God, Politics, and Tragedy in Orlando

My leadership style is more “Jean-Luc Picard” than “James T. Kirk.” I’m a collaborative kind of guy who appreciates postponing serious decisions until I’ve had time to talk to the people who will be affected — and people who know more than me. Yes, if necessary, I can be positively authoritarian, but it’s not how I prefer to operate. For that reason, I generally hold back on my harsher opinions and let things go unless they truly need to be addressed immediately. I’m just not that brash.

Today, however, I’m going to grant myself a point of personal privilege and step up on my soap box. My message can be summed up in only two simple words:

Stop it.

All of you, just stop it. Fifty people are dead in the worst shooting on American soil since the Indian massacres. It doesn’t matter it happened at a gay club. It doesn’t matter if the victims were gay, straight, or something else. What matters is fifty families have been irreparably torn asunder. They will never again see the smile on their loved one’s face, never again hear their laughter, dry their tears, feel the warmth of their hugs or the fire of their fury. What matters is they have experienced an incomparable loss from which they will never fully recover. Parents lost children, siblings lost siblings, friends lost the one person closest to them in the entire world. Fifty people are dead. Those souls now face eternity in whichever destination they were bound for based on their acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ. As Ecclesiastes 3:4 says, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” This is a time to weep and mourn. Just like at any other senseless murder, this is a time for sackcloth and ashes and prayer and longing for the day our last enemy is finally defeated once and for all.

How dare you try to use these fifty deaths to further your own political agenda.

Social media, news articles, any and every medium available to us has been flooded with rants on both sides of the gun control issue in the days since the shooting. People cry out that if those fifty people had been armed (or even if only some of them had), they wouldn’t have died — after all, even radical Muslims can be stopped by bullets — and so we need to provide nigh unfettered access to guns and ammunition. Those on the other side loudly proclaim the opposite, saying our society made it too easy for the shooter to acquire his weapon; we need harsher laws governing the sale of arms and such ordnance. Pastors in my area have come out on both sides of the issue.

Stop it.

Personally, I know next to nothing about gun laws. I once held a concealed carry permit, yes, but I could never tell you what constitutes an assault weapon or how many rounds you can legally put in your squirrel gun. I freely admit my knowledge of weapons barely makes it to the late Middle Iron Age. I can tell you about the Roman gladius and techniques for fighting with a trident/net combination in the Colosseum, and that’s about as new as I get. Any opinion I could offer on the subject of gun control would be ill-informed and far more theological and common sense than legal. But that doesn’t matter right now anyway.

So if you’re using these deaths as leverage right now, let me call you the ghoul you are and say stop it.

Many posts have also arisen criticizing the Christian response to the massacre. Let me say I haven’t actually encountered most of what they’re railing against (Christians saying they had it coming for being gay), but I have seen many trying to tell Christians we can’t offer prayers for Orlando and still condemn homosexuality as sinful and against the will of God.

Stop it.

Those who make such frankly ludicrous claims don’t understand prayer, Christianity, or love (real love, not what passes for it in popular parlance these days). There is absolutely nothing preventing us from loving our neighbors as ourselves and still adhering to biblical morality. We can mourn and weep even while wishing gay clubs didn’t exist, all without holding to some hateful contradiction. Those who say otherwise are, like those in the gun control debate, using these fifty people as leverage for a theo-political agenda. You are using death and injury as tools to coerce Christians into coming over to your way of thinking on the issue.

Stop it.

And if any Christians are in fact trying to take advantage of this tragedy to proclaim a message of damnation against homosexual people, I tell you the same thing.

Stop it.

There is a time and a place for both of these discussions. We truly need to engage in dialogue about gun control and homosexuality. We need — desperately, truly need — Republicans and Democrats to sit down together, not as members of a political party with indefensible arrogance and the idolatry of a party platform, but as human beings who recognize the humanity of the other as well as their own obligations as people in power to do good and justice and mercy. We need those conversations to happen. Orlando proves that.

But those fifty human beings who once had dreams and loves and families lie dead. Over fifty more will carry bullet-shaped scars — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual — forever. Out of respect for the dead, out of respect for the living, out of respect for a God who loves them as He loves you, please don’t turn them into a talking point on a list in support of your agenda. Please take time instead to mourn and weep and pray.

