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Does Christianity hate homosexuals, or what?

Yesterday I read a post on CNN, “When Christians become a ‘hated minority’.” In it, CNN attempts to summarize a situation in which Christians are refusing to identify homosexuality as a sin, and as an added bonus (thanks, CNN!) some Christians claim that maybe it’s not so bad.

It’s not a particularly focused article, but it has a lot of useful statements.

I’d rather know I’m wrong than suspect I’m right. I don’t know I’m wrong unless I put some stakes in the ground: I make an assertion, with the full knowledge that someone wiser than I might come along and tell me what a fool I am. I’m okay with that; the delivery isn’t important, but the message is.

So what’s happening here is good, in the long run: it defines a problem (dressed in frilly clothes of “Christians are becoming a hated minority”) and describes a lot of issues in the Christian community concerning a specific issue (namely, homosexuality).

One thing that stood out – and actually inspired me to write about the article, which seemed rather “me-too” at first – was this passage:

What the Bible says

What about the popular evangelical claim, “We don’t hate the sinner, just the sin” – is that seen as intolerance or hate speech when it comes to homosexuality?

There are those who say you can’t hate the sin and love the sinner because being gay or lesbian is defined by one’s sexual behavior; it’s who someone is.

“Most people who identify as gay and lesbian would say that this is not an action I’m choosing to do; this is who I am,” says Timothy Beal, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book.”

Beal, a religion professor at Case Western University in Ohio, says it should be difficult for any Christian to unequivocally declare that the Bible opposes homosexuality because the Bible doesn’t take a single position on the topic. It’s an assertion that many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors would agree with.

Some people cite Old Testament scriptures as condemning homosexuality, such as Leviticus 18:22 – “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” But other Christians counter by saying they are not bound by the Old Testament.

Oh, my. This block of text is horribly written, as a series of assertions.

Let’s be clear: first, we should all reject all sin.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13, ESV)

Second, ain’t none of us innocent in and of ourselves:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:21-25, ESV, with verse 23 highlighted)

So let’s look at the crucial part of that: all of us have sinned and fallen short. We are justified by His grace as a gift, the gift of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ain’t none of us better than any other. In the eyes of God, sin is sin is sin is sin; while some sins carry greater consequence from a human perspective (murder’s worse than lying to someone about what you ate for dinner, right?), all sin carries with it the separation from God’s Will.

So: “hate the sin, not the sinner” is alive and well. As Christians, we can’t hate the sinner – that’d call us to hate ourselves as well.

It may be that homosexuals are who they are, that they have no free will in the matter. I don’t know; I’m not homosexual, last I checked. 🙂 But that’s of no account; we’re called to go unto all the world, to witness to everyone who sins. Therefore, they get included in that set; their homosexuality is irrelevant when it comes to “do they need Christ?”

And now we get to the statement that really hit me:

Beal, a religion professor at Case Western University in Ohio, says it should be difficult for any Christian to unequivocally declare that the Bible opposes homosexuality because the Bible doesn’t take a single position on the topic. It’s an assertion that many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors would agree with.

Really?

That’s horrifying. “Many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors” are ignorant of the Bible, then.

Leviticus 18:22 is, indeed, a starting point. And it refers to the sin as an “abomination.” That’s pretty relevant. And Paul, in the NT, makes a lot of reference to homosexuality – not pederasty, even though the Greek in which Paul wrote had both words available.

If Paul had meant pederasty and not homosexuality, he could have said so. He didn’t. Therefore: he meant homosexuality, because that’s what he wrote. It isn’t difficult to figure out.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27, ESV)

Sorry, Mr. Beal. You can claim that Jesus said little about sex; that’s because the Torah said it, and Jesus saw no need to echo everything about the Law, except that He fulfilled it. (See Matthew 5:17 and Romans 3:31.)

Some, of course, choose to rewrite the Bible: they say that Christians are not bound by the Old Testament.

Oh, my. Let’s run back to the Bible, but let’s use the New Testament, since they say the Old is no longer relevant:

31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31, ESV)

Wait, that says we uphold the Law. (And yes, this is one of the verses to which I referred a paragraph or two ago.) And if we uphold the Law, that says the Law is the standard by which we’re to consider ourselves moral (gosh, see Romans 2 and 3.) And the Law serves to convict us of our sin, which is why we need Christ in the first place!

Christians who say the law has no importance for us are wrong. Do away with the Law, and you do away with Christ. Do away with Christ, and you do away with the basis for calling yourself a Christian.

And honestly? If you’re going to do away with Christ, do Christians a favor and stop self-identifying as one; when you say you’re a Christian, you make it harder for actual Christians to witness to you properly. We tend to assume you know at least a little about what you’re saying about yourself.

Lastly: I mentioned a while back the use of the word “abomination,” תּוֹעֵבָה. This is a heavy, heavy word.

Sin is bad; it separates us from God.

