What is ‘just love’?

The Ozanne Foundation’s strapline

A lot of organisations now have straplines which attempt to summarise what they stand for. Thus John Lewis uses ‘Never knowingly undersold,’ OFSTED ‘Raising standards – improving lives’ and the Church of England ‘A Christian presence in every community.’

The Ozanne Foundation, which supports the cause of LGBTI equality and which was launched amidst much publicity just before Christmas, has as its strapline ‘We believe in just love for all.’ This, it tells us, is what this new foundation stands for.

An important purpose of a strapline is to send out a positive message about the organisation that uses it in order to gain support for its activities. At first glance ‘We believe in just love for all’ succeeds in achieving this purpose because it sends out a message that resonates with two of the things that are almost universally accepted in our society. Almost everyone would say that they believe in the importance of love and the importance of justice. It would seem to follow that an organisation that indicates that it believes in both justice and love must be one that is worthy of support.

What is also important, however, is that a strapline should send a clear message about the beliefs and activities of the organisation concerned. Here the Ozanne Foundation is less successful because what it says is ambiguous. One the one hand, it could be saying that the Foundation believes in treating everyone with ‘just’ love, in the sense of nothing else but love. On the other hand it could be saying that it supports ‘just’ rather than ‘unjust’ love.

In the remainder of this article I shall explore these two ways of reading the Foundation’s strapline and explain why both of them, if taken seriously, actually undermine the very cause for which it stands.

What is love?

If we start with the first way of reading the strapline, what we are being told is that the Ozanne Foundation believes in loving everyone. This would seem to be an unproblematic statement. Surely believing in universal love has to be a good thing?

However, there is a problem with this statement. The problem is that it begs the question as to what it means to love everyone.

This question arises because the word ‘love’ has multiple meanings. Consider the following the three sentences. I love cheese toasties. I love my mother. I love the woman I have just married. Each of these sentences uses the word love, but in each of them (hopefully!) the word is being used in a different sense. If the subject of sentence three regards his new wife in the same way that he regards his mother then he is in deep trouble. Equally, he is in deep trouble if he regards her in the same way as a cheese toastie.

Down the centuries the fact that love can have different meanings has been noted and philosophers and theologians have classified these different meanings in a variety of ways (a helpful introduction to these classifications can be found in C S Lewis’ book The Four Loves). A useful way of classifying the different meanings of love is to say that the word can refer to five things.

First, love is used to refer to the strongly positively feeling that we have towards certain things. Thus someone might say ‘I love cheese toasties, the music of the Bee Gees, and the beach at Cromer.’

Secondly, love is used to refer to the affectionate feelings we have (or should have) towards the members of our families, as in ‘I love my mother, my father, and my big sister.’

Thirdly, love is used to refer to the feelings we have towards those with whom we are close friends. Thus we can talk about the love between David and Jonathan in the Bible (a love ‘passing the love of women’ – 2 Samuel 1:26) and the love between Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee that lies at the heart of The Lord of the Rings.

Fourthly, love is used to refer to what is known as ‘erotic love’, the strong combination of emotional and sexual desire that we can have for another man or woman.

From a Christian perspective these four forms of love can be regarded as positive aspects of being human. God has created us to enjoy things such as food, music and beautiful places, to have strong affection for our families and friends and to experience erotic attraction.

However, the Christian faith also tells us that there is a fifth form of love which is more important than the previous four. As C S Lewis note in Mere Christianity, this kind of love (what he calls ‘charity’) is ‘quite a different thing from liking or affection.’ It is this kind of love that St. Augustine refers to when he says that God ‘loved even when he hated us’ and to which Jesus refers when he tells us that we are to ‘love our enemies’ (Matthew 5:44).

This kind of love is an act of will that seeks to do good to someone because of the value that we perceive that person to have, regardless of whether we feel like doing so or not.

This is the kind of love that God has for us because of the value we have as creatures made by him in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). It is the kind of love that he showed by sending Jesus to rescue us from sin and death. ‘But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

It is also the kind of love that we are called to show towards God and our ‘neighbour’ (i.e. every other human being). As our infinitely wise and good creator, God has infinite value and we are called to reflect this by living in obedience to him regardless of whether we feel like doing so or not. As part of this obedience we are also called to reflect the immense value of each and every human being. We do this through acting in a way that promotes their good by enabling them to flourish as the people God made them to be (again regardless of whether we feel like it or not).

This fifth kind of love does not necessarily involve affirmation. It can do so on occasions when affirming someone is in accordance with truth and is what will enable them to flourish. However, on other occasions loving someone will involve opposing how they behave even while we still continue to value them as someone created by God. The old saying that we should ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner’ is often criticised nowadays, but it encapsulates brilliantly how God behaves towards us and how we should therefore behave towards other people.

To quote Augustine again: ‘[God] hated us when we were such as he had not made us, and yet because our iniquity had not destroyed his work in every respect, he knew in regard to each one of us, to hate what we had made, and love what he had made.’ We are called to do likewise. Thus we are called to love the alcoholic but hate his enslavement to alcohol. Likewise we are called to love an adulteress, but hate her adultery.

