Est. May 2008

24 February, 2013

On Homosexuality, Many Christian Preachers Get The Bible Wrong

In an article for WaPo’s On Faith section, Adam Hamilton, United Methodist pastor and author, tells his readers that the current church debate over homosexuality is just like the church debate over slavery which took place before the Civil War. He begins with a quotation from Abraham Lincoln which is carved into the wall of his monument in Washington DC:
Lincoln noted that at the center of the conflict over slavery were very different interpretations of the Bible. Lincoln said of the two sides in the war, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”
And he further notes that:
Southern preachers and slave owners believed the many references in the Bible permitting and regulating slavery (well over 100 verses), in both the Old and the New Testaments, were clear evidence that the institution was a part of God’s social and moral order. Abolitionist preachers argued in their sermons that the verses related to slavery in the Bible were a reflection of the cultural context and times in which the Bible was written and did not reflect God’s endorsement of slavery. They argued that there were “weightier” scriptures on justice, mercy and love that superseded those on slavery. This was the position that Lincoln himself adopted.
It’s a real shame that a preacher would still trot out this old and busted meme that slavery in the Bible was the same as in the antebellum South of our country, especially when there’s a wealth of scholarly evidence telling us that it was different (one example here). As that site tells us:
The slavery of the past few centuries was often based exclusively on skin color. In the United States, many black people were considered slaves because of their nationality; many slave owners truly believed black people to be inferior human beings. The Bible most definitely does condemn race-based slavery. Consider the slavery the Hebrews experienced when they were in Egypt. The Hebrews were slaves, not by choice, but because they were Hebrews (Exodus 13:14). The plagues God poured out on Egypt demonstrate how God feels about racial slavery (Exodus 7-11). So, yes, the Bible does condemn some forms of slavery. At the same time, the Bible does seem to allow for other forms. The key issue is that the slavery the Bible allowed for in no way resembled the racial slavery that plagued our world in the past few centuries. (emphases mine)
The author of that piece goes on to explain the various forms of slavery in the Old Testament – I suggest Mr. Hamilton read it.

And after tossing out the old and moldy red herring about slavery, Mr. Hamilton continues:
There are a handful of Scriptures (five or eight depending upon how one counts) that specifically speak of same-sex intimacy as unacceptable to God. Conservatives or traditionalists see these as reflecting God’s timeless will for human relationships. Progressives look at these same scriptures in much the same way that progressives in the nineteenth century looked at the Bible’s teaching on slavery. They believe that these verses capture the cultural understandings and practices of sexuality in biblical times, but do not reflect God’s will for gay and lesbian people. (again, emphasis mine)
When you exegete those ‘five or eight’ passages on homosexuality, one of the first things one sees us that homosexuality isn’t the only thing they’re discussing. In Leviticus 18, for example, the prohibition against homosexuality is in the middle of prohibitions regarding incestuous relationships, bestiality, and child-sacrifice. Using Mr. Hamilton’s logic (that it’s a cultural thing), we must therefore conclude that prohibiting bestiality, incest, and child-sacrifice was also a ‘cultural thing’, and as such can be safely ignored in our modern society.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul tells us of people who ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Once again, using Mr. Hamilton’s logic, unrighteousness, fornication, idolatry, adultery, effeminateness, thievery, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling and swindling are all perfectly acceptable behaviors, since they were just a ‘cultural thing’.

Um…no, sorry, but thanks for playing.

But look at Paul’s final sentence: ‘Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.’ There’s the great ‘mystery’ – Christ’s atoning death and resurrection washed us clean of our sins and sanctified us in the eyes of God. That act changed those people, so they were no longer what they were; they were no longer unrepentant, habitual sinners. They’d stripped off the ‘old man’ and put on the ‘new man’.

This is critical information, folks. There’s an expectation in Paul’s writing (and in the writing of the other New Testament authors) of a behavioral change wrought by the Holy Spirit – a change from habitual and unrepented sin. But if a professing Christian continues in their sin – if they refuse to repent of it and keeps on doing it habitually – the obvious question is, Are they being truthful about their profession of faith?

Certainly, Christians still sin – as Paul put it, he did the things he didn’t want to do, and the things he wanted to do he didn’t do. That’s why Christ is our Advocate for when we sin; that’s why we strive to remove all of the ‘old man’ throughout out Christian lives. Yet true Christians are no longer chained to their sins – they no longer perform them habitually – and when they sin they acknowledge their sin, ask for forgiveness, and work to not sin again (repentance).

But that kind of thing isn’t much seen in our modern versions of Christianity. No, we’re too concerned about hurting the feelings of others to tell them they’re sinful, that if they’re habitually sinful and don’t repent they’re not showing their professed Christianity, and that they’re on their way to hell. We don’t want to tell people that because somewhere along the line we’ve been convinced that telling the truth isn’t loving.

Which leads us to Mr. Hamilton’s next statement. After studying the passages on sexual behavior in light of the passages on slavery, and after having ‘the stereotypes [he] had been taught about gay and lesbian people’, he concluded that, ‘The love they shared with others looked very much like the love I share with my wife --a deep friendship and companionship.’ As I pointed out above, appearances can be deceiving. Just because homosexual relationships look like his relationship with his wife doesn’t mean they are like that relationship. I have ‘deep friendship and companionship’ with many people; I’m sure you do, too. But does that mean we have a marital-style relationship with those people? Of course not – it simply means we have ‘deep friendship and companionship’ with them. In fact, God approves of deep friendships and companionships – look at David and Jonathan as an example. What God disapproves of is when that ‘deep friendship and companionship’ adds on physical love – when it turns sexual. God condones and approves of heterosexual intimacy within the confines of marriage and in no other context – those are called adultery and fornication. God never condones or approves of homosexual intimacy, period, end of discussion – which means that even homosexual marriage won’t make it right in His eyes.

And finally:
Their gay and lesbian friends are people, just like them, in need of love and community.
Here we see another tactic that’s been used to death: that homosexuals need love, too. But what is Christian love? Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
In the Gospels, Jesus tells His disciples that if they love Him they will keep His commandments. This means obedience to His words and the words of His apostles (since they spoke for Him). This is God’s will for humanity: to be obedient to Him and to love others as we love ourselves.

As we love ourselves, we’re not about to deliberately do anything which will jeopardize our relationship with Christ and His Father. Unrepentant and habitual disobedience of His laws and rules definitely jeopardizes that relationship. So if we love ourselves such that we change our behaviors in order not to jeopardize our relationship with God, how can we love others equally if we do not point out when they jeopardize their relationship with God through unrepented and habitual sinfulness and warn them to change their ways? But that’s precisely what some of our Christian mentors (preachers, pastors, priests and laity alike) are demanding we do: don’t tell them they’re sinners because you might hurt their feelings.

Personally, I’d prefer to hurt their feelings and give them the truth than sit back, pat them on the head, and follow them to hell with a millstone around my own neck.

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