Abomination is worse. Abomination causes God to push us away from Him. It marks behavior God rejects. It’s not for nothing that Paul goes on and on about certain sins; not only were they pervasive, but they were abominable.

This doesn’t mean the homosexual is a worse sinner than any other person; sin is sin, remember? And we all need Christ. What sin leads us to that condition is irrelevant to the condition itself.

But it does speak to the severity of the sin.

Eating a cheeseburger is wrong (as long as it’s beef and you’re using cheese from cow’s milk: see Exodus 23:19, and the reasons I say “wrong” are too complex for this post – let’s just say that it’s gross to think about in the context of that verse) but it’s not an abomination.

The sin is still sin; we’re freed from the punishment of the Law, but not the consequences of it.

I believe there are actively homosexual Christians, and by that I mean fully saved, covered by grace Christians. I also think that a homosexual act (not being homosexual, but engaging in homosexual acts) is a transgression to which Romans 6:1 applies:

6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1, ESV)

Context! Is! Everything!

I was reading Romans 7 today, after one of our pastors did a study on Romans 6 last night, and something stood out.

In Romans 6:15-23, Paul is talking about being slaves to righteousness; no longer are we slaves to sin, but we are slaves to righteousness, to which we are indebted and from which we derive obedience.

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

(Romans 6:15 ESV)

Yet the law has not passed away, because it is the baseline from which we can determine righteousness, even though we’re not justified by the law. It serves to condemn us (Romans 1) and inform us (Romans 7:7).

And there we proceed to Romans 7:

7:1 Or do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

(Romans 7:1-6 ESV)

Okay… whoa. The thing that stuck out to me was the freedom from law because we have died to it.

I’ve mentioned before the whole concept of freedom in Christ, and here we have it yet again, expressed as freedom from the law as opposed to “freedom in Christ.”

It’s a little more forceful here, though.

Yet the law still has meaning to us, does it not? Or does it? I say it does, because, again, it’s the measure for proper behavior and feeling. (If one has no desire to murder, or steal, or covet, this is good…)

Paul, however, is still thinking like a Hebrew and writing for a Greek audience, using the polemic invective of the day. He is overemphasizing his point, to “scare them straight.”

Scaring Them Straight

“Scaring them straight” is what the anti-drug commercials of Reagan’s presidency were trying to do; overemphasize a point, in the hopes that some of the point remains.

The logic seems to be something like this:

If, for example, someone retains only 10% of a message, we can help them retain 100% of the message is we emphasize it ten times.

This ignores diminishing returns, but it seems to fit the mindset.

Where is Sparta?

Sparta is in Greece, of course. But the declaration – from Zach Snyder’s “300” – of “This! Is! Sparta!” was so … comical that it seemed to fit.

The thing about Paul’s declaration of death to the law – such that we’re free from it – is based on context.

Paul is writing to the Romans; he is explaining the theology to people who may or may not be theologically sound – as shown by his constant references to those who know the law, as a subgroup of the Roman church.

That means that he has two missions for his invective.

One is to connect to those who study the law, who expect the invective and passion. (If you’re not willing to fight for it, you must not believe it very much.)

The other is to overemphasize his point through passion, so that some retention was achieved.

Yet the law does not pass away; we still consider the law the metric for sin.

The key is to remember that Paul’s statement of death to the law is not a final word. It exists in context; it co-exists with everything else said about the Law, which is that it’s the standard by which we are able to judge behavior, and that it communicates to us part of God’s Will.

Shalom.

Romans 6:1-14: Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

The Bible study this week in Romans focuses on the first part of chapter 6 of Romans, a pretty well-known piece of scripture if memory serves. (It was one of the parts of Romans I could quote before I really started getting into the New Testament, which is the best barometer I have for such things.)

It contains an interaction Paul had with a hypothetical question in response to the closing of the previous parts of the letter to the Romans, in what we see as chapter 5, in which Paul says that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20, ESV).

You see this a lot in Christian circles, especially in affluent circles, where people point out the spirituality of oppressed people in third world countries: “They trust in God and see His work among them! Even in their oppression, they are blessed!”

The problem with this expression isn’t that it’s not true – it’s that it tends to engender a question of why the one offering that expression hasn’t gone to be oppressed themselves, such that they can experience God more authentically.

“Should we not also consider ourselves oppressed, such that we can force ourselves to depend on God all the more?”

…except the answer is, typically, “No, of course not.” We might want the hand of God in our lives, but we are rarely willing to offer ourselves suffering in order to see that hand.

Is that proper? I don’t think so – I think the key is to remember to thank God for our circumstances, even in our pleasant circumstances. We feel guilty that we do little to alleviate the suffering of others, and that’s probably a good thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are to punish ourselves for the riches that God has granted us… as long as we remember that God has granted us those riches.

So: back to Romans 6! Paul offered a statement that where sin was multiplied, grace was multiplied also, creating the question of whether one should sin more such that grace would grow even that much more. (“Grace is a good thing; if sin increases grace, is sin therefore not ‘good’ as well?”)

