Friday, December 22, 2017

Homosexuality, the Bible, Politics and Business

           Homosexuality is one of the hottest political and social issues of our times. Since it is discussed several times in the New Testament and since I teach New Testament, I wanted to produce a clear, concise statement of my position on this issue.
            First, a genuine Christian position on homosexuality must never be about hate. The New Testament is very clear that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. I do not consider gay people to be my enemies, but for those who do, I would remind them that Jesus commanded his followers to love even their enemies. All Christians should love gay people. Gay people should never be mocked, ridiculed, threatened, or abused. Gay people will never be won to Christ out of hostility. They should be treated with love and compassion.
            Second, Gay people should not be refused service simply because they are gay. Christian business owners do not refuse service to adulterers, or to unmarried people who are living together. Why should gay people be singled out?
Third, the issue is not, or should not be, about orientation, but about behavior. The Bible simply does not address the issue of sexual orientation. It addresses behavior. In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), the men of the city gather at Lot’s house and demand, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” That is about behavior, not orientation.[1] Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” That’s about behavior, not orientation. Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman…[it] is detestable.” That’s about behavior. Romans 1:27 speaks of how “Men committed indecent acts with other men.” That’s about behavior. Finally the English Standard Version translates αρσενοκοιται in First Corinthians 6:9 and First Timothy 1:10 accurately as “men who practice homosexuality.” That too, is about behavior. The same is true of the condemnation found in Jude 7.[2] In every case, the Bible is discussing behavior, not orientation.
            Orientation is about attraction and temptation, neither of which by itself is sin.[3] Personally, I am attracted to women and have sometimes been tempted by women, but that fact alone does not make it sin. Even Jesus was tempted in all points as we are—yet without sin. So when a man is attracted to or tempted by another man, or when a woman is attracted to or tempted by another woman, that by itself is not sin.
There is a difference between attraction and lust. Lust has to do with strong desire that one chooses to focus and dwell upon. Both gay and straight people can choose what they focus on and lust after. They do not always choose to whom they are attracted. There is nothing, therefore, inherently sinful about a celibate homosexual. In fact, a Christian who is attracted to people of the same sex, but who refrains from having sex with people of the same sex out of a deep love for Christ should be commended for his or her dedication to Christ!
In addition, there is also nothing inherently sinful about same-sex love that is non-sexual. The love David and Jonathan had for each other is said to have surpassed even their love for women (2 Samuel 1:26), which is saying a lot considering David’s attraction to women!
            Finally, while there is nothing inherently sinful about same-sex attraction or same-sex love that is non-sexual, the Bible is very clear that having sex with someone of the same sex is not only sinful, it is particularly detestable to God. Leviticus 18 and 20 are clear that God even expects pagan nations to know better, and that he will destroy nations over the practices listed in those chapters. Those practices include sex with close relatives, sex with animals and sex with people of the same sex.
The condemnation of the behavior of sex with people of the same sex is not just in the Old Testament, it is repeated several times in the New Testament. The Bible is very clear—sex with people of the same sex is sin, just like sex with close relatives is sin or sex with people outside of marriage is sin. Those who want to twist Scripture into saying something else would do well to heed Paul’s warning about immorality in general, For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:7-8).
            People have, of course, raised all kinds of objections to this position. First, some will question why Christians make homosexuality such a battleground issue. The answer is that we Christians did not choose the battleground. Christians are not the ones seeking to make the changes. These changes are being imposed on our society by judges, politicians, Hollywood, the news media, public schools and gay rights advocate organizations. Christians are simply responding. If our society, for example, wanted to legalize sex and marriage between close relatives, Christians would be forced to make our voice heard on that too. It is part of living in a free democracy, but infinitely more important, it is part of Jesus’ command to be salt and light in this world.
Second, some will admit that the Old Testament condemns sex between people of the same sex, but the Old Testament also says we should stone murderers and we don’t do that anymore either. That’s true, but the fact that we don’t stone murderers doesn’t make murder any less of a sin. Besides, no one is advocating the execution of gay people (except in some Muslim countries).
Third, some will argue that the passages prohibiting homosexual behavior in Leviticus were simply part of a ritual purity code designed to distinguish Israel from her neighbors. The implication is apparently that these practices are not valid for today. If that is true, than prohibitions against incest and child sacrifice would not be valid either since they are part of the same contexts.
