What does it mean to really love somebody?

I’ve argued repeatedly on this blog that loving somebody means aiming for God’s best for their life, which means that it’s not about being nice; it’s about being good. It’s about serving them, and looking out for their best interests, and putting them first. It’s about caring for their heart and treating them with gentleness. It’s also about not enabling them to do things to hurt themselves (so it means confronting porn use, or not putting up with emotional abuse). But it means looking at life through the lens of “how can I best care for this person”? It means laying down your own life and sacrificing to help them. It’s others-focused, not me-focused.

Yesterday I was talking about the struggle I have with the fact that the best solution to so many marriage problems is to get a good Christian community around you–and yet I know at the same time that many of you are in church situations where the church may actually make it worse.

Some churches don’t practice love as much as they practice control. 

I found a few things on the internet yesterday that I do want to share, so let me take today to give you some examples of what it looks like when a church is “covered in love”, and when it isn’t.

5 Common Mistakes Churches Make When Helping Wives of Porn Addicts

This is an EXCELLENT post from Covenant Eyes. Just excellent. I wish I had written it! She talks about minimizing the wife’s pain; talking about how she might have contributed to it; rushing her to forgive; and more. If I could contribute one overarching thing, it’s this: I think sometimes counsellors and churches are focused on saving the marriage rather than saving the people in the marriage. They get their goal wrong.

Jesus is not more concerned about the marriage than He is the people in it. And if we care properly for the people, we’ll end up building a stronger marriage anyway! This is why so much marriage advice is trite. We get the focus wrong.

Why does this dynamic happen? Often because the person who is sinned against is the one who is the easiest to control. The sinner is harder; he’s already shown that he sins, and that he’s likely to mess up again. So to save the marriage, it’s easier to focus on getting the person who hasn’t done wrong to change things and make life easier for the sinner, rather than to pressure the one who has done wrong to make everything right.

A church which is so focused on saving the marriage that it doesn’t care for you well is not being loving. That doesn’t mean that the church is bad, by the way. Pastors just haven’t been taught how to counsel properly, and many are in over their heads. But if you’re experiencing this, it’s okay to say, “I need a trained counsellor.”

(affiliate links ahead!)

Remember, too, you can get a month free of Covenant Eyes when you use my link! And with Christmas coming, and many of us buying gadgets for family members, now’s a good time to make sure they’re protected.

Some Church Exposes It’s Worth Reading

There’s a tendency for all of us  (especially me!) to glory in other people messing up. It helps us feel superior.

I hope we’re not doing that. But at the same time, I do want to raise awareness of three big issues in the wider Christian church that all dropped this week. This isn’t because I want us to gloat; it’s because, as I said above, I want you all to be in healthy Christian community, and I’m afraid some aren’t. And when you aren’t, it’s sometimes hard to see it, let alone admit it to yourself. So that’s why I’d like to encourage you to read these exposes–so that you can see what problems in churches look like, and identify when you may need to make a change.

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches

The first I mentioned in my post yesterday–the expose into the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches. This is not to say that all churches of that denomination are terrible places. But when a problem is this rampant, it really is worth asking hard questions at your church to see what the attitude towards sexual abuse is, and whether the church will put the needs and well-being of women and children ahead of the well-being of pastors and predators. I wrote about this a lot this year, and I won’t repeat it all, but this is important.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Admits its Racist Past

Two days ago, the SBTS wrote a report detailing the fact that it was founded by four slave-owners, and that slavery and racism were part of its heritage. They say they are disavowing that heritage, but they also say they will not rename buildings or take away the history or heritage, or study whether their theology may lead to racism. I’m glad they took this step; I pray they will go further.

Harvest Bible Chapel

Yesterday, when I wrote the post about healthy Christian community, I didn’t know that that was the very day that Julie Roys’ in-depth investigation into HBC would be published in World Magazine. I’ve been following this case for quite a while, and especially rooting for Julie, because a few weeks ago James MacDonald and Harvest sued two bloggers from The Elephant’s Debt blog, their wives, and Julie Roys for defamation. The Elephant’s Debt blog has, for several years, been publishing accounts of alleged financial mismanagement and spiritual abuse that is happening at Harvest. Julie was working on this investigation for World Magazine, but had not even published it yet when she was sued. And the wives had not been part of this at all, but Harvest named them in the lawsuit anyway, and then proceeded to completely ignore them, talking about “three defendants”, even though they named five. So they hurt Melinda Mahoney and Sarah Bryant by suing them, and then hurt them again by completely ignoring them. So weird.

As a blogger, I must stand with other bloggers when ridiculous lawsuits are launched. This truly grieves me.

