Most of us recognize 1 Corinthians 13 as the “love chapter,” often read at weddings, funerals and other life events. It also has a place in Theta ritual. I’m sometimes asked why we haven’t changed it to adapt to the more diverse membership of the present. After all, many Thetas today do not subscribe to the New Testament. My response is that even though our membership is beautifully diverse, this particular piece of literature is universal. To understand why this passage is part of (and remains in) our services, one must first contextualize its place in our history and understand its meaning beyond the literary home.
Our founders were Christians; Bettie Locke’s father was a Methodist minister. So, it’s safe to say she was familiar with the content of the New Testament. But, she was not founding a religious order. So, why would she put a passage from the Bible in our ritual?
She was founding a values-based organization and was looking for a way to express those values. Bettie was a student in post Civil War America, when books were expensive and treasured. Given her family background and her lack of other resources, the Bible was probably her first stop. And, when she found 1 Corinthians 13, she did not need to look further.
Why 1 Corinthians 13? Most biblical scholars agree that this passage does not refer to a romantic love nor, despite its context in a collection of religious writings, does it have anything to do with any prophet or religious belief. Instead it was probably chosen because the love represented in the passage refers to:
- A regard, respect, and caring concern for another person that does not depend on the worthiness or “lovableness” of that person
- An act of the will which places the welfare of others above the interests of oneself
(Short Bible Studies, purifiedbyfaith.com)
Bettie and her friends had a need for support during what was probably the most difficult time of their young lives. They turned to each other and took vows that are the same as what we say today. Did they know that nearly 150 years later, these sentiments would still mean so much to so many? Our values have stood the test of time, and continue to remain relevant.
There have been millions of pieces of literature written about love since 1870. We haven’t changed our ritual because to do so would be to lose that connection we have to that snowy day in Greencastle. To think we could do better than the women who experienced the beginnings of this organization would be disrespectful to the valor and devotion of our Founders.