This post isn’t a follow-up to my last post. It’s a question really.
What would happen if you were hanging out at a café with a friend during the fall, enjoying some tea and a scone and good conversation, when a stranger approaches you. His expression is angry and haughty. He stares at you as you eat. He glances at your friend. He looks almost offended. Finally, you ask, “May I help you, sir?” You notice the muscle in his jaw flex. Is he grinding his teeth? Whatever on earth for? He inhales as if trying to maintain his civility. “No, you cannot help me. You cannot even help your own soul.” You laugh out loud not because you find his response humorous but because you are now very uncomfortable. “Uh…what do you mean?” He sweeps his hand towards your table in a grand gesture. “Look at the two of you sitting here with such pride. You eat. You enjoy yourselves. You live with such wanton abandon. Do you not know what day it is? Do you not know that you are living in sin?” You are now curious. “How are we living in sin? Is it sinful to visit a café? I mean, it’s not Sunday. Not that it’s sinful to go out on a Sunday or anything, but to some people it is, I suppose.” The man produces a pedantic laugh. “Sundays? Who cares about Sundays?” You are beginning to feel annoyed. “Sir, make your point or leave please.” His eyes narrow. “You are sinning. You are breaking the Law. Today is Yom Kippur. You are not allowed to enjoy yourself today. Today is the holiest day of the year. It is a day to confess sins and fast. How can you sit here and eat and drink and partake of any kind of merriment forsaking your own soul?” You sigh with relief. “Oh, I see. I’m not Jewish, sir, but I do see what you are saying. If you are Jewish, then I bless you in your day of atonement and wish you well.”
The man stares at you. “I am not Jewish. The Bible, however, is clear. Are you a believer?” You pause and ask, “What do you mean?” He asks again, “Do you read your Bible?” You ask, “Do you mean to ask me if I’m a Christian?” He nods. “Yes, I am.” He looks smug and responds, “The command to keep the Day of Atonement is in your Bible. Even your Christ kept it. What sort of Christian are you then if you do not?” He then leaves.
Now, this is a weird interaction. A man is imposing his religious worldview upon someone else and judging them at the same time calling their faithfulness into question. His adherence to his own religious practice is his standard for devotion in all others even if other people don’t believe what he believes. It matters not to him. Does the celebration of the Jewish feasts make sense for someone who is not Jewish even if they are a Christian? This is a big question; one that takes time to answer. Is it right to judge a Christian for not celebrating them? That’s an easier question to answer. No, it’s not right. Matthew 7:1 is very clear on this point: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” Just in case we don’t understand what Matthew is saying, the same sentiment is repeated in Romans. Three times!
And again in 1 Corinthians 4: Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
Yes, we all have our own measure for what is good, healthy, or even holy, but we are not allowed to apply that to anyone. It is absolutely forbidden for Christians, for lovers of Jesus, to judge another human being. The standard is set very high for those who claim to love Jesus because the word ‘Christian’ means ‘like Christ’.
Why write this out? Nothing I’m saying here is new or provocative. Well, I continually read accounts of Christian leaders condemning the “homosexual lifestyle”. I find this odd and weirdly funny. Why pick homosexuality? I’ve asked this question before of the very passionate people who are participating in this culture war. They angrily respond with something like, “The Bible is very clear on the matter. Homosexuality is a sin!!!” Huh. Let’s look at this for a moment. I’m going to examine 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
I do see homosexuality among the list of “violations” that are considered unrighteous, but I see a heckuva lot more violations, too. What about the sexually immoral? What does that mean exactly for us today? What does it even mean to be sexually immoral? Well, in terms of Judeo-Christian ethics, it means violating the standard of ethics known to be in play within this belief system. We could sit back and have a very long discussion about the nuances of sexual immorality and never come to an agreement on the subject because the spectrum of sexuality is so wide and varied even in the Church. Furthermore, Jesus never discussed it. Not once!
What about idolaters? Idolatry is the act of putting anything before God–loving anything more than God. That’s all of us. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but every human being on the planet will, at some point, engage in idolatry because we use idolatry to cope. Every time you use chocolate to comfort yourself rather than asking the Holy Spirit to be your comforter, you are engaging in idolatry. The sobering truth behind this is that eating chocolate or ice cream or Lay’s potato chips in order to numb yourself to pain is on par with homosexuality according to 1 Corinthians 6. In fact, committing adultery–and Jesus said that adultery included just thinking about getting it on with someone who was not your spouse–stealing, being greedy, exploiting other people, being abusive–even verbally–or being on the spectrum of manipulative from an emotional manipulator all the way to a con artist like Bernie Madoff–are all unrighteous choices. There is no hierarchy here. From the view of heaven, it’s all the same thing. We will all meet the criteria for at least one of these acts of unrighteousness at some point in our lives. We will all violate this ethical standard in some manner and be cut off from kingdom of God. This is what it means to be human.
