The main focus of this BLOG, is to uphold those simple, and clearly defined truths, that are so often missing from Christian life and conversation.
(There may also be the odd film or book review along the way as well as stories from my life)
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Monday, 13 July 2015

Same Sex, Same Jesus?

In the current discussion, (OK it's just short of all out war) regarding the Christian Church and same sex issues, there have been a lot of opinions floated about. Much of this discussion has been dominated by outright bad theology (from both sides) and outright bigotry, (again, from both sides).

Somewhere in the middle of all this, there are some in the church that are trying to find the right way to address the issue. The question looks something like this.

"How do I uphold the truths of the Bible, on the subject of same sex attraction, without compromising those truths and my own beliefs. While at the same time being able to express the undiluted love and grace of Jesus Christ?"

That's a tough question. It's so tough, most don't even know how to approach it, let alone how to begin to try to answer it. But some are trying.

For example, Carl Lentz. Lead pastor of Hillsong Church New York City. His approach has been to steadfastly refuse to address the issue from any public platform. He has a number of reasons for this,
Firstly, as he so often iterates, Jesus never did so. Secondly, he will not make a blanket statement on the subject. His preference is to have a face to face conversation. Because he knows that each person will respond differently to such a message. By having such conversations he shows respect and gives validity to each persons viewpoint. Here is a video of Carl  pressing that exact point.

Well is Carl on the right track? To answer this we must look at the ministry of Jesus.

But before we go any further it is essential we clear something up. It is of no use to this debate whatsoever to ask, What Would Jesus Do? What we must ask is, What Did Jesus Do?
Did Jesus publicly address the issues of same sex attraction? No, at least we have no record of such a statement.

He did however address several people facing issues attached to gender. Issues that resulted in ostracism, religious exclusion, bigotry and judgement among other things. I came up with four of these people without even thinking too hard about it. They are all women, because to be a woman in Jesus time, was, by our modern standards to be something of a second class citizen. And these four women were even further down the order than that.

The first of these women is, "The woman at the well" John 4:7-27. This woman is a social pariah, outcast from her own community, she has had five husbands and hasn't even bothered with a wedding for man number six vs. 17-18. She is coming to the well at noon, when nobody else is there. She is a Samaritan. A class shunned and hated by the Jews. Note that the disciples were shocked that Jesus was talking to a woman and a Samaritan vs. 27. But central to this discussion is a part that is often ignored, apart from Jesus' answer. It is the question of worship. Historically the Samaritans were a people excluded from the Jews, some were Jews returning from the dispersion, but unable to prove their lineage. Partly it was a result of the Israel-Judah division of the nation. partly they were descendants of forcibly displaced Babylonians. Because of generational mixture they thought of themselves as Jews. They erected a temple under the direction of a priest who was cast out of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. They celebrated Passover. The temple was later destroyed. In a similar manner to the current practise of Islam, the Samaritans would face the mountain site of the destroyed temple when they worshipped. Now comes the question from this woman. Vs. 20b "you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
There you have the whole picture. A Samaritan woman, excluded from society, excluded from worship. She has been given a law from religious leaders. "This is how you must worship, but we won't let you in because we despise you."
Jesus was not at that well by accident.

The second is the woman with the issue of blood. Mark 5:25-34. Here is a woman excluded, by reasons attached to her sexuality, from any form of social interaction, even family, and she has been this way for twelve years. Despite all her best efforts and those of many physicians her condition has remained unchanged. Under Levitical Law, she should not even be in the city, let alone in the middle of a crowd, she was deemed "unclean" by the law. Leviticus 15:25-33.
In the midst of a pressing crowd, as we so often see, Jesus stops for the "one" the individual.

The third is the woman caught in adultery. John 8:3-11. Here is another question of law. A law that demanded judgement. The religious authorities, (trying to trap Jesus) demanded an acknowledgement of the Law in this case, that judgement be exercised, and the woman be stoned. The law demanded her immediate death.
Jesus responded with mercy, first addressing the condemning crowd. He pointed out that all are guilty of sin, therefore none are fit to stand in judgement. Then he offers forgiveness.

The fourth is the woman with the alabaster box. Luke7:36-50. Jesus is a dinner guest in the house of Simon, a Pharisee, and once again we run into the condemnation of religious authority. The woman by all accounts is a prostitute. She has come to anoint Jesus and worship at his feet. An act Jesus does nothing to discourage. It outrages his host, so much so that Simon questions Jesus' authenticity and spirituality, "If this man were a prophet" he asks himself vs.39. As a prostitute, this woman was barely tolerated. Her life is regarded as shameful and under the ban of society.
Prostitution is akin to; harlotry, adultery and idolatry. The woman is an outcast.
Jesus, once again does not address her situation until the very last, instead he turns his attention towards his host, addressing his hypocrisy.

So there are four examples of how Jesus responded to four different women. They faced a variety of issues, but with many common factors; gender, law, social exclusion, exclusion from worship, reputation, self esteem, shame, outcasts, rejected.

Jesus stepped into all of their worlds, he offered; acceptance, forgiveness, restoration, wholeness, grace, mercy, love, salvation.

So in light of this, how should the church respond to the LGBTI community? Probably the last thirty years or more could be held as a bad response. From the hysterical preaching of AIDS as Gods judgement on the gay community, right down to the waving of placards proclaiming God's hatred towards his children. Now they are paraded as evidence of end times apocalypse.
Not much of this is based on a truly biblical New Testament Church response. It is based on a lie, the lie that homosexuality is somehow worse than all other sin. A lie that feeds upon prejudice, fear, a personal sense of revulsion. The Bible draws no such distinction. We should have done, and now must do, better.

Some would say throw the doors open, let them come as they are, we wont judge. Others would say bar the doors and lock them tight. Neither is a helpful response. To barricade and bar entry is to alienate and deny access to Christ. To open the doors without restraint is to invite a further dilution of truth.

Because to come to Christ is to acknowledge ones sin. The response of Jesus as we so often see, is to forgive the sinner, but then to advocate a process of change, "go your way and sin no more". It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring that change to pass, it is not the job of the church.

This is a journey we are all on, as the Bible says, "working out our own salvation daily" Philippians 2:12 (my paraphrase). I cannot tell you how to embark on that journey, and neither can anyone else. We can sit together, share our stories, pray together and encourage one another. I would advise a few things that are helpful to this journey, such as; prayer, devotional reading, Christian fellowship, corporate worship, attention to sound Biblical teaching etc.
Because salvation, without the ongoing work of salvation, is mere lip-service. The mouthing of prescribed platitudes. It does not constitute relationship with God.

Carl Lentz is often quoted as saying "We are a come as you are Church" and that's good. Jesus never turned anyone away that came seeking him in honest humility. But that invitation must be balanced. What the church cannot say is, "stay as you are" because that is a broad road, it is not the path to salvation.