Wandering the savage garden…

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The Anchor of the Past

It’s one of those days where I’m recognizing the value of writing as a habit, because I really, really don’t want to write, at all. It’s been a big day – great highs, and incredible lows. I’m still trying to process it all, and the thing that’s keeping me grounded is God.

I’m having to remind myself of the patterns we should follow through the day. They easily become rote and dry religion, but their true value is when they keep us afloat even when everything’s messed up around us.

Right now, everything’s messed up. Like I said, it’s been a triumphant day – and a difficult one, even in the height of victory.

It’s my own fault, too. The pain was lurking in the heart of success, and it was my own action that put it there; it was a random comment that set it loose. To the best I can tell, it wasn’t intentional, but it’s been severe, opening a wound that I thought had healed and scarred over.

So now I’m retreating, reminding myself that this is a storm that can and will pass, God willing, and that the routines I might otherwise despise for being empty ritual are also things that give us momentum and context.

I ask for forgiveness every day, which can easily become arrogance and ignorance… and when I need it, the beauty of the request shines through, breathing life into the dry bones.

Including my own dry bones. I don’t know how I’ll make it through this moment, but like I have done before, I will find a way, with God’s help and guidance, to healing. I know it won’t be easy; it’s redemption I seek, not simple forgiveness, and not an excuse.

That’s not to say that I don’t need to pray further about it. I try to be accountable in everything I do, because I don’t want an accusation to have legs; I want it to be obvious that the Accuser lies. And I resent the accusations, when the truth is told; “I am wronged,” I say to myself.

And I guess to some degree, I am wronged. The accusation is, in this case, not accurate. But that doesn’t mean that other accusations were also inaccurate – that’s why I know this is simply the long-buried fruit of sin from long ago. This is a burden I should bear, not one I should avoid, regardless of whether I wanted to avoid it or not.

In the end, it’ll be okay; I’ll endure, somehow, and with God’s help everything will be okay, and stronger than it was. Here’s hoping.

I realize that I haven’t actually written five hundred words, even though this is today’s “five hundred word” entry – I’m trying, but I’m really struggling right now.

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)

Let’s get this straight

Homosexuality is a sin, according to the Bible.

You may not like this fact. You may be afraid of it. You might be convicted by it. You might even get angry with me for putting it straight like that.

I’m sorry if that’s the case. I’d rather every word I write be like butter, smooth and pleasing.

But words like “homosexuality is okay now” are like butter after it’s been left out, and way too much of it: cloying, rancid. And wrong.

CNN this morning had an article, “When Christians become a ‘hated minority’,” that had a lot of assertions about Christians and opinions about homosexuality – with some Christians being unwilling to “come out” against homosexuality.

I feel for those Christians, even while rejecting their cowardice.

The CNN article was very depressing, both in its subject matter and in its attempted understanding of the biblical stance. It had some statements that were really difficult for me to read, because if they’re true, then there’re some Christians out there who really, really, really badly miss the point.

Like, to the point where fellowship is broken; they may be Christians in name only, and I’d rather be a nonchristian altogether than be a notional Christian, one who considers himself a Christian for social or historical reasons and lacks a true relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here’s an example from the CNN article:

But quoting the Bible doesn’t inoculate anyone from becoming a bigot or hater, some scholars say. There’s a point at which a Christian’s opposition to homosexuality can become bigotry, and even hate speech, they say.

Crossing such a line has happened many times in history.

A literal reading of the Bible was used to justify all sorts of hatred: slavery, the subjugation of women and anti-Semitism, scholars and pastors say.

The first statement is true; lots of bigots use the Bible to justify their idiocy. Yet these readings fundamentally misunderstand that the Bible is a tapestry, a set of balancing statements held in tension. It’s not a series of absolute statements.

This is an example of Western thinking being applied to an Eastern mindset. (See “Eastern and Western Thought” for more on this.)

From the article, again:

Slaveholders in 19th century America justified slavery through a literal reading of the Bible, quoting Titus 2:9-10 – “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything.”

Really? So the whole thing in the Torah about slavery being a temporary bond matters not? Oh, yeah, I forgot: it matters a lot. Slavery was not a Hebrew construct, the way we think of it, and the reality was that Paul was in a Western world and trying to help someone negotiate it; he was not giving a blessing to the idea of slavery.

