Don’t ask me if I love Jesus

“Do you love Jesus?” he asked me.

I sighed, but I didn’t answer.

Ordinarily I’d simply let such a question go as graciously as I could and move on. But the person asking is the closest friend I’ve had for the last 35 years. I wanted him to understand the damage of such words. A healthy debate ensued. Nothing, as is almost often the case in such things, came as a result. It was simply a massive 30-minute clusterfuck of ideas that changed neither of us. It was, as Ecclesiastes states about much of our best intentions: vanity.

But this question, and many, many others just like it (“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior?” “Do you have God in your hear?”) drill deep into the depths of why the “brand” of Jesus so confounds and confuses those who might benefit the most from the personhood of Jesus.

Asking someone if they love Jesus is like offering a secret society handshake. If you say, yes, then you are in. If you hesitate even the slightest bit, not only are you not in, but you are in need: in need of “truth,” in need of Salvation, in need of Jesus. The person asking you will likely do his or her level best to give you all of the above so you can get in, while internally feeling sadden by your “lost” state. It’s a given: Those asking if I love Jesus are right and unless I give a gushy, enthusiastic, hearty “yes!” before time’s up, I’m wrong.

If only life and faith and God and love were so easy.

If you say, “why, yes… I do love Jesus,” it means you belong in their mind, and more importantly you believe as they do, which means you’d feel perfectly comfortable and fit in here:

Which I don’t. Not that I mind. I’ve been in those things and they can be very meaningful. I’ve had some wonderful experiences with the Divine amid all the sparkly, contrived, polished performances of ardent evangelicals. I’ve had a decent time connecting with God during what my best friend calls “the happy clappy worship” that has become so … what’s the word… canned, comes to mind… but I’ll go with commonplace.

ButthankyouNO, I’m not going to answer your question. I’m not doing the secret handshake and not going to assuage your concerns for my salvation and not for a minute going to allow this “brand” of Jesus–with all its arrogance and judgement and exclusion and wealth, and greed and yes, power, things the actually living, breathing person of Jesus spoke stridently against–to signify my faith or my devotion to the God of love who defines what my life means and how it is lived.

My best friend is not by a long shot the only person who asks me so brazenly this question. I’ve often wondered what I could ask them to similarly test whether their faith is sufficient for me to accept them, but see that’s the point. I’m not trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out; nor do I believe that’s my job; nor do I believe I have the gold-standard of “truth;” nor do I believe what I believe is the litmus test for knowing God; nor do I believe I’m in because I said four “spiritual laws.” (BTW, two points of digression, you know how I love digressions: I did say those “laws” back in the day, so if that gets me lifetime absolution then you all are stuck with me even though I won’t say I love Jesus. I also went into the National Shrine to St. Francis of Assisi, which gives me a lifetime absolution as well, sort of a double-whammy insurance for those who keep track of such things. Point two: Jesus didn’t write these “laws” nor ever ask anyone anything of the like. Billy Graham did, which makes them a tad bit less iron-clad than Evangelicals want to admit. Golly, what did all the billions of people who lived before Billy Graham do to prove they loved Jesus, for heaven’s sake?!)

Here’s the irony. My best friend is a gay pastor. The very people that he aligns theologically are the ones who mosts likely wouldn’t give a rats ass that he loves Jesus because he also loves men. This trumps saying you love Jesus to them, because you can’t do both. No way, no how. He’d rather vehemently argue the point that they got this wrong rather than question the whole house of American-made, trademarked, ready to sell-and-go-viral “brand” that excludes so many like him regardless of whether they actually love Jesus.

There is a second question afterall, no matter how much importance they put on the first. “I love Jesus” gets me in the door, but there are bouncers everywhere. Loving men if you are a man will get you bounced.

This is why I sighed before I dived into the debate with him. I love my friend and love his faith and love his sincerity and love his passion for helping troubled people find a better life by telling them about the power of Jesus to transform their lives.

I just wish he’d be more wary of the brand Jesus he aligns with because it’s too often like taking a charcoal pencil and smearing it all over the Monet-like art that God is doing in our lives.


6 thoughts on “Don’t ask me if I love Jesus”

