June 5, 2015 by Devin
In 2011, Rob Bell released a promo for his book, Love Wins, which inspired a lot of debate and discussion. For those who have not seen it, I’ve embedded it below.
In this promo, Rob Bell asks a series of really tough questions and issues about theology and the afterlife, but instead of answering those questions, he ends the promo saying, “Love wins.”
I understand what he was trying to do here. He was trying to take this conversation about heaven and hell and frame it from a human perspective. In other words, if you are going to say, “Gandhi is in hell,” we should confront that idea and examine it. We should understand that Gandhi was a person and not just an idea, and so when you say he is suffering for eternity, you should understand the implications of that.
Too many Christians actually devalue the life of a person because of their theology. I wrote about this before, but the gist of this issue is this: if you are happy that people are suffering in hell, then there is probably something wrong with you. Most Christians just do not think about it, but too many separate the conversation about heaven and hell from the people they say are going to heaven and hell (Rachel Held Evans writes more about this in The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart).
Rob Bell was framing that conversation back towards the human angle, saying, “If you are going to say that Gandhi is in hell, you have to keep in mind that love wins.” This framing worked as an introduction and as a teaser to his book, setting the viewers up for the kinds of conversations he wanted to have while also enticing interest in seeing exactly what he meant by that.
The problem is that too many people have taken Bell’s introduction and used it as a conclusion, take “Love Wins” as an answer instead of a prompt.
“Are atheists or Muslims going to hell?”
“Love wins, man.”
“What about people who commit suicide? How does God look at them?”
“Man, love wins.”
“Should gay people be allowed to marry?”
“Love, man, it wins.”
(I want to point out that here, I am using “Love Wins” to describe a mindset, not the phrase verbatim. Feel free to substitute, “It’s all about love,” “God is love, man,” and whatever other variations you may have heard)
This is a problem because, as an answer, “Love Wins” does not actually say anything, and yet it sounds nice enough to put people’s minds at ease to whatever tough issue they were thinking about.
The mentality, by the way, is not specifically a liberal one. In fact, because it does not say anything, it has been adopted by both sides extensively.
For liberal Christians, the Love Wins mentality has led to stunted growth when confronted with tough issues. Too many times has it felt like Christians are totally okay with saying the Church has screwed up everything with homosexuals, that current teachings on homosexuality are toxic, and that they do not want to be like the generation before them–all good things.
But when it comes to actually saying it is okay to be gay and that it is not a sin? “Eh, love wins.”
Look, if you say this, you may not be part of the problem. You may not be the one attacking homosexual rights or, to use another example, contributing to a sexist culture, but if this describes you, then you are also definitely not part of the solution.
You are not helping; you are just not hurting.
For conservative Christians, the Love Wins mentality adopts the trappings and phrasings of compassion and empathy while hiding the truly judgmental and disturbing sides of beliefs.
Take, for example, this article by Carlos Rodríguez, the one that inspired me to write this blog post in the first place: “How God Made Bruce Jenner.” For those unaware, the person formerly known as Bruce Jenner recently revealed that she is actually a transgender woman and prefers to go by Caitlyn Jenner. She is a pretty famous figure, so her reveal has come with a lot of discussions and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
It is important to note that this is a really sensitive issue. Almost half of transgender teens attempt to commit suicide. Why? Because of a society that does not accept them. Gender dysphoria is a real psychological disorder, one that is helped by supporting individuals become the gender they wish to identify as, not shaming them into not accepting how we think they should view themselves.
Rodríguez knows about the suicide rate. He mentions it at the bottom of his article. His whole post is about how we should love Jenner. “God made Bruce Jenner to be loved,” he says.
I actually cannot get over that quote. For all his talk about loving Jenner, Rodríguez simply does not get that the ideas he is contributing to the problem he says he is trying to solve.
In order to describe why we should love Jenner, Rodríguez decides that it is best to compare Jenner to thieves, drunkards, and adulterers, and he does while continually refusing to gender Caitlyn Jenner correctly. Gender dysphoria can be at least dealt with by supporting the individuals in their efforts to be more like the genders of their brains, but misgendering them goes directly against that.
In other words, Rodríguez sees how transgender people live in this tough and difficult situation, and he decides to simultaneously admonish everyone to love them while also contributing to making the situation tougher and more difficult.
This article, “I Will Call You Loved,” takes a similar approach. The author will call Caitlyn, “Loved,” but the author refuses to call Caitlyn, “Caitlyn.” You can call her, “loved,” all you want, but that is still not a very loving approach.
This hits on my main point. “Love wins” sounds like a higher answer to the problems of today, one that hits at what is really important, but it is actually the opposite, a well-meaning and gentle sounding solution that does not actually solve anything. Yes, love is the most important thing, and yes, we should be focused on loving each other more than all, but to quote the immortal DC Talk: “Luv is a verb.”
You may absolutely love your gay friends and want the best for them, but saying “I love you” does not give them job protection from discrimination or allow them to see their loved ones in the hospital. Instead of deciding that “love wins,” maybe envision what “love winning” would actually look like and actively make steps to get there.
And if you are not sure what that looks like, try talking to the people you are trying to love and see what kind of love they want to see.
You could at least call them by their name.
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Remember: suicide is never the answer. If you need someone to talk to, call 1 (800) 273-8255 or visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. There are people who want to talk to you.