The false gospel of “The Bachelorette.”
I didn’t want to write this. You have to believe me when I say that I really didn’t want to comment on this silly, exaggerated spat between reality TV personalities. I know these waters are tumultuous, to say the least. But as I reflected on the story as a whole, I realized there was far more to this scene than just an over-the-top, highly-produced dating show confrontation. Actually, she’s the one that started it. She’s the one that kept talking about her “faith,” and “Jesus,” and how she was okay with having premarital sex, and that her Jesus was okay with that. But then she did it, she threw out the “grace” word. And as a “grace guy,” I felt compelled, constrained even, to comment and, hopefully, shed a little more biblical light and context onto an ongoing public feud about sex, relationships, and religion — all from the unlikeliest of sources imaginable, ABC’s The Bachelorette.
If you’re unaware of what I’m talking about, which you probably are, there was a recent episode of ABC Studios’ The Bachelorette in which the show’s incumbent princess of love herself, Hannah Brown, ushered one of the craziest breakup lines in national television history.
I have had sex and, like, Jesus still loves me.
Hannah, you see, is the current darling on The Bachelorette, who has whittled down 30 or so eligible bachelors vying for her love down to her “top 4.” If you’re unfamiliar with the lunacy of The Bachelorette — or her older brother, The Bachelor — the premise is fairly simple and ripe with reality television potential: find a single girl, surround them potential spouses of their “type,” organize elaborate dates for them to go on, and watch the testosterone (or estrogen, whichever boils faster) do the rest.
Hannah’s confession, though, caught my attention because of her inclusion of Jesus’s affirmation of her sex life. Her statement is filled with nuance and comes on the heels of a tenuous relationship with one Luke Parker, who quickly filled the “villain” role for the show, rubbing the other contestants, er, bachelors, the wrong way and stirring up strife at, seemingly, ever turn. Despite frequent admissions from the other suitors that “Luke P. isn’t here for the right reasons,” Hannah stuck with him, feeling an obvious connection with him from the very beginning. He received the “First Impression Rose” on night one of the season, after all. But Luke’s presence on the show quickly devolved into that of “dramatic lightning rod,” often bringing out the worst in the other bachelors (and himself, as well).
Despite her own misgivings regarding Luke’s character, she stuck with him till nearly the very end. Then, during a conversation over dinner, Luke informs Hannah, in not so subtle terms, that if he’s made aware of her having slept with any of the other remaining contestants (you know, in any normal relational atmosphere, cheating), that he would excuse himself from the competition, er, show. This, of course, does not go over well with Hannah. Their back-and-forth gets more heated; Hannah ends Luke’s time on the show; Luke leaves (he probably never should have been there anyway but that’s beside the point); and Hannah’s true colors begin to reveal themselves. In the end, Hannah’s declaration is one that is both a true and false . . . and very dangerous. Let me explain.
On the one hand, it is absolutely true that if one stumbles (or “slips up,” to use Luke P.’s words) and has sex outside of marriage, Jesus still loves them. That is an undeniable fact of God’s good news which assures us of the love of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. What’s more, this love is not in any way contingent on our morality but in our Messiah. Jesus himself secures this love from which nothing can separate. (Rom 8:35–39) Insert any iniquity in there for “sex,” and the statement still holds true. That, indeed, is the gospel.
But Hannah’s stance on her liberty to have sex with multiple men and claim that that is what grace is for is a complete misunderstanding of grace. Such is why this statement is more than just a reality-TV nugget — it is the near perfect prism in which to discuss grace itself.