We don’t know if Paul was literally asked this question or not. He may have been, but the form of Romans is as a letter, not as a series of responsum. Paul was a thorough and rather nitpicky thinker (I don’t have any experience with this, personally! Oh, wait…) and more likely anticipated the question as a logical extension of his previous wording, so responded to the potential question.

And what was the response? The response goes back to a condition, a status. Paul says in the first part of Romans 6 that we are dead and raised with Christ:

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7, ESV)

We are united with Christ in His resurrection, and united with Him in His death as well.

The metaphor is one of baptism: baptism, or the mikveh (מִקְוֶה), is given as a picture of death to what wasis.

It’s a transition: the mikveh is a transition from impurity to purity. Baptism is a transition from a former state to a new, pure state. We enter the water as Yona did, in defiance of God and dying in our sin, to enter the great fish, the דג גדול, which symbolizes death. We leave death behind, and enter a new life of obedience.

(A crucial difference is that a mikveh is a continual immersion; an Orthodox adherent to Judaism undergoes a mikveh regularly, and women use it based on their menstrual cycle, as it’s part of the purification post-menses. Few Christians undergo repeated and/or constant baptism. Your mileage may vary on the metaphor’s appropriateness; personally, I see the mikveh as part of repentance.)

So Paul constructs the picture of death and life, with life freeing us from the bonds that held us before our deaths to our old selves: as those bonds are sin and the result of sin, we are to act as if we are no longer held to our sinful natures.

Does that mean we never sin? No. Yet it means our master is Christ, and we should strive to let Him lead our lives, repenting our trespasses and living in such a way that we honor Him, and not sin.

Inreach

We actually did not do our regular Romans study last Friday night. We had initially planned to have a regular small group get-together, with music and a study on Romans 6, with a few minor changes as three of the teens in the group (some of our kids) are out on a missions trip, but my wife and I had been discussing doing something a little different…

One of the decisions made early in the life of the small group was to focus on studying the Bible, and to let bonds within the group form organically. People would gravitate to each other given time, and with a limited number of connections, people would naturally form ties to everyone, creating a strong (and natural) group.

However, that’s a very slow process – and without constant presence, it’s even slower. (It’s more time than it could be, when you meet for a few hours every week… but it’s nowhere near the time given to, say, kids in grade school. They have hours every day that they can use for this kind of thing.)

So we thought we’d skip the music this week, and use the time (normally twenty minutes or so) to do an inreach, a chance for us to really focus on getting to know someone in the group.

What we set off to do was pretty simple: we’d put all our names in a hat, and draw one at random; that person would then give a short testimony about themselves, and then the whole group would ask them questions. The idea was that everyone would get to ask a question, and the person could answer as they chose, hopefully with an open heart so we could get to see that person for who they really are, without all the armor we normally wear.

It didn’t quite work out that way; I’d originally envisioned people going around the room clockwise, because that way everyone knew they’d have a turn (and they would have to value their turn). Everyone was able to ask questions, but it was rather random and undisciplined.

That said, it went well. It’s interesting seeing the things someone things are the crucial events and factors in their own lives; sometimes you get to peek under the hood to see not who they think they are, but who they really are. That’s where you can actually find someone’s heart and connect with them.

That’s where you really get to know them and not the façade they put up for others.

For one example question, “What’s your favorite color?” It’s green, with blue being a close second. But this is a fairly revealing answer, even though it’s a trivial question!

It says I’m the kind of person who has a favorite color. Perhaps this indicates a certain immaturity on my part, or a childlike demeanor in some ways. (I’m pretty dour; “childlike demeanor” might apply to some stratae of my personality, but certainly wouldn’t be a generic description… unless you were used to really sarcastic, dour kids.)

But just like an infomercial, there’s more: why green? Why is blue a second-favorite? What about those colors attracts me to them? Considering that blue is the Jewish color representing divinity, why is blue my second-favorite? Why wouldn’t it be my favorite? (It’s because I prefer woods to sea and sky, although I definitely love open water.)

That’s just a simple throwaway question, of course. What do you think will happen if someone asks something like “What do you consider to be your greatest struggles in life?”

Of course, some people will dodge some questions, not being open or vulnerable enough to address them… and that’s all right. The whole point of this exercise is not to force someone to be open or vulnerable; it’s to create an opportunity for future transparency.

Sometimes the knowledge that someone is unable or unwilling to talk about something is just as relevant as what they would say about that subject if they were willing to speak.

One last suggestion I’d like to add: let the person speak on their own. If you know someone well, feel free to ask a question that answers something you are interested in – but don’t spend your time guiding the person down a line of thought. It’s their turn to speak as they wish, and modifying their time for them focuses the attention on you, rather than them, even if they’re doing all the answering… let them drive themselves, because otherwise people see them through a reflection of your interests, and that’s not the point.