Why are we then not seeing Christian leaders speaking out on news programs and radio shows about idolatry? How many marriages are affected by a lifestyle of idolatry in the form of gaming, for example? Why are there not conferences of Evangelicals gathering to condemn the rise of adultery in the Church today? What about greed? The 2008 Great Recession was a direct result of greed and thievery. I don’t recall church leaders standing together to speak against the direction of the culture then. What about the hook-up culture and excessive alcohol consumption that goes on at so many college campuses today? This isn’t necessarily about sex and experimentation. It leans a little too far towards exploitation. Fox News and Jim DeMint aren’t discussing this at length today. Sure, someone will occasionally bring it up, but star college athletes seem to be a protected and elite group of individuals who are granted a wide berth when it concerns bad choices and highly questionable behavior. Communities value their college and pro sports and the income it brings in. If innocent women are hurt along the way, then the most common trope you’ll hear is, “Boys will be boys.” This is greed in action! I’m not attacking anyone or even attempting to be provocative. I’m merely pointing out that Paul is very clear that these choices, according to the Bible, are just as grievous as the very thing for which most conservative Evangelicals today are willing to condemn another person–being gay.
What if one of these fraternities, however, were a homosexual fraternity? What if they partied just as hard as the other Greek organizations? What if it weren’t girls who were being roofied and raped but boys? What then? I can almost guarantee that a shitstorm of epic proportions would come down upon that organization that has never before been seen. Why? Why are heterosexual males allowed to behave badly and illegally with little consequence but homosexual males are not? 1 Corinthians 6 makes it pretty clear that, in God’s eyes, we are all the same. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. Sexual exploitation is sexual exploitation. The Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 6 for ‘homosexuality’ is ‘arsenokoités‘. Arsenokoités is a compound word constructed of two Greek words: arsen and koité. Arsen means male or man, and koité, in this context, means ‘repeated immoral sexual intercourse’ or sexual promiscuity. In other verses in the Bible, koité is used to mean ‘sexual promiscuity’. During this era, there were a few cultural habits at play. Older men would choose younger men for long-term sexual relationships. This was not an uncommon lifestyle in the Roman Empire. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Romans were, in fact, instructing them to stop engaging in that behavior. It was a form of sexual exploitation.
Secondly, any form of sexual exploitation is simply not healthy to body and soul. Historically, the women in this time period were viewed as chattel. Society was segregated, but men would often have a great deal more contact with each other. The public baths, for example, were a favorite gathering place for the Romans. Sexual activity was very common there. You have to remember that the Roman Empire worshiped the phallus. When groups of Romans converted to Christianity, Paul had to discuss their sexual practices and phallus worship. This was a very different time. Older men had to give up their pedophilia, and men had to stop having sex with each other in the public baths–if they were going to convert to Christianity. Nowhere in the Bible, however, are these practices ranked as somehow far more offensive than any other behavior. This became a Judeo-Christian ethics issue. That’s all.
So, why are Christian leaders so freakin’ obsessed with homosexuality? Why do we seem to have a group of self-appointed culture warriors ready and willing to condemn another group of people to hell even though Jesus didn’t do that? Jesus never talked about homosexuality. Jesus talked about a lot, but he did not press the SEX button. Isn’t that fascinating? I think that one of the bigger reasons behind general cultural homophobia is shame as well as a political agenda. Americans, in general, struggle with shame around sexuality. We are very odd in that way. We are far more comfortable looking at a nearly naked Victoria’s Secret model than we are seeing a woman nursing her baby. Americans are often very offended by sexual content in films, but we are not usually bothered by extreme violence. “24” was a very popular television show among American Christians, but show an American Christian some sexual content and watch the religious fervor and judgment rise to the surface. Violence and war are lionized in our culture because it can be linked to nationalism, and, for many American Christians, nationalism and even jingoism go hand in hand with faith. One cannot be considered a good Christian if one is not a patriot. Because of the military’s historical stance on homosexuality, the American Christian cultural link between faith and patriotism, and the enmeshed attitude betwixt shame and sexuality, it becomes clear why conservative Evangelical leaders have launched a culture war against homosexuality singling it out as if it’s the chiefest of all sins when the Bible is very clear that: 1) it is not and 2) arsenkoités is a specific act or rather set of acts occurring in certain contexts.
