The Gospel on Homosexuality: How Do We Call It Sin and Still Embrace the Sinner?Thursday, February 10, 2011
The question asked in the title is the most compelling question today. It comes to mind after watching the portion of interview which Piers Morgan has done with Joel Osteen. Morgan was correct to pick up in a change of tone in Osteen, based on previous interviews with Larry King. For all the issues I may have with this man's ministry, I was deeply thankful to God for his stance on the issue, because it was done with love, gentleness, boldness, and courage.
This, in my opinion, is THE issue the church is going to have to tackle in this generation. I'm not talking about the church tackling whether or not homosexuality is a sin. The Bible is very clear on that. What I am talking about is how the church will do the following when it comes to homosexuality.
1. Intelligently explain the historicity, integrity, reliability, and "trajectory" of the Bible.
The issue of homosexuality, like many issues, is rooted in the Bible. The Bible is a collection of writings which some people reject and others receive. The difference between those who reject and those who receive is faith. Those who have faith believe that it is the Word of God and not just the word of man. Those who don't have faith believe it is just the word of man. As such, they do not view it as an "inspired" collection of writings that were given by God. Rather, they view the collection of writings with a sort of "trajectory theology" much akin to what someone like Brian Mclaren does with the subject.
In Mclaren's view, because the Bible is a book about truth that has been revealed about God progressively and poetically, then whatever it says about a subject cannot necessarily be the final word on it. If, for example, slavery is spoken of in the OT as just a matter of fact, and then it spoken of in the NT as the same, but later on history we see humanity coming to condemn it and even outlaw it, then in some sense there must be a "trajectory" of the issue from ancient times to modern times. Women's rights are seen in this "trajectory". And homosexuality is lumped in with it as well. Just because something is assumed to exist, right or wrong, in the Bible doesn't mean it should stay the same today, according to this line of thought.
So the first thing ordinary, average, run-of-the-mill, everyday Christians must address is their own view of the Bible, its historicity, accuracy, integrity, reliability, and "trajectory." And based on Jay Lenno's street walks and his interviews with people about the Bible, it's hard to feel inspired confidence about the goal here. To miss this key issue is to be a group of Christians who are arguing in a vacuum, which so many have tended toward over the last one hundred years in the church. (This was a side-effect of the fundamentalism movement in the 1920's onward.) And when they argue in vacuum, nobody is listening. If we want homosexuals to listen to what we have to say about the issue, then we must at least speak intelligently about it, be able to interact with the scientific issues and presuppositions, as well as the issues surrounding the Bible and what it has to say. Otherwise, we are irrelevant to the very people we say we want to win to Jesus. The message we are trying to take, not just to them, but to the whole world, is a message rooted in history. If I can't trust the history, then how can I trust the message it carries. It all goes together, you see.
2. Walk the razor's edge of calling it a sin while loving the sinner.
The second thing Christians must tackle is their own comfort zone with homosexuality. It does tend to be treated as the worst of the worst sins on earth. To most, it is unnatural, abnormal, strange, backwards, and simply feels upside down when it comes to the nature of sex. It probably feels just as unnatural, abnormal, strange, backwards and upside down to a homosexual however, when it comes to their view of heterosexuality. So what are we to do, then? Embrace their view?
Of course not. But we are to embrace them. That's the essence of the gospel. Jesus was a friend of sinners. If we believe homosexuality is a sin, then homosexuals are sinners. And Jesus was a friend of sinners. Therefore, Jesus was (and is) a friend of homosexuals. Period. Just because we call it a sin doesn't mean we have to distance ourselves from the sinner. This is precisely where the rubber meets the road in following King Jesus. He wasn't "grossed out" by people's sin.
He saw through the sin and loved the person, effectively loving them out of their sin. That's why sinners followed Him. They felt that He had a genuine love for them. He wasn't fake. He wasn't trying to squeeze charitable donations out of them, or use them as poster-children for His crusade or ministry. They were people, made in the image of God, who needed to have that image of God restored, just like every other single person on planet earth. HE was that restoration. He brought that ability to be restored to friendship with God and to have that image of God restored inside of them. That's what He came to do. That's what the pronouncement of "good news" is all about.
So when it comes to homosexuals, will Christians ignore the awkwardness they feel until they overcome it? It must be overcome in order to bring them close enough into our lives that they feel and experience Jesus' love for them through us. Keeping them at arm's length and simply praying for them just isn't enough. We must be a friend of homosexuals, just like Jesus. If Christians are not able to overcome their personal feelings and issues about this, they will never be successful at doing what they say they want to do, which is to win homosexuals to Jesus...to see the image of God fully restored in them.
So there's the razor's edge Christians must figure out and learn to walk. I call it a razor's edge because walking this way will absolutely shred our feet to bloody ribbons. But deciding not to is taking an easy path of either rejecting them completely and just writing them off and out of our lives (which is heinous in God's eyes), or it is taking the opposite easy path of just embracing them completely so that we are just writing off their sin (which is equally heinous in God's eyes). We must learn how, as the old adage goes, to "love the sinner and hate the sin" and stop letting everyone else define what it means to "judge" homosexuals.