Fourth, some will acknowledge that the Old Testament condemns sex between people of the same sex, but will argue that the Old Testament also says we shouldn’t eat pork, etc. The implication is that the prohibition against sex with people of the same sex, like the prohibition against eating pork, should be ignored. It is certainly true that The New Testament teaches that the New Covenant has fulfilled the Old Covenant in some respects (for example, regarding sacrifices, food laws, priesthood and ceremonial purity), but that does not mean that we can just throw our Old Testament out. We know that New Testament writers continued to believe that the Old Testament was valid because they extensively allude to and quote from the Old Testament as their Bible and final authority. Unlike the sacrifices or dietary laws, the fact that the prohibition against sex with people of the same sex is repeated several times in the New Testament makes it clear that this prohibition was not annulled.
We should also note that the context of Leviticus 18 and 20 is not about sacrifices, ceremonies or dietary laws. As mentioned above, it contains numerous sexual prohibitions including sex with close relatives and sex with animals as well as sex between people of the same sex.
Fifth, some people object by pointing out that Jesus never condemned
homosexuality. It is true that there is nothing recorded in the Gospels about Jesus specifically condemning sex between people of the same sex, but Jesus didn’t specifically condemn sex between children and parents, or sex with animals either.[4] On the other hand Jesus was not entirely silent on the topic. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says,
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5).
            In this passage, Jesus is quoting from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 affirming the sacredness of marriage between one man and one woman. Jesus never even hints that God would approve of same-sex marriage. On the contrary, Jesus specifically condemned sexual immorality (e.g. Mark 7:21). In Jesus’ culture all Jews, including Jesus, agreed that the Torah was their Bible. In fact, Jesus strongly affirmed and upheld the Torah (Matthew 5:17-18)—and the Torah specifically condemned sex between people of the same sex (it also condemned cross-dressing as an abomination; Deuteronomy 22:5).[5]
Sixth, some people object saying that Romans 1 is discussing idolatry. They argue that Paul is, therefore, discussing the kind of orgies that took place in the context of pagan worship but that he was not condemning loving same-sex relationships. That Paul was not condemning loving same-sex relationships, however, is usually just asserted by the critics, not demonstrated. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that would lead us to believe that Paul would have approved of sex between people of the same sex in any context. The fact that he specifically condemns the practice three times without qualification is evidence that the critics’ objection is false.
While it is true that Paul is discussing idolatry in Romans 1, that is only a partial truth. In Romans 1 Paul is condemning the willful rejection of what may be known of God, leading to idolatry. Paul says that as a result of this willful rejection, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity” and to “shameful lusts” as well as to wickedness, evil greed malice, etc. The fact that Paul is discussing idolatry in Romans 1 does not excuse any of the sins he lists in that chapter, whether murder, deceit, slander or sex with people of the same sex. Nowhere in the Bible is there any hint that sex between people of the same sex is acceptable to God.
            Seventh, another objection is that Romans 1 is about the behavior of the Caesars or about oppressive relationships between rich and powerful Roman citizens and the lower classes but not about loving same-sex relationships. Some of my arguments on Romans 1 above also answer this objection, but the argument about the Caesars ignores the fact that some relationships between an emperor and another man or a boy were probably loving same-sex behaviors! Paul still condemns the behavior, whether loving or not. Besides, there is nothing in Romans 1 about the Caesars anyway. That is something read into the text, not from it.
Rev. Canon Steve Chalke, argues that our understanding of ancient culture shows that upper-class Roman citizens regularly sexually abused lower class non-Roman citizens. He believes that this is what the Bible is referring to when it condemns homosexual behavior. For example, Chalke says, “When 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians make references to men who have sex with other men, it’s part of a much longer list of people who are exploitative ― murderers, slave traders, liars, perjurers, thieves, the greedy, slanderers, swindlers.” 
The passages Chalke cites, however, also contain references to lying, greed, slander, lawlessness, adultery, drunkenness and other sins. One has to ask, therefore, whether Chalke thinks these sins are also acceptable unless perpetrated by rich and powerful exploiters. After all, it would be ridiculous to imagine that sexual immorality, adultery or homosexual behavior were practiced only by rich and powerful Roman citizens who exploited the lower classes, so we have to ask how Chalke can be so sure Paul’s condemnation is only directed toward the upper classes.
I suspect that we find the answer to this when Chalke goes on to address what I think is the real issue. Chalke says, “Whoever Paul is talking about, it cannot be the wonderful same-sex couples that are in our church, or the gay man or the transgender woman I know. It just can’t be them.” The issue is really not about biblical interpretation at all. It is about emotion. Some people just can’t imagine that God would condemn such nice people.