Just and unjust love

It is this fifth kind of love that fulfils the twin commandments to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love our neighbour as ourself (Leviticus 19:18) which Jesus said form the basis for all the other commandments of God found in the Old Testament (Matthew 22:34-40).

This statement by Jesus points us to the truth that when we are talking about the fifth kind of love we have described, the concept of ‘just love’ (in the sense of love that is just rather than unjust) is a tautology, like talking about a ‘three sided triangle,’ or a ‘human man.’ This because the classic definition of justice is to give everyone their due and what we owe God and other people is that we love them according to this fifth kind of love. When we love God and human beings in this way we automatically act justly towards them. The commandments contained in the Old Testament, and the ethical instructions contained in the New Testament, are specifications of what it means to act with love (and therefore act justly) in particular situations. They teach us how to love rightly and therefore act justly.

It is important to note, however, that it only this fifth kind of love that is automatically just. The other four kinds of love that we have noted (love of things, love of family, love of friends and erotic love) may, or may not, lead to just behaviour.

We can see this if we consider the simple example of love for a cheese toastie. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to eat a cheese toastie. This is because of the basic New Testament principle that God created food ‘to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth’ (1 Timothy 4:3). Wanting to eat food that God has created for us to enjoy is therefore in itself perfectly acceptable.

Furthermore it is possible to envisage situations in which our love for cheese toasties leads us to behaviour which fulfils the twin commands to love God and neighbour. For example our love for cheese toasties may lead us to make them to feed the hungry or to give them away free as part of an outreach event designed to commend the gospel to university students. In both cases we would be showing love to our neighbour and if our acts were motivated by love for God we would be showing love to him as well.

However, it is also possible to think of scenarios in which our love for cheese toasties leads us to act in a way which goes against our obligation to love God and neighbour. For example, we might be led to steal a cheese toastie, or eat one ourselves instead of giving it to someone in need of food. In both these cases there would be a failure to love our neighbour (the shopkeeper and the person in need of food) and to love God who has told us to not to steal (Exodus 20:15) and to give bread to the hungry (Ezekiel 18:7).

One can extend these sorts of scenarios to cover all of the first four kinds of love. Thus friendship may lead us to sacrifice our life to save our neighbour’s, or it may lead us to lie on his behalf. Both forms of behaviour might equally be motivated by love of a friend, but one would be just and the other unjust.

The bottom line is that when thinking about a claim that behaviour motivated by love is just behaviour we have to ask whether it is compatible with love for God and neighbour. Only if this is the case is that behaviour truly just.

The aims of the Ozanne Foundation and why they are problematic

According to its website the purpose of the Ozanne foundation is to combat discrimination against LGBTI people.

At first sight this might seem to be seem to be an entirely loving and therefore just thing to do. LGBTI people (like all other people) have been created by God in his image and likeness and therefore have immense value which we are called upon to respect. It would seem to follow that love for God and neighbour requires combatting discrimination against them and the aim of the Ozanne Foundation is one we should support.

However, in reality things are not that simple. The known views of Jayne Ozanne and her supporters and the publicity linked to the launch of the Foundation make it clear that what they mean by combatting discrimination against LGBTI people involves getting people (particularly religious people) to accept:

  1. That it is right for two people of the same sex to have a sexual relationship;
  2. That someone can be of a different sex from the sex of their body;
  3. That it is right for people to claim to be of a sex that is neither male nor female.

As they see it, it is only when these points are accepted that discrimination against LGBTI people will have come to an end.

Unfortunately, accepting these points and acting upon then would not be an example of ‘just love.’ This is because Scripture (in the creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2 and in the rest of the biblical text building on them) and reason, looking at the observable reality of what human beings are like, tell us that:

  • The human race is a dimorphic species consisting of men and women whose sex is determined by the biology of their bodies;
  • Sexual intercourse is designed to take place between men and women and has its purpose not only physical and emotional pleasure, but the procreation of children;
  • God ordained marriage between two people of the opposite sex as the sole legitimate setting for sexual intercourse.

Loving God and loving neighbour means thankfully accepting that this is how God in his wisdom and goodness created us to be, living according to this created pattern ourselves, and encouraging and supporting others to do likewise.

It is true, of course, that there are people who are sexually attracted to people of their own sex, people who feel that their true sex is different from their biological sex and a very small number of people whose biology combines both male and female elements.

From a Christian perspective, however, these people’s experiences are not due to God’s creative intention, but are instead a result of the disorder introduced into the world as a result of the Fall, a disorder which Christ came into the world to overcome. As a result, love for God and neighbour does not mean accepting this disorder as something good, but seeking to combat it by helping the people involved to live in a way that reflects as far as possible God’s original creative intention, in anticipation of God’s final kingdom in which all things will finally be made whole.

For this reason, the real aims of the Ozanne Foundation belie their claim to stand for ‘just love for all’ and are therefore aims which we should not support

M B Davie 5.1.18

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