I’m so proud of Julie for publishing her piece despite the legal war against her. The piece is long, and it is disturbing to read. But everything that she has documented has at least two to three witnesses. The important stuff is really the financial shenanigans (although having a dartboard with elders’ wives faces and shooting darts at them, while making some elders’ wives worth more than others? Really? And people think that’s funny?). But I want to point out one interaction Julie writes about that pertains to Luke MacDonald, James’ son. Julie writes:

Maldaner said that when he first announced his intentions to resign and plant a church, Harvest crafted a resignation letter and asked him to sign it. The letter included a noncompete clause pledging not to participate in a ministry “within a 50-mile radius of Chicago.” It also included an admission of misconduct (although the Harvest HR director told Maldaner no record of misconduct existed on his file).

Maldaner refused to sign the letter or a subsequent draft. From then on, he experienced a tense and deteriorating relationship with the church. Maldaner said that on his last Sunday at Harvest, James MacDonald’s son, Executive Ministry Pastor Luke MacDonald, approached him after the service and accused him of recruiting people for his church plant. Maldaner said that when he denied recruiting anybody, Luke called him a “liar” in front of Lilly, his 6-year-old daughter, and bystanders in the auditorium. Former Harvest member Mark Gagliardi witnessed the incident and confirmed Maldaner’s account, though he said he couldn’t hear the entire conversation. (WORLD asked Harvest for a comment from Luke MacDonald: The church responded that the details of the conversation with Maldaner “are not a matter of public discussion and are covered in love.”)

Julie Roys

Reporter, World Magazine

Let’s just focus on that last phrase for a moment–“covered in love”. This is a tactic that I have seen at many legalistic churches where power is consolidated at the top. Because only a certain group of people get to decide what happens in the church, they also get to define things. They get to say:

  • We are following God’s will, therefore everyone who is against us is against God. (hence when Harvest fired and shunned two elders for asking to see a line item budget, the remaining elders told the congregation that to question a decision made by the elders’ board is “satanic to the core”.)
  • We are doing what is right, therefore if you disagree with us you are wrong.
  • We are God’s chosen, therefore everything we do is automatically good.
  • We are appointed by God, therefore everything we do is in love.

It can make you feel like you’re in a 1984 novel, where words lose their meaning. Actions, words, everything is redefined based on who is doing them, not based on the actions or words themselves.

So if a leader in the church does something, it’s automatically right. If a congregant disagrees, it’s automatically wrong. 

Let’s set the stage here. Maldaner isn’t happy at Harvest, and has decided to go out and start a new church. He feels called to it. Presumably he’s wrestled in prayer about this and has decided that it’s important to do. This happens at many churches. In our town, I’ve even seen it stem from a pastor’s team where one pastor felt like the church was going in a direction he wasn’t on board with, so he decided to start a new church. And you know what? It was all done amicably. The church recognized that the pastors had different approaches, saw that they were both called by God, and blessed them to go their separate directions. And both churches in our town are now doing well.

Deciding that you are called elsewhere is not a bad thing, in and of itself.

But how was it handled? Luke MacDonald (as several witnesses attest) berated this man, in public, and called him a liar in front of his 6-year-old daughter. But Harvest now says that conversation was “covered in love.”

This is what I want you to hear, dear readers: if someone treats you badly, but then says that they did it “out of love”, that is not love! It’s not love if it’s a pastor, if it’s a mother, if it’s a husband, if it’s an elder, or if it’s a friend. People don’t get to just declare “my motives are pure, so you have no right to question me.” If your actions are not loving, then you are not being loving, no matter how many Bible verses you quote or what you say. You don’t get to define things to suit you.

In the comments yesterday, a woman wrote that her church started demanding that she take certain steps regarding a husband’s addiction. She didn’t feel that was right, but the church said that she shouldn’t be thinking for herself, but had to do what the elders told her. That’s not healthy. That’s not right. Churches should be guiding and steering, but they should never take away your decision-making ability.

If you are in a Church that says it’s “covered in love”, but is anything but, then it’s okay to look elsewhere

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be remembering how our God was humble enough that He left heaven to take on human form, in all of its frailty and pain, in order to show us how to love, and to forge a way back so that we could be reconciled with Him. He loved us so much He sacrificed everything for us. He knows our pain. He walks with us in our struggles. And His love knows no bounds.

That is Jesus. That is what it means to be “covered in love.” This season, let’s focus on the heart of God again–a God who is not focused on power, but on love. And as we do that, let’s pray that Jesus will lead all of us towards true expressions of faith and community that focus, first and foremost, on real love.

Healthy Churches Run by Love, Not by Power

Thank you for letting me talk about this today. My heart is heavy. There is so much more I want to say, but I know that’s not the focus of this blog. But this is so important, and I hope that God will use yesterday’s post and today’s post to help some of you process better any difficult church situations you’re a part of.

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