Compare this cultural reality to Jesus’ teachings. He never discusses sexuality, but he talked frequently about how we were to treat others. Generally speaking, American Christian culture simply does not line up with what Jesus taught. Sure, there are pockets in North American Christian culture that are very life-giving, but, as a whole, what do agnostics and atheists believe that we believe based upon their cultural experiences with American Christianity? In general, how do American Christians engage the culture? What messages are coming across the loudest? Someone could very well engage me on my points and tell me that Leviticus 20:13 is very clear: ““If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” It’s true. Leviticus does indeed say this. Do you know what else the Old Testament commands? We are commanded to keep all the feasts as well. The commands are quite explicit, and they are laid out in great detail in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy. If people are condemned by Christian leaders for disobeying God and practicing homosexuality, then why aren’t all Christians censured and harshly condemned for disobeying direct commands that explicitly direct us to keep the many feasts? The obvious answer is because we’re not Jewish. Christians do not keep Torah. And, there it is. Christian leaders can’t have it both ways. Christians either follow the teaching of the Torah to the letter or they do not. This is what Jesus was saying when he said to the mob of people ready to stone an adulteress in John 8 that anyone without sin in their lives could throw the first stone at her.
We cannot pick and choose “sins”, decide which ones are better and which ones are worse, categorize people based upon which groups make us more uncomfortable, and then condemn them accordingly. We either fully keep Torah which would then make us Jewish (and even modern Jews decide which parts of the Torah apply today) or we do not. We either cast stones at the guilty of which we are a part, or we cast no stones at all. Let’s be honest here, sexuality will always make us uncomfortable. It’s a private issue that has been made public and turned into a commodity in order to sell products. What’s more, our identities and the deepest part of ourselves are tied up in it. How we feel about ourselves is tied into sexuality. What right do any of us have to actually condemn another human being for their sexual identity when God does not? Nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that homosexuals will go to hell. It says that people who engage in all forms of sexual exploitation will not inherit the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is present now. It’s “at hand”–it’s now. That includes heterosexuals as well. How many people do you know who are engaged in sexually exploiting other people for their own satisfaction actually care about cultivating the presence of God? That is the point. Lifestyles that harm others do harm us as well. We lose our self-awareness, our sensitivity, our compassion, and our God awareness. We don’t function as we were created to function.
The kingdom of God is not just about God. It’s about humans living at peace with each other. It’s about humans becoming everything that they were created to be, going as high as they can, fulfilling their destinies, and doing so in a blessed community, under the smile of God. Lives where greed, abuse, sexual exploitation of the self and others, substance abuse, broken relationships, stealing, and deception is present will not flourish. The kingdom of God will not be present there. In the end, for Christians, it’s all about relationship with the person of Jesus. It will always, always, always come down to that. This is why Jesus never talked about sex. Sex, at its heart, is a relational act. Talking about it, condemning it, shaming people for liking it, marginalizing those who do it, alienating those with fetishes, exiling those who are into kink, and gossiping about those who have used it to make a living should be forbidden activities for followers of Jesus. Why? Look who Jesus called ‘friend’. If Jesus was friends with prostitutes, then you can bet he was friends with the homosexuals of his day. He was beloved by the marginalized in his community. This is what changed everyone around him. He simply loved people at their starting points. He offered them himself and a new way to experience life. He called forth their true identities and showed them that God, His Father, looked just like him. Love is what changes people. Love is what makes a person begin to love themselves. Maybe you can ask for something better in life because where there is love there is hope. Where there is hope there is faith. A belief in oneself is the beginning of a trajectory change in life. This is what knowing Jesus is like. His unwavering belief in our worth is relentless, and it changes how we feel about ourselves–for good. Once one person in a community experiences this kind of love, it spreads. Suddenly, communities are changing. This is the kingdom of God at work.
This is what the Church’s role is. Our job is to tell every single person on Earth that they are beloved. In God’s eyes, they are clean. They are priceless. They are forgiven. They are welcome in His presence. In God’s eyes, they are perfected, beautiful, and so incredibly worthwhile. There is healing and restoration waiting for them. This should be everyone’s starting point for themselves. It all begins with a relationship. If there is no relationship with God, then we have no business saying anything else. If we do not love people, then we have not earned the right to speak. As far as I’m concerned, if this is not the message of every Christian leader, then they need not speak at all.
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A Warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with joy;
He will be quiet in His love [making no mention of your past sins],
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. Zephaniah 3:17 AMP