And if you dare open your mouth for any other reason on this matter,

Stop it.

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F.A.Q.: A Consistent Ethic of Sexuality

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of divorce and cohabitation,
And fornication and . . . “

That’s not how that poem goes. That’s not how that poem goes at all. With apologies to Mr. Carroll, however, that’s how it will go for the purpose of this blog. The time has finally come to address the walrus — er, carpenter — er, elephant — in the room. One question I’m asked pretty regularly is why Christians spend so much time talking about homosexuality to the exclusion of other, seemingly more pervasive sexual sins. So here goes.

Short answer: the pot likes calling the kettle black. The other staple sexual sins — pre-marital sex, pornography, cohabitation, most forms of divorce, and adultery — are so common among churchgoers that pastors are afraid to say anything about them for fear of losing their flocks (and their pulpits). The LGBTQ community, however, is a much safer target, and so energies are diverted to speak out against homosexuality, transgenderism, etc. Such behaviors (NOTE: behaviors, not people) are fairly universally condemned from the pews as well as the pulpit, and so more lay Christians are likely to speak out about them. Instead of uncomfortably discussing our own sins, we say, “Let’s pick on someone who sins differently than we do!”

Again, that’s the short answer. The long answer is, well, longer.

Let’s begin by defining our terms. Under the biblical schema, many things are classified as sexual sin. The catch-all word for sexual immorality is porneia; I’m sure you recognize the root as the same for “pornography.” Porneia is a bit of a legal term in the sense it carries the full weight of the Torah behind it. Anything and everything the law of Moses classified as sexual sin is counted as porneia in the New Testament. Most of those laws are scattered throughout Leviticus, but they’ve largely carried over even in popular conception: incest, fornication (pre-marital sex), adultery, homosexuality, and transvestism (included here in its traditional place). Many people claim Jesus never talked about homosexuality, and he didn’t explicitly, but he did make reference to — and sharply condemn — the categorical porneia, so he really did talk about it.

Back on topic, though, porneia very soundly condemns the “church-approved” sexual sins. The only acceptable sexual behavior in either testament is heterosexual intercourse in the context of the marriage covenant. That pretty much excludes both adultery and fornication straightaway. A common argument in favor of the latter nowadays is “Oh, but we love each other, and we’ve promised to only be with each other.” Great! Put a ring on it. The full level of commitment prerequisite to sex shouldn’t be at all daunting if you’ve already made it as far as all that. Secure God’s blessing on your relationship through holy matrimony and enjoy your marriage bed. But until you do, you’re not married, the two have not become one flesh, and sexual intercourse is still out of bounds for you. (I would say I’m sorry, but I have a rule: never apologize for what the word of God says, even — especially — the hard parts.) So again: any sort of sexual behavior outside of a heterosexual marriage is sin. And some of the violent and demeaning sexual behaviors inside of those parameters are sin, too. But that takes care of two things, then, pre-marital and extra-marital sex.

On to another. Divorce is perhaps the most taboo, most difficult subject to teach on. Jesus actually made my job much harder on this score than both Moses and the rabbis in the time of Christ. I mean, one rabbi actually authorized divorce if your wife ruined your meal while cooking it.

“Darling, I burned the toast . . . “
“Well then I’ll see you in divorce court. Start packing.”

Divorced women at the time had no rights and no property. So when Jesus tightened the regulations governing divorce in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-12, he did a great deal to help women. He greatly reduced the valid reasons for obtaining a divorce — as in the number changed from “infinite” to “one,” namely infidelity. Paul nuances this a bit in 1 Timothy 5:8 (as most take it), saying infidelity also includes a failure to provide (up to and including abandonment by most interpretations). And most interpreters take that provision to include safety, so abuse likewise becomes a valid reason for divorce. That’s it, really: infidelity, abandonment, and abuse. The only three reasons the New Testament gives us for divorce. Anyone divorcing for any other reason and remarries both commits adultery and causes the other ex-spouse to do so as well.

This is a hard saying.

Now add the fact lust is equivalent to adultery (Matthew 5:27-30) and you have even bigger problems.

