Agape Love Does Not Look Like Abuse
Yesterday morning, Grove City College had popular author and speaker Dannah Gresh give a talk in chapel. Since it was Valentine’s Day, Gresh, naturally, decided to focus on the topic of love. Specifically, what “agape” love (agape being one of the four Greek words for love, often used as shorthand in church for sacrificial love) looks like.
Her speech was weak in many areas and left much to be desired: describing all girls across the board as “needy,” making it sound like girls have no responsibility to help set and enforce boundaries, and a complete lack of understanding of feminism and its history, to name a few.
But the most appalling problem was a story she told about her and her then-fiance:
We found ourselves horizontal on the sofa. And, it really…it wasn’t okay. You get the picture? But it lasted, about a second. And before I knew it, my fiance picked me up off the sofa, threw me against the wall, and ran outside of my apartment. Yes, I felt horribly rejected. But I brushed myself off and I walked outside, and I said, “What was that?” And he said, opening the car door, “Get in. We need a chaperone. I can’t be alone with you. We’re going to Professor Heffy’s house.” And we spent the weekend in one of our professor’s homes. That’s agape.
Okay. Hopefully you already see the problem: The way her then-fiance reacted was not okay. In fact, it was violent and abusive. There’s nothing that’s “alright,” much less loving, about picking a girl up and throwing her against a wall. In fact, she could have pressed charges for battery.
I don’t care what the situation is. There is simply no excuse (other than self-defense) for anyone to use their physical strength in such a manner that could cause harm to another. There is absolutely nothing about that act that reflects agape love.
Love leaves no room for abuse or violence. Period.
Now, I don’t know Gresh personally, nor am I very familiar with her teaching beyond reading “And the Bride Wore White” in high school, so I have no reason not to give her the benefit of the doubt. It is entirely possible that when she said, “That’s agape,” she meant to refer to her fiance’s decision to spend the weekend at their professor’s house, and not to how he reacted when he got uncomfortable with things. It is entirely possible that she would agree that he could have handled the situation in a much better manner.
But she offered no such clarification in her speech, leaving it very easy to believe that she meant to describe the whole situation as a reflection of agape love. That’s an incredibly irresponsible message to send to a room of college-age guys and girls.
Domestic and dating violence are huge problems in this country. Every day there are hundreds of girls who are in relationships that are either abusive, or showing the warning signs, but are choosing to stay because they are convinced that their significant other truly loves them. Telling stories that equate abuse with agape love only helps further convince these girls of that.
This is not okay. I sincerely hope that Gresh realizes the message she is sending and clarifies. I hope that Grove City College realizes the potential damage done and works to make it right.
Because when abuse is treated as normal, we send the message to guys that violence is okay, we send the message to girls that abuse is normal, and instead of helping individuals who need it, we enable the abuse to continue.
Note: My friends Hannah (who is a Grove City alumna) and Dianna are both working on posts addressing the problems with Gresh’s speech as well. As soon as their posts are up, I will link to them from here.
Update: Here is Hannah’s post on her concerns as a Grove City alumna. She also addresses some of the other issues that were wrong with this speech that I did not.
Update 2: Here is Dianna’s post which takes a closer look at the entire culture that Gresh is creating and promoting with her talk.