. I can think of all sorts of situations where I’m against a person’s ideas, desires, inclinations, or behavior but still genuinely love them. Here are three quick examples.

  • The Church: I’ve been going to church for a long time. I’ve worked with pastors, elders, and other staff. I’ve worked in youth ministry, participated on a pastoral search team committee, and served on a commission board. During this time, I’ve met many fellow believers who are—let’s just say—not my type. We didn’t get along. Our quarrels were over who they were, what they believed, and what they want to accomplish in the church. Despite my grievances with them, I loved these brothers and sisters. I worked hard to treat them with respect and show them I care in light of our many disagreements.
  • My family: I have family relationships with people I have issues with. My kids sometimes misbehave (boast, lie, cheat, etc.) and I discipline them for their immoral behavior. Do I still love them? Absolutely! In fact, I would argue that if I didn’t love them, I wouldn’t discipline them when they act immorally. I’ll offer an even more extreme example. If my daughter (when she is older) moved in with her boyfriend, I’d be vigorously opposed and angry with my daughter. She might try to tell me she’s in love with him, that it’s natural to be together, and that they’re made for each other. There’s no excuse she could give me that would make me condone her behavior, but there’s also nothing she could do to stop me from loving her. I’ve also had situations where I thought my wife’s behavior or attitude was wrong (and, by the way, many times where she’s thought my behavior or attitude was wrong!). Sometimes my concerns with her have lasted many months. Despite these issues, I love my wife, dearly! I’ve even had family members (who claimed to be Christian) divorce for unbiblical reasons, rendering them ineligible to remarry. When they asked me to attend their next wedding, I told them I couldn’t because of what Scripture teaches about marriage, divorce, and remarriage (Matthew 5:32, Luke 16:18, etc.). That’s a big deal, but I still love that family member. If you were to ask them today, “Does Alan love you?” I can guarantee they’d emphatically say, “Yes!” Why? Because I can oppose people’s attitudes and behaviors, but still love them.
  • My friends: I’ve had non-Christian friends throughout my life. All of them engage in behaviors I would describe (because Scripture describes) as sin. I know some of them have sex before marriage. Some cheat on their taxes. Some steal movies by downloading them illegally. Some find it natural to lie when they get in trouble. Some find it natural to lust when they see attractive women. The list goes on. But I love those friends. I spend time with them, go to the movies with them, play tennis with them, talk about my hopes and dreams and fears with them, and basically behave how you’d expect someone to behave with a friend they love. I don’t celebrate their sinful behavior, but I do love them. Is it hard for me to love them? No. I love to love them! Why? Because Christians who uphold classical Christianity and classical Christian values routinely love people whom they believe are in rebellion towards God. It’s not that hard when the Holy Spirit lives in you.

It doesn’t matter how a friend who identifies as gay describes himself to me. He might say he’s a gay man, has a natural attraction towards the same sex, engages in gay sex, or something else. It doesn’t matter if his description is about his behavior, identity, inclination, sexual attraction, gender, or whatever. I know I love him (or her, in the cases where they identify as lesbian) even though Scripture claims his inclinations are misdirected and condemns his behavior.

I’m not denying there are Christians who are hateful towards homosexuals. I know there are. I’ve met a few and spoken to them about their feelings. But these people are not the same as the vast majority of conservative Christians I’ve talked to across the country over the last decade who unapologetically affirm Scripture’s condemnation of homosexual sex, yet vigorously love those who engage in it. Ignoring this distinction is irresponsible and assumes the worse of people who practice true civility.