God has already judged homosexuality. He did it at the cross. He put the punishment for sin upon His Son, Jesus. What this effectively means then, is that we can love the sinner and hate the sin. We can look past their sin long enough to see a human being, made in the image of God, who has all the same inner needs and desires that we have: to be loved, to be respected, to be welcomed, to be needed, etc. The only real difference between two people is where they go looking for the fulfillment of those inner needs. Homosexuals have chosen to turn to companionship and sexual fulfillment with the same gender as a way of meeting that need. But what if Christians showed them Someone Else who could fulfill that need in a much deeper and more significant way than they experience with a same-sex partner?
3. Properly define what it means to "judge" someone else.
The final issue I see that Christians must resolve in this generation is that of what it means to "judge." Piers Morgan took Osteen to task about "judging." And the mistake many Christians make is allowing others to define it, because essentially they end up wrongly defining it. We allow those who are not Christians to define the words and concepts we use, which effectively ties our hands in talking through the issue. We have to stop allowing this to happen. It's not fair, and those who do that to us probably don't even realize they are doing it.
So what does it mean to "judge" someone else? Judging has a variety of definitions. It can simply mean to distinguish between things. Or it can mean to distinguish between things and make a decision about one of them. So in these connotations the idea is that of decision-making or discerning. The definitions go to the other end of the spectrum and can refer to condemning someone. Here's what Dictionary.com had to say.
– verb (used with object)
6. to pass legal judgment on; pass sentence on (a person): The court judgedhim guilty.
7. to hear evidence or legal arguments in (a case) in order to pass judgment; adjudicate; try: The Supreme Court is judging that case.
8. to form a judgment or opinion of; decide upon critically: You can't judge abook by its cover.
9. to decide or settle authoritatively; adjudge: The censor judged the bookobscene and forbade its sale.
10. to infer, think, or hold as an opinion; conclude about or assess: He judgedher to be correct.
11. to make a careful guess about; estimate: We judged the distance to beabout four miles.
12. (of the ancient Hebrew judges) to govern.
So when someone like Piers Morgan, or someone else who disagrees with us about homosexuality, challenges us with the notion that we are judging, we have to ask them to pick a definition. If you give them the list, what they'll immediately notice, more than likely, is that the notion or concept or idea of judging they have in mind, isn't really in the list of definitions at all, is it? How interesting. What they mean by judging is that I am somehow looking down my nose upon the poor, measly worm of a soul and am concluding that they are pitiable beings who should be condemned to execution under the wrath of a mean, old, angry God. Isn't that what they really mean when they say Christians are "judging" homosexuals?
I don't mean that. And neither did Jesus, necessarily. I do judge homosexuality and homosexuals according to one or two of the dictionary definitions. I do "form a judgment or opinion of" the issue, just like homosexuals themselves have done. I am allowed to do that as a human being, just as they are. I do "decide upon critically" based upon critical data, of which I include Scripture.
I do not however "decide or settle authoritatively" and effectively censor or forbid something. Who am I to do that? I am just a human being. That's God's territory and responsibility. The greatest and only view of God we have is Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God. And when we read of Jesus in the gospels we see a man who loved sinners, who was their friend, who came to seek them out and save them, who came to experience what they did and die as they did in order to rescue them from suffering and pain. We see a Jesus who hung out with prostitutes, terrorists, tax-collectors, and traitors. We see a Jesus who healed entire villages from sickness and demonic oppression. He was a rescuer, and not a judge. And even as God in the flesh, He did "decide or settle authoritatively" on what sin was, even telling people to never do it again. But all the while there was a tone of love and gentleness and patience and kindness that never carried a hint of "judgmentalism."
These are the three big issues I believe Christians must deal with in this next generation. If they do not, then by next generation, when homosexuality is as normal in society as women's rights and anti-slavery (and it will happen just as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow morning), Christians will have become irrelevant. Their voice will die out because they no longer have something substantive to say about the Bible, about the gospel, and about decision-making. If they cling to their comfort zones and disconnected faith, they will be reduced to little groups of irrelevant people who are forced to withdraw from society because they don't know how to interact with it. They will be reduced to "holy huddles" with "us four and no more".
The Bible gives us a picture of a victorious church, one that is extremely relevant to society, who interacts with it not in intellect and academia, but in power and love. The unarguable, miraculous power of God in signs and wonders and changed lives, as well as a life of unconditional love for every single sinner on earth, will outmatch the intellectual and academic philosophies and arguments about "sin" every single moment of time for the rest of history. Let us press into that, and make conscientious, intentional, purposeful decisions to leave our awkwardness and issues behind so that we can be about the mission Jesus put us on.