What Does It Mean to Be “Covered in Love”?

by | Dec 14, 2018 | Faith, Uncategorized | 13 comments

Is your church "covered in love"?
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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.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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13 Comments

  1. Liz C.

    Thank you for this post! It really resonated with what this past year or two has been for me and what it’s taught me about God’s love, grace, and rejecting legalism. I’ve been walking with a dear friend through the end of her marriage to an abuser and watching her church blame her and treat her as the bad guy, and at the same time working through how my own parents attempted to have my church discipline me because my mother felt I wasn’t obeying her or meeting her needs enough. Thankfully my pastor defended my husband and I, and stopped it! The legalism that was on display from my family, and how my mom kept claiming it was all in the name of love for me, was definitely chilling!
    If anything, because of these stark examples of how people abuse God’s love (it’s almost another way of using his name I’m vain, I think!) I have been evaluating my life to make sure I root out anything that’s legalistic or could turn into it later on, and learning so that I can better defend people who are being spirituality abused.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s wonderful, Liz! (And so great that your pastor defended you). I love what you said about how it’s a form of using the Lord’s name in vain. That’s a great way of looking at it. Exactly.

      Reply
  2. Jim

    Very insightful and helpful. There was only one part that had me cringe just a bit. It was, “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.”
    Sometimes, it’s really hard to know who is the sinner and who is doing things right. More often than not, it’s both that have issues to address.
    I have a friend who’s wife sinned (adultery), but if you looked closely at the relationship, much of the foundation was set by his actions and treatment. Clearly she sinned in her action, but it wasn’t all her. I think this frequently goes the other way, where a husband sins outwardly, but the wife was not understanding and helpful in building unity, vulnerability, and intimacy, which end up having the guy look to other sources.
    I agree, the focus should be on the one who has done wrong, but it isn’t always visible or obvious where the original wrong lies (frequently it’s a generation earlier that is showing up now). I’d guess that in a majority of cases, when there is visible sin of ones partner, it is appropriate to consider what you have been doing that would support that action. Again, I’m in no way blaming an innocent spouse. And I fully agree that we should not guilt a worthy person because of the sin of their spouse.
    Especially for those of the congregation and leadership, in all things, love unconditional.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’d agree with you there, Jim, on a lot of issues. But I’ve seen in cases of things like emotional abuse, for instance, where it’s the one who is being abused who is told to change, because the other is far less likely to listen to the counsellors. So they target the person who is the most willing to change–but often is the one who least needs to.
      There definitely are some situations where both contribute, but I can also say that in my mother’s case, she really didn’t contribute to my father’s adultery except for the fact that she didn’t speak up more to defend herself. That would be it. So, yes, sometimes it’s not clear who the person who sinned is, but what I’m seeing again and again is that often you CAN see it. It’s just sad.

      Reply
    • Ashley

      I was sooooo glad Sheila said that! That was my experience exactly! It really happens so much of the time. I was blamed for my ex’s cheating—by my former pastor! And my ex actually came to my defense and told him it wasn’t like he was assuming.

      Reply
  3. Flo

    I don’t like to complain about such things, but sometimes it is a bit discouraging. Once on a Sunday afternoon I listened to a priest talk for 30 min about how bad youngsters are nowadays. It was not only a gross generalization, but also unnecessarily negative. We need love, hope, togetherness. And, of course, moral teachings, but not like this.

    Reply
  4. Melissa

    I’m really tired of women being made invisible by the church. If you name me in a lawsuit alongside my husband, you’re gonna hear my voice too.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep! Exactly.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely! I find that aspect really infuriating. It’s like they’re embarrassed of having sued the wives, but then they shouldn’t have done it in the first place.

      Reply
  5. Anna

    Been there, lived that. Wives are an easy target, because of the things you discussed, but also because everything in both secular and church society is set up to tell women that they can change men by changing their own behavior. If we could only kill that idea for good. Addiction is the addict’s fault. And that’s the end of the essay. If a woman wants to work on some of her own issues concurrently with her addicted spouse, that’s up to her, but after living this scenario for many, many years, I actually wouldn’t recommend it because it is all too easy for a woman to mentally pick up the burdens of her husband as well as her own, and get them confused.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great points, Anna! I do agree. We women tend to think that we can change men far too much. That’s really the premise of most relationship books and magazine articles, too. It does need to stop.

      Reply
  6. Brievel

    Perhaps this won’t help, but I think it’s kinda funny about your first line about emotional abuse…
    As you probably know by now, my marriage has been getting increasingly rocky. He’s very emotionally abusive – but as he’s only been abused his whole life, he doesn’t even see it. I did. Reading TLHV gave me the impetus, yesterday, to acknowledge God’s command to separate for awhile. Husband became violent about it (likely in fear of losing me, so reacted in anger.) Am currently staying, with our 11-month-old son, with my sister and brother-in-law.
    Saw my husband today when I went to get some of my stuff. He said he was in the wrong last night (which is barely a start, but it is a start, and a rare admission.) He also said he doesn’t want to lose me and he misses me and the baby. He agreed to get help – what he really needs is a mentor, but as he’s not a Christian and doesn’t really have friends I didn’t know who to suggest (father was abusive and Dallas’ mom got him and his sisters out when he was five.) So I suggested a counselor. He told me he’d do his best but no promises, I told him to make a promise to himself and make himself live up to it.
    I miss him so much it hurts. But the separation is what is needed. He agreed to work on it. The baby is traumatized and devastated but better that than physically injured. I want a life with him, but I want a life with him where I’m treasured and cared for, like I care for him. Enabling him won’t help that.
    I’d ask for anyone to pray for me, that the LORD would grant me wisdom to see His Will and strength to obey It. What he’s asking of me, I recognize to be for my own benefit, but it’s still one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Brievel, I’m so sorry. But you’re right to make sure that you are safe, and especially that your baby is safe.
      It sounds like your husband really does want to get help. I pray that he will find some. It is hard when you don’t have good community around you, but most towns at least have some good counsellors. I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now, especially at Christmas. Prayers for you!

      Reply

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