— Peter J. Gomes
An article from the Huffington Post came through my Twitter feed this evening that compels me to get theological again. The article is sadly typical and tells the story of a man who was told he could not play music in his church any more because he was gay.
The minister was quick to say they are not a “church of hate” and that the musician, Chad, is still welcome to come to services. Do the people who make these kind of statements really believe that the person will take them up on the offer? “Sorry about the whole being damned to hell thing, but if you want to come worship with us, it’s fine. Just want to make it clear we disapprove of you. See you on Sunday!” They can’t really imagine such a thing, can they?
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been delving deeply into the letters of Paul lately. It is Paul who provides the New Testament ammunition for people who feel strongly that homosexuality is a sin. (By any way you count references to homosexuality are few in the Bible. None attributed to Jesus. Our emphasis on it is of an entirely different proportion than it is in the Bible.)
Some will point to Leviticus and Deuteronomy for support, but because Christians have not found it necessary to abide by all of the other Jewish laws included there: dietary laws, temple ritual and circumcision, the argument that we should be bound by only the laws from these Old Testament books that happen to deal with homosexuality is not particularly strong.
Most Christians who feel that homosexuality is a sin try to make a distinction between the desire and the act. It is not the person, it is the activity. If they would only stop doing those dirty deeds there would be no problem with them being gay. The pastor in the Huffington Post article takes this position:
“We love our neighbors as ourselves. No matter what you hear or read, that’s what we practice here.” he said. “…The difference with Chad is that he switched from struggling with his sin to embracing it.”
Here is the problem: Paul specifically condemns homosexual desire. In Romans Paul says that as a punishment for idol worship: “God gave them (the Greeks) over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27-28)
It is shameful lust not only shameful action.
But don’t get too comfortable. It is not only homosexual desire that is a sin for Paul, it is any desire, the desire for status, the desire for wealth, and good old fashioned heterosexual desire.
When it comes to the last on that list, Paul believes that the ideal is for all people to remain celibate as he is. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”
The best thing he has to say about marriage is that it is a lesser evil than promiscuity. It is better not to be married, he says, but “as a concession” if men are not able to control their desires, they should marry and render to their spouses the affection due them. Marriage, in Paul’s mind, is a way to contain desire. “If they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Being married puts the fire out. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9)
In Paul’s view humans should not desire anything carnal and of this world, their desire should only be for God.
Straight members of Cross Point Church, do you ever burn with desire for things other than God? I bet you do. Do you even try to “struggle with” your desire for your husbands and wives or have you crossed over to embracing your sin? Do you “struggle with” your desire for more money and status such as better job titles or have you actually started embracing that sin? Shouldn’t you all be fired from the church? Be thankful for God’s mercy.
If having no worldly desire except for God seems far too high a burden for human beings, you’re right. We are not perfect. We are human beings not angels.
Paul describes the human predicament in Romans: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Paul and Jesus both say, in too many places to cite chapters and verses, that God knows we fall short and he loves us anyway. We are brothers and sisters and our duty is to love one another.
In Paul’s theology Christ’s sacrifice is the answer to the problem of our complete inability to live up to our highest expectations of ourselves.
Remember that Paul immediately follows Romans 1 with its condemnation of homosexual desire (and lots of other stuff) with Romans 2.
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”
It is not your place to pass judgment on man, that right belongs to God.
I, personally, do not feel that a Christian has to embrace every part of Paul’s world view. I happen not to think that desire is sinful, whether homosexual or heterosexual. The question is whether sexuality is expressed in a spirit of love or exploitation.
But even if you affirm that you must agree with every one of Paul’s beliefs, there is no basis in scripture for defining sin as “pointing out other people’s shortcomings while overlooking your own.”
The main test for how to behave towards others is whether or not you are acting with love.
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Galatians 5:14)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
So to the people at the church who were involved in the decision detailed in the Huffington Post I would ask: How did Chad Graber feel when you, the members of his community, told him you did not think he was moral enough to share his music with you any more? Do you think he felt bathed in your love?
(Joel) Osteen has repeatedly tried to tip toe around his stance on homosexuality, telling Piers Morgan in October of 2011 that he’s not “mad at anybody” and doesn’t “dislike anybody,” while reiterating his belief that the scripture says homosexuality is a sin,” and “two hundred years from now, the Scripture is still going to say that.”
This is a quote from an article on Huffington Post which quotes Osteen as saying that he doesn’t believe heterosexuality is a choice, but he still thinks homosexuality is a sin.
What he says about the text of the Bible being unchanging is true. We have locked in what we consider to be scripture at this point, and even as society changes the words will not. So what do you do with texts that are talking about an ancient way of life, about slaves and eunuchs and the demon possessed? Aren’t we fairly happy that we don’t have people performing animal sacrifices in our churches?
Two hundred years from now the Bible will still say: “If any man takes a wife … and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones …”
I’m hoping we won’t follow that rule 200 years from now either.
— Adam Hamilton, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics (via jennaologie)
— Joel M. Hoffman, And God Said
— James P. Carse, The Religious Case Against Belief
— James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888), U.S. Unitarian minister and abolitionist
— Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible