April 10, 2004
Love your neighbor
WARNING! Religious rant follows! If you are interested, keep on reading. If not, come back later. There is always something rattling around my head wanting to get out.
What follows is based on 26 years of hearing that homosexuality is a sin. I grew up in a Christian family. I went to a Christian school from the 4th grade to the 8th grade. I attend Church weekly. I was taught, and still believe, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Having said that, however, I also believe that many in the Christian faith are losing their focus on what truly matters. For some reason, many in the church have made homosexuality their number one priority. And quite frankly I am sick of it.
Why in the world do we, as Christians, care so much about homosexuality? It is mentioned only about six times in the entire Bible. What makes it even more bewildering is that homosexuality is only one of about 20 topics and rules the Bible speaks about concerning sexual mores and human sexuality (e.g., no sex during menstruation, polygamy, prostitution, levirate marriage, concubines, etc). Yet we choose to disregard almost all of the rules, except a handful dealing with issues like rape, homosexuality, and adultery. What is our criteria of selection? Some would say many of the rules we choose to ignore come out of the Old Testament and are no longer applicable under the new covenant under Jesus. So, let's take a look at what Jesus said. Please open your Bibles to Matthew 5:31-32. Jesus says:
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchasitity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
I think it is safe to say that 99% of Christians today ignore this commandment. And Jesus actually said it! This is not something written by Moses or the apostle Paul, this is a commandment said by the Son of God himself! Why are we as Christians not outraged by divorce? Why do we not fight it as much as we fight homosexuality? And not only do we not fight it, sometimes, in the cases of an abusive relationship, we encourage it! We even perform the marriage ceremonies between divorced people in our own churches. According to Jesus, these people are committing adultery every time they sleep together, and yet we are blessing their sin! We welcome them into our churches. Do we think Jesus was kidding?
I can't get around this hypocrisy any more. I'm sick of turning a blind eye to some commandments and not others. I have come to the conclusion based on this and other Bible passages that it is impossible to take a literal interpretation of the Bible. It is impossible to follow the Bible to the letter of the law. No one can do it and, in fact, no one does. The best any of us can do is follow the spirit of the law as it is written in the Bible and whether we can admit it or not, this is what all of us do. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at another passage, again from the New Testament, from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians chapter 14 verses 33b-35:
"As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."
I don't know about your church, but my church encourages women to speak. In fact, just last Sunday we had a woman seminary student give the sermon. Yet the apostle Paul himself condemned this activity. We usually write this off as a necessity in the time of Paul, or that is just how things were back then. Obviously, today we don't have to follow this rule since it is archaic and offensive. Again, by what criteria do we make this judgement? And more importantly, are we still following the word of God exactly as it is written if we don't follow this rule? I would say no.
This brings us to another of Paul's writings, Romans 1:26-27:
"For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."
There is no getting around it, Paul is against homosexuality and even suggests that men who practice it will receive some kind of "penalty." But is Paul any less clear with his wishes in 1 Corinthians 14, concerning women speaking in church, than he is in Romans 1? No, in fact I would argue that Paul is more clear in 1 Corinthians 14. Yet again, today we choose to ignore completely Paul's writing in the 1 Corinthians passage. Why? Why can we ignore something as clear as this passage, yet vehemently defend Paul's condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1?
Paul goes on in Romans 1 to list all sorts of sins that the people of Rome had fallen prey to: wickedness, evil, convetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossip, slander, God-hating, etc. However, in chapter 2 Paul turns the tables and states to all Christians:
"Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things ... Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgement of God?"
What is Paul saying here? To me it is plainly obvious: people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. We all sin and we do it often. And in the case of Jesus' speech about divorce and Paul's writings about women's role in the church, we sin without any intention of changing our ways. Some would argue through some slick debate tactics that divorce and women speaking in church aren't sins at all, that they are more rules for a specific time period than for the Christian church today. I wonder if the sin of homosexuality could be judged using the same criteria then.
Am I trying to say homosexuality isn't a sin? Am I trying to say it is a sin? Neither. What I am saying is that I am no longer going to focus on it. At all. What I am going to focus on are the teachings of Jesus, most of which focus on helping the poor, healing the sick, having a closer relationship with God, feeding the hungry, and making disciples of all. Let's take a look at Mark 12:28-31:
"One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, 'Which commandment is the first of all?' Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Imagine if the agenda of all Christians was focused on these commandments! What an impact we would have on this world! Jesus and the apostles admonish Christians to "love your neighbor" eight times in the New Testament, and more if you count the Old Testament. Yet how often do we ignore this commandment? Everyday. Would God rather we protest homosexuals and gay marriage? That we get angry and scream in people's faces that they are all sinners and going to hell? That we literally spew hate and malice towards other people based on a Bible that we ourselves do not even follow to the letter of the law? No. For me, it all comes down to "love your neighbor as yourself."
Think about what we could accomplish if we decided to focus on this and the other teachings of Jesus rather than homosexuality! Why is this issue taking up so much of our time and energy? Homosexuals are at best 4-5% of the population. Why are we letting this relatively small issue set the agenda of the entire Church? Are we not strong enough to set our own agenda? Let's be proactive instead of so reactive! Let's change our focus. Take this little test. I'm going to make two statements. Try and decide which one angers you more: 1) Gay marriage could be legalized in Minnesota, 2) There are people starving in your own community. Well? Through which issue could Christians make more of a difference? Let us set an example of love through our actions and actually have a positive impact in our community. Let God take care of the rest.
In closing, let me emphasize that this is my own viewpoint and I am neither claiming it to be the truth, or am I saying that everyone must follow it. In fact, I must admit that I am confused and struggling to come to grips with this issue. However, I don't think there is any confusion when it comes to Mark 12:28-31 and that will be my focus from now on. I welcome your feedback.
Posted by snackeru at April 10, 2004 10:17 PM | Life
Although this topic is long in the past, I would like to offer my perspective.
The claim you seem to make is that since no Christian follows the Bible to the letter, it must be open to interpretation. I think it is a horrible folly to assume that since you have rejected one Biblical principle that another probably is not important either. Instead, your belief in one principle should motivate you to align yourself more completely with other principles.
And in response to your "glass houses" comment, I am not judging sin for my own edification. Instead, I judge in order to save people from peril. And in doing so, I frequently save myself from sin. I'm not throwing stones; I'm throwing people a rope.
My opposition to homosexuality probably has a far larger effect on my actions than other equally awful sins at this time. But I am not going to ease up on one sin because of this imbalance. Rather, I intend to crack down on the other sins in the future. Homosexuality remains a problem. Because of this, my opposition to divorce, out-of-wedlock parenting, and other issues has grown.
And no, family issues is not my number one concern in my faith. I couldn't agree more with you that honoring God and loving my neighbors are top priorities. But that shouldn't stop you from saving others from sin. In fact, protecting your neighbors from sin such as homosexuality is the ultimate demonstration of love. Sure, it is nice if they have food in this life, but that won't save them in the next life. All Christians need to give their neighbors spiritual bread first and then physical bread after.
Here is the one sentence that angers me: "Many of my neighbors risk eternity in Hell because of how they live." I want to change that reality.
Thanks for sharing your beliefs and allowing me to share mine. God bless.
Posted by: Andrew at July 14, 2004 2:08 AM
Andrew, thanks for your comments, although I don't think either of us will ever agree with each other. You state:
"The claim you seem to make is that since no Christian follows the Bible to the letter, it must be open to interpretation. I think it is a horrible folly to assume that since you have rejected one Biblical principle that another probably is not important either. Instead, your belief in one principle should motivate you to align yourself more completely with other principles."
I'm not saying any Biblical principles are unimportant. I'm saying as Christians we have chosen to follow some and not others. No one can argue with this. True, we should try to align ourselves with them, but the day we try to align ourselves with Paul's statements regarding women speaking in church is the day I fall over dead. It ain't going to happen. That is hypocrisy plain and simple.
This post was a result of two newspaper stories I saw around the time I wrote it. One was on an anti-gay marriage rally in Seattle that drew upwards of 20,000 people. If there was a rally for the homeless or the hungry or the sick, issues Jesus cared deeply about, the rally would have drawn maybe 500 people. Our priorities are totally out of whack. It is almost like we only fight battles we think we can win. For some reason there is no glamour in helping the hungry so we shy away from it. We accept it. It is almost like Christians enjoy bashing, yelling and sticking it to gays more than actually helping people. I am deeply angered by this.
The second article was from the StarTrib. A legislative committee voted to pass an anti-gay marriage bill along to the next committee, and the peanut gallery broke out into vindictive cheers. That is not compassion. That is not even remotely an "ultimate demonstration of love." These cheers were filled with hate and malice. If we expect to give our neighbors spiritual bread then we need to do so in a manner that will actually have a positive effect on them and the world. This debate has made Christians look too hateful, and sadly some Christians are hateful. So I flipped out and wrote the post above.
I swore I wouldn't think about this anymore, but I don't think you'll read this anyway. As Christians we need to shift our focus. If you want to fight against gay marriage then you do that. But hopefully some Christians still realize there are more important issues out there to worry about, issues through which Christians can actually have a much more positive effect on this world. In fact, I hope the next time there is a rally for hunger or the homeless in Minneapolis that 20,000 people show up, and that the anti-gay marriage rally across town only draws 500.
Posted by: Shane at July 16, 2004 4:29 PM
I think it's easy to attack something you hate and are repulsed as much as Chrisians are by homosexuality. Other comparable sins are ignored because they aren't disgusted by them. If homosexuality is a sin and there is great debate within Christianity on this, it is no worse a sin than any other (with the exception of course of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit).
Christians also get stereotyped as being anti-gay, yet their are millions of Christians who don't view homosexuality as a sin. The ones that hate and show contempt for gays and their human rights use the Bible to justify and fuel their homophobia and as a weapon to bash gays with. They also probably don't know any gays and view them as filthy disease ridden perverted monsters. Okay, that may be a bit extreme, but if they actually got to know some they would see they aren't really any different from anyone else, just normal everyday people struggling against sin like the rest of us.
Why is fornication, which is a much bigger problem than homosexuality practically ignored? Have Christians given up the fight against it just because it's so common place and socially exceptable? I also think they need reminding that hatred of anyone has no biblical basis and is described as being the equivalent of murder. They are hypocrites and no better than any other sinner and they need to remember that.
Posted by: Chris at December 3, 2005 9:13 PM