Because, on the other hand, this is an utterly false statement that is brimming with exactly the sort of illogical reasoning with which the apostle Paul was confronted when he penned his letter to the Romans. When St. Paul begins his epistle to the Church of Rome, he does so by leveling everyone under the crushing weight of the law. Everyone’s a sinner. No one’s righteous. No one can make themselves good. We’re all doomed. (Rom 3) “But now,” Paul suddenly says, “apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed.” (Rom 3:21) From there, the apostle moves to describe in incredible eloquence the freeness of God’s grace, which gives wretched sinners like you and me the very righteousness that fulfills all the law’s demands, that is, the righteousness of God himself. (Rom 4—5)
At the end of chapter 5, Paul is even so bold to declare that “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.” (Rom 5:20) Such a daring assertion seems to imply that the concurrent streams of sin and grace are what structure one’s life, in that, the more sin we experience, the more grace we experience. Thus, to encounter more grace, we ought to sin more. Ergo: “I have had sex, and, like, Jesus still loves me.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It should. Because it is here where Paul interjects his own argument for the freeness of grace with the precise question we all should be asking at this very moment: “Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?” (Rom 6:1)
Paul, in a moment of shear divine intuition, anticipates the question that was surely on the minds of the Romans. In what appears to be a heaven-sent license to do whatever the heck you want, Paul steadfastly debunks such line of reasoning. “Let’s keep sinning, then, so that grace keeps abounding,” is their logic — to which he writes, “Absolutely not!” (Rom 6:2) God forbid it! Grace is not a “get out of a mistake for free” card. Grace is not the heavenly plaster that has come to fill all the gaps of iniquity in our otherwise moderately put-together lives. Grace is not an invitation to revel in sin. Grace is the divine summons to own your death and be resurrected by power of the One who holds in his hand the “keys of hell and of death.” (Rv 1:18)
We are dead already in our sin. (Eph 2:1) Until we are rescued by God’s gracious intrusion on our lives, we exist deliriously in a state of lucid death that relishes the fantasy life we’ve devised. Grace, you see, isn’t a heavenly band-aid. Because you’re not just sick, you’re dead. And you don’t merely need medicine, you need resuscitation. You need resurrection! Such is what grace gives to us. Consider the logic of Paul:
How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over him. For the death he died, he died to sin once for all time; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under the law but under grace. (Rom 6:2–14)
Grace is opposed to relishing in sin because at its core, grace is death and resurrection. Grace unites you to Christ in his passion and death and raises you to new life in him. “Death and resurrection,” writes Robert Capon, “are the key to the whole mystery of our redemption. We pray in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we forgive others in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we attempt any of those things while still trying to preserve our life, we will never manage them . . . they can be celebrated by us only if we accept death as the vehicle of our life in him.”1
Do you see how reveling in sin is contrary to grace? The image is nonsensical when one considers that pre-salvation “life” is no life at all. It is a living death. But such nonsense is what is being advocated by Hannah and her ilk. If you don’t believe me, just watch this clip where she not only boasts about having premarital sex, but about engaging in that act four times — not only with a suitor she subsequently sent home but also with the suitor’s mom and dad in the wings clapping and laughing along with everyone else. That is not what grace is for. That is not what grace is.
Another of the obvious lessons learned from this feud is that Hannah doesn’t hold to the Scriptures as her source for life and truth. It functions more akin to a cozy spiritual widget that has been added to her life, to do with what she pleases, when she pleases. Her vague references to “faith,” “church,” and “religion” throughout the show only augment my suspicion that true religion is not a genuine part of Hannah’s life. Hannah’s subsequent condemning of Luke to be nothing more than a hypocrite speaks to this all the more. It’s not hypocrisy if you’re ascribing to the same thing. But such is the false thinking of too many modern Christians. We pick and choose which truths are okay, comfortable, and cozy for our lifestyles. We deconstruct the Bible to ease our consciences of the guilt we all feel — guilt that is put there by the Maker in order to drive us to himself.
This feud has, indeed, brought the idea of grace to the limelight (for a brief moment), though, for the wrong reasons. Where the media has strived to turn this squabble into being about just another guy asserting his “misogynistic control” over a woman, I pray that more would see it for what it truly was: a brother in Christ attempting (albeit foolishly and injudiciously) to disciple a supposed sister in Christ. This isn’t another chapter in “mansplaining” or judging or “slut-shaming.” It was a reminder of the truth. I like how pastor Garrett Kell said it:
While it is true that Jesus still loves his people when they sin, it is also true that if we really are his people, we will love him and strive to go and sin no more.
I don’t want to presume that the indignation I feel is totally righteous. But I hope it is, to some degree. I pray it comes from the deepest, sincerest part of who I am. I confess that the reason I write this is because I am so passionate about this gospel of grace and the proper understanding of all its varied and marvelous facets. “Grace upon grace” isn’t merely the inscription of this little publication. (Jn 1:16) It’s my lifeline. Understanding this free and abundant favor of God is the primary aim of all my ministerial efforts, online or otherwise. To know God is to know him as a God of the “grace upon grace” that resurrects and redeems all the wrecks and wretches of the world. Grace’s comforting faculties are not merely the sort that take the edge off the culpability and inability we all feel. Grace is that which resuscitates and resurrects dead souls to new life.
Update, July 30, 2019: Selfishly, I feel more than a little vindicated about the forgoing words after the proceedings of last night’s final episode of the Hannah-Brown-Bachelorette-experience. In a moment of what can only be divine poetic justice, it’s revealed that Hannah’s chosen suitor in the end, a guy named Jed, is not who he’s portrayed himself to be. In fact, he had a “secret” girlfriend back home with whom he’s been intimate. Only two days after the proposal, the engagement is reneged. Again, follow the logic: she broke up (called off the nuptials!) with a guy because she didn’t like the fact that he was dishonest about having another girlfriend, when she literally just broke up with (sent home) a guy because he was honest about his conviction that she not have other boyfriends. I despise myself for feeling this way, especially at the misfortune of another. But the irony, here, is too poetic to make up.
Update, August 5, 2019: I promise to stop beating this dead horse, but I came across Wretched Radio’s Todd Friel giving some very helpful and insightful biblical commentary on this very issue. For further discernment on this entire scenario, I would highly recommend digesting this video.
Robert Capon, The Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 71.