Let’s kick it up another notch (BAM!), a notch brought to you by 20th-Century technology and 21st-Century demand: pornography. There is nothing redemptive about porn; there’s nothing anyone can say to make it less evil. As the saying goes, the only difference between pornography and prostitution is the camera. Both are paying people for sex, yet we only really consider one of them to be evil; why? How? Add to that fundamental thought the aforementioned sinful status of lust. Now consider the rise in demand for violent pornography. Now think about its connection to sex trafficking. And don’t forget the way it warps views of sex, women’s bodies, men’s bodies, women’s personhood, men’s personhood, and everything else it falsely portrays. After all, porn is a lie. Now let’s mention the addiction, the porn-induced sexual dysfunction, the shame and guilt and . . . Finally getting the picture? One last thing, then: if fornication is wrong, and porn requires fornication, then at its most basic, it’s simply a recording of sin. If your spouse asks to watch it together, remember: it will only hurt in the bedroom, never help. I’ll say it again because it bears repeating: there is nothing redemptive about porn.

There. A consistent sexual ethic to cover sexual immorality in all its various guises, inside the church and out. I realize some of you are pondering the topics of polygamy and levirate marriage in Scripture, thinking they’re permissible by the biblical “meta-ethic.” Short answer: no. Longer answer: apples and oranges. Longest answer: that’s another blog for another day.

Let’s be good to each other, folks. Speak these truths in love. The sin is not the person; the sin is a mistake the person made. Love that person with all you are — just as the Lord loves you.

F.A.Q. #8: Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage

I’ve been hesitant to address the topic of homosexuality for a few reasons. The first is simply that so contentious an issue should probably be discussed in person. I’m not sure something you read on the internet is going to change anyone’s mind, and there’s a good chance it will only lead to confusion or animosity. Second, it’s a remarkably complex issue. Okay, it’s really not, but things have become so muddled it’s difficult to get a consensus on any give interpretation of the pertinent passages of the Bible. In order to give a full view of what’s going on, I have to not only give you my own views, but also spend time addressing the common rebuttals. That means any post on the subject would not be short enough for a single post — or even a series of posts. For example, in my last ministry placement, I shelled out around twenty-three single-spaced pages of biblical and theological interpretation. That’s just too much information. Finally, I didn’t want my words to be misconstrued and be labeled as homophobic or hateful or something like that. I want to be very clear: God’s love extends to everyone equally, regardless of, well, anything. With that said, it’s also in God’s nature to be holy — and that means hating sin in any incarnation. It’s not judgmental to call sin what it is; indeed, it’s actually loving to point out — from the context of a loving relationship — the things which tear someone from God. I would hope my loved ones care enough about me to tell me I shouldn’t be doing such things. After all, that’s what love does: it offers correction, chastisement, not blind acceptance of evil. But love is often hard to express in the form of a written word from someone you will probably never meet, and so I didn’t want to run the risk of being misunderstood.

Recent events in my own life have made me reevaluate those reasons, and so I want to be clear on what both the Bible and two thousand years of church history actually say regarding the LGBTQ community. To that end, I want to make two statements.

First, I unequivocally believe both Scripture and sacred tradition maintain non-heterosexual orientations and actions to be sinful and to run counter to the will of God. I base this upon passages from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Some of those texts are hotly debated, but once you cut through the specious arguments (a.k.a. “exegetical gymnastics,” as I like to think of them), there’s only one faithful way to read the whole of the Bible which eliminates conflicts and political/cultural agendas. I hate to state something in such absolute terms, but I fully believe that to be true.

The second statement is the full explanation of the first one. Below is a link to download a pdf version of my research. It’s dense, it’s technical, and it plows through a few different languages. And it may offer some corollaries you might not like. Regardless, this is what I believe to be truth, and I feel I stand in good company. (Later, should the full statement be too much information, I’ll return to the topic and make a TL;DR version.)

I invite you along on the journey, and as always, I welcome thoughtful dialogue (and forbid deliberately inflammatory comments).

Note: I wrote this statement before gay “marriage” was legalized in the United States. It’s possible that some of my statements are already dated, despite being two months old.

Gay Marriage