  1. It is very strange to me that you could think the question, “Do you love Jesus,” to be damaging. How can loving Jesus be wrong? Implicit in the question is that Jesus loves you. I hope you don’t think that telling someone that Jesus loves you is damaging too. Should Peter have been offended when Jesus asked him, “do you love me”? There is nothing expressly demanding the confession of church membership, denominational affiliation, or theological persuasions in this question.
    I’m fairly confident that you wouldn’t object to being asked if you love your wife, or your children, or even baseball for that matter.
    To propose that the very question of, “do you love Jesus,” is damaging, obfuscates the real issue that is one of two possibilities. The first one being- you do not want to respond to this question because your answer is simply- no. No I do not love Jesus; no I don’t want his love; no I don’t buy into this whole biblical concept of Jesus. No thank you, no, I do not love Jesus.
    This is fair enough, and simple enough, but I don’t think this is what you really mean, because if it were, you would just say so. I think that yes, you do love Jesus; you do want his love, so it must be something else.
    This leads to the second possibility, and the real heart of what really causes your reaction of feeling damaged by the question of “Do you love Jesus.” It is very possible, that in reality, the person asking the question “Do you love Jesus,” or the person such a question is direct to, could be damaged already. This is certainly a possibility, however it is another subject altogether, but it does get to the real heart of your objection: there are damaged Christians.
    There is nothing inherently damaging about asking someone if they love Jesus. It is as simple as asking someone if they love anyone or anything else. The real dilemma lies in the sad reality that many people claiming to be Christian can be so very unloving and do not reflect the love of Jesus at all. They have damaged others; they are damaged themselves.
    Yet this should not mean that we should be reluctant to desire his love, or afraid to confess our love for him. It does mean that we should be more loving like Jesus toward others, and toward ourselves too. The love of Jesus is still able to save and heal. We should not avoid the question of loving Jesus, we should all love more like Jesus did.

    1. Consider a point or two: 1) That my response is “confusing” is part of the issue here. My absention is only an issue if you make it one, which is what spurred this post. Why make it one? Because the question is a coded one for the askers benefit, not the person being asked. The answer checks a vital box: in or out for the asker. The person being asked may not — I would argue should not — be forced to define his or her faith in loaded and coded terminology that represents something far different than when Jesus asked Peter. Jesus also offered the definitive answer to his own question when he said all people will know you are my disciples by how you love each other. Love is an action that is visible to all in its act. The words I have found are virtually meaningless outside of the most intimate conversation between those in love. Do I love Jesus? See what I do and how I treat others and you will have your answer. In all its complexities and shortcomings it will at least be authentic.

      1. Does every person who asks “do you love Jesus” have an agenda? Don’t you think it is a little paranoid to suppose that. Would the same question, directed toward your love of your wife, or children, or baseball for that matter, imply the same conspiracy you say exists? Would you adamantly refuse to answer such a question for fear of being catalogued a wife lover, child lover, or baseball lover? How can such a simple question contain all of the loaded innuendo as you suggest?
        Do you think Gandhi would have such a difficult time answering this question, or would Muhammad? Would Joseph Smith or the Pope, or the Dalai Lama? I can hardly even imagine so.
        Your reaction to the question is so visceral and reveals more about your own inner turmoil projecting outward than exists in these four simple words. Can four simple words really possess such an ability to define your world, as if an answer immediately characterizes your whole theological and philosophical landscape?
        Have you considered that you are putting more baggage on those four words than those four words are bringing to you?

      2. This column arose out of several conversations I had with people who have visceral reactions to loaded questions precisely because of experiences with evangelicals. Yet isn’t interesting your argument is to read into my comments what it says about me using words like paranoid and trying to interpret my feelings for me. Aren’t you making my point? Aren’t you exemplifying how loaded the question is by trying to decipher me instead of just hearing me? In some ways your comments make my point better than my post because of your supposition that something must be amiss by my lack of an answer. If four words were as simple as you make it, would you be able to infer so much about my inner well being? Rather than build a bridge of understanding, I fear we are only proving how vast the divide.

  2. At first blush, Paul is right. There is nothing inherently damaging in asking the question. The problem is that the question itself is a loaded one, a little bit like “Does this dress make me look fat”? It comes with its own baggage, its own set of assumptions and its own core-beliefs. And if “do you love Jesus” has an agenda all of its own, then Artist is right to demure.

    The answer is coloured by both protagonists beliefs and experiences. In this instance, one of the protagaonists believes that being gay is OK and the other may not. (the core issue might be a completely different one, e.g. the question of transubstantiation or the infallibility of the Pope). Mankind is not divine and there is no unity in belief or understanding.

    However, at the same time, the question serves to distinguish a sub set (Christians) of humanity from the rest. If, within that subset, debate and understanding brings the parties closer to a shared common view (the nature of the Divine – and within that answer the smaller questions of whether Gay is Ok or whether wine turns to blood or whether the Pope is infallible , is that a bad thing? – I think not. goal

    So on the whole, I agree with Paul. The question might make people uncomfortable, may spark debate and may be a clusterfuck of note. If however, it causes the protagonists to move towards the shared common view, a purpose is served.

    1. Andrew, Thank you for your addition to the conversation. As to the question of Gay I find it very simple: We are created in God’s image. All of us. Which is exactly the reason I find “Do you love Jesus,” so problematic. In far too many cases, to answer affirmatively is to then be assigned many other beliefs, especially negative ones about gays and liberals and addicts and even women I find abhorent. As you say, the question is a loaded one, or as I say, a coded one, and it means far more to the person asking than to the person being asked, or I suspect, for God Herself. And it’s a gateway question to many, many more, each more loaded than the last. Paul asks me, What would you say if Jesus, not he, asks me I love him, to which I say, I’d answer quietly, privately and intimately as all lovers do.

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