This is where the church fails, and badly.

We undereducate ourselves and others in our church, so that we’re not armed, not prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within us, as we’re commanded to do by Peter. Actually, let’s look at that verse:

15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

1 Peter 3:15, ESV

Gentleness. Respect. Honoring Christ as holy. Heck, a defense!

Where are these things, in a church where one is unwilling to decry sin as sin?

To be fair, some people will misinterpret, wilfully. Some people will take a gentle statement that homosexuality is a sin as denigrating, because they’ve elevated that particular sin as an idol above all others in their lives.

This is a difficult obstacle to overcome. It’s also sad. It’s also a call to remember “gentleness and respect,” and a reminder that witnessing is most effective when it’s mano a mano, one individual witnessing to another.

And witnessing isn’t “Sit down, shut up, let me tell you about Christ” – it’s understanding the other person, walking alongside them, meeting their needs – not just for Christ, but their human needs as well.

But that doesn’t mean hiding the truth – to the contrary, it means finding the truth. If you’re wielding the Bible like a club, you’re doing it wrong.

What is permissible for a Christian?

This past Sunday’s sermon was on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, which speaks of fleeing sexual immorality.

It starts off by saying “All things are lawful for me,” referring to a philosophical idea that separated the body from the soul. The concept was that the flesh was corrupt (and presumably corrupted the soul as well, I suppose?) and therefore, the soul could be saved but the flesh could not.

The implication here is that the flesh could do what it wanted, as it was destined to be destroyed forever anyway, and the soul was kept inviolate apart.

Therefore, the flesh could indulge in all kinds of acts without affecting the relationship of believer with God.

This is in relation to food; the Faithlife Study Bible’s comment on 1Cor 6:13 says that the Corinthians

“reasoned that since the body could digest food apart from any moral instruction, it could also engage in sexual activity apart from moral instruction.”

Part of me marvels at the intuitive leap here, and I also am a little stunned that this is where this reasoning led them.

Paul writes that the purpose of the body is what defines what is right, by saying:

13… The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? (1Cor 6:13-15, ESV)

The rest of chapter 6 addresses the unity of the body and soul, and also says to flee immorality – that we cannot fight it ourselves, but should run from it rather than engage it.

And at last we segue into something God laid on my heart with this message.

I wrote a post in December 2011 called “Where should we be willing to go?,” inspired (or incited) by some people who were busily and happily judging people who were willing to associate with sinners.

The most important paragraph in that post (to me) is this one:

So should I avoid people or situations because I think that the people there aren’t always edifying Christ? No. I should not. I should examine the circumstances and try to act in such a way that those who do not know Christ can see His effect on me, and maybe God through that can call them to Himself.

The core statement was that we should be willing to go anywhere to which we are called to go, regardless of where that would be; I used a strip club as an example. I wouldn’t be able to go to such places myself in such a way that people saw Christ in me, I don’t think, but I can conceive that perhaps (somehow, someway, with God’s merciful and powerful help) someone could.

I’m not suggesting that it’s likely, nor am I suggesting that one should try just to see if God will act (“You shall not tempt the Lord your God,” from Deuteronomy 6:16, ESV, and quoted by Jesus when He was tested by Satan.) But I can conceive that it’s possible.

Oddly enough, I even used 1 Corinthians 8 to bolster my thought line. It also suggests that I avoid things that I could do that would potentially discourage a fellow believer, but in a way that backs up the original assertion, in that:

I should avoid things that might be permissible for me, when those things might harm anothers’ faith. (Summary mine, of course.)

But is this correct? I was referring to where we should be willing to be present more than what we should allow ourselves to do, but the analogy holds across both concepts.

Doesn’t the injunction against immorality (sexual immorality, specifically) in 1Cor 6 also speak to the impulse that says that I can go anywhere in the Will of God?

Perhaps not. But my feeling is that God wouldn’t will that I go somewhere such that sexual immorality (or any other kind of immorality) was my lot, and if it’s something discouraging to another believer, then perhaps I need to make sure I’m framing it properly (if it is, indeed, within the Will of God) or that I need to, like, stop doing it (because it’s likely that I’m telling myself it’s in the Will of God and I’m lying to myself.)