Back last week when picking up on the Jonathan Fletcher report, I noted that one of the central issues raised was a sense of fear among those who had been most affected by the abuse which affected their ability to come forward.
I concluded my article on “fear” with these words
If perfect love drives out fear, then we need to come back to that. It is not just a question of ticking boxes to say “people are not afraid.” We need to go a step further so that we can say with confidence that people in our churches know that they are loved.
It has struck me forcibly that we cannot simply hope to see good come out of this horrific affair if we simply look at negative controls. We need to look at the things said and done that ought not to have been said and done but we also need to look at the things we should have said and done but have not.
It is perhaps worth asking as conservative evangelicals which words people associate with our constituency and which they don’t. Now this is not based on any scientific study but I’m going to hazard a guess that the following words would feature heavily when describing conservative evangelicalism:
Word, Biblical, sound, solid, logic, reason, The Son, atonement, mind, intellect, analytical, apologetics, thoughtful, thinking strategic, evangelistic, energy, sharp.
And I suspect that the following words are much less likely to be associated with us.
Love, joy, warmth, The Holy Spirit, kindness, justice, listening, prayerful, empathy, feeling, intuition
Now, it’s worth saying that just because some words are more immediately associated with us stereotypically as a group that those things would be true of us each individually or that those words less associated with us are absent. Of course, it’s possible that people simply don’t see those things they don’t associate with us but in fact they are present.
I also want to say that the things on both lists are good and desirable.
It’s just that if people don’t associate the things on the second list so much with us then that should cause pause for thought and reflection.
I’m interested particularly in the word “love” and I want to come back to it because a couple of things strike me. The first is that I have so often heard the urgent need to qualify what we don’t mean by words like “love” and “comfort” lest anyone think us soft and soppy.
Furthermore, something that stood out to me during the week when the latest news about investigations and reports seems to me quite telling. I’ve frequently heard people talking about John being the apostle of love and his epistle being a love letter. I’ve also heard people suggest that conservative evangelicals prefer Paul and possible Luke and that’s linked to us being more focused on logic and facts than love and feelings.
Yet, spending time each day this last few weeks in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, what has struck me is not that we’ve missed out on love by failing to give attention to John but that we may have missed out on how much emphasis on love there is in Pauline theology. The whole letter to the Ephesians is a love letter, it’s saturated with love. It’s about the love God has lavished on us in choosing us, it’s about a desire for God’s people to know and experience that lavish outpoured loved, it’s about love that brings reconciliation and unity and it’s about being filled with the Holy Spirit so that we can sacrificially and humbly love one another and allow one another to love us (by mutual submission).
Now how have I missed that point in 41 years believing in Christ. How have I not got it in a letter I’ve particularly enjoyed spending time in and even wrote a dissertation on?
So, I want to repeat that point we started with. If we are going to tackle the problem of fear then we are going to need to rediscover love, joy, kindness.
Here’s a talk which picks up on that theme of love in Ephesians