There almost seems to be a new gospel in the air—a gospel of niceness, in which all warm, friendly, nice people are accepted by God. It is only the terribly abusive, oppressive, and mean people whom God condemns. One problem with this assumption is that some of the friendliest and nicest people you’d ever want to meet are among those whom Paul says will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-6). The kingdom of God is not for those who deny, excuse or explain away their sin—regardless of how nice they are—but for those who sincerely repent of their sin and turn to Christ in faith.[6]
            Eighth, one’s sexual orientation is genetic—gay people are born that way. But the disputed question of whether people are genetically predisposed to being gay is entirely irrelevant to this discussion. From a biblical perspective, the issue is about behavior, not about sexual orientation or genetics. For example, a genetic predisposition to alcoholism is not sinful nor is it necessarily sin for someone to be tempted by drinking too much.  Getting drunk, however, is a behavior condemned in the Bible as sin. Similarly, a genetic predisposition to same sex attraction is not sinful, nor is it necessarily sin for someone to be tempted by someone of the same sex. But the Bible teaches that it is sin to lust after someone of either sex, and it is sin to have sex with people of the same sex just as it is sin for opposite sex couples to have sex outside of marriage.
            Ninth, some people object saying that we don’t make other sins illegal, like adultery, for example. That is true, but it is also irrelevant since no one is trying to make sex with people of the same sex illegal either.
            Tenth, some will argue that even scholars can’t agree on the interpretation of the homosexuality passages in the Bible so we should avoid being dogmatic and judgmental on this issue. Actually, you would be hard pressed to find any subject on which all scholars agree. You could undoubtedly even find some perverted scholars who would say that having sex with children was OK! The fact, however, is that for more than 2,000 years virtually all scholars did agree that the Bible teaches that sex between people of the same sex is sin. It has only been very recently, when western society began to push same-sex marriage, that so-called scholars have come out of the woodwork to re-interpret these passages to support their cause. Many people begin by assuming that what their culture teaches is true and they desperately try to re-interpret the Bible to support their culture. Others so desperately want to fit in to their culture that they twist the Bible to support their views. Make no mistake about it—The Bible itself is very clear: Sex between people of the same sex is sin.
Eleventh, what Christians tolerate changes over time. For example, at one time Crown College didn’t allow dancing or drinking (by faculty) but we do now. Perhaps it is now time to change our stance on homosexuality. This objection is like comparing apples to oranges. While it is true that Crown College changed its position on dancing and drinking, there are no prohibitions against dancing or drinking (in moderation) in the Bible. These rules were adopted not because such practices were sinful in and of themselves, but because in the culture of the time they were considered by many Christians to be characteristic of worldliness. Similarly, at one time Crown required men to wear a coat and tie—but that wasn’t because the college thought it was sinful to appear without a coat and tie! By contrast, there are numerous prohibitions in the Bible which are very clear, for example against adultery, murder, theft, incest, and having sex with people of the same sex (in both testaments). These prohibitions transcend cultures and time periods, and those who strive to be faithful to the Lord are simply not free to change or ignore these prohibitions.
Twelfth, Christians are inconsistent because they tolerate other sins like pride, greed, envy, or gluttony, but they do not tolerate homosexuality. Unfortunately, there is some truth to this objection. The biblical answer, however, is not the complete toleration of all sin, but that churches should be more consistent!
Thirteenth, some argue that people should be able to marry whomever they love. Really? Should the government also support or promote polygamy, polyamory, incestuous marriage, the marriage between adults and children or the marriage between adults and their pets? If the only issue is love, then the answer would have to be yes—In fact, some would say the answer should be yes. Others would say that this begins to make marriage, as the union of two people for the purpose of raising and supporting children, meaningless. At least one gay rights activist was honest enough to admit that making marriage meaningless was the whole point of the same sex marriage debate. This argument, however, really obscures the real issue which, as will be seen below, has to do with freedom of religion and speech.
Fourteenth, people should not be refused service simply because they are gay. As I mentioned at the beginning of this position paper, I agree. Unfortunately, many of these cases have been misrepresented in the media. For example, both Barronell Studzman, owner of Arlene’s flowers in Washington State, and Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado were happy to serve gay people. Barronell Studzman had served gay clients for years and Jack Phillips told the gay clients he would be happy to provide baked goods for them, but they just could not support same-sex marriage.
I would not want government to force a gay baker to make a cake saying that homosexuality was sin, would you? I would not want the government to force a member of PETA who owned a sign company to make a sign advertising cheese burgers. I would not want government to force a Jewish deli owner to cater an anti-Semitic conference. I would not want a Muslim store owner to be forced to sell supplies to churches. I would not want the government to force an African-American restaurant owner to cater a meeting of the KKK. No one should be forced to support causes with which they disagree. When government can tell individuals or businesses what issues they must support or cannot support, we no longer have freedom.
Fifteenth, the precedent for including practicing homosexuals in church membership is the inclusion of uncircumcised believers in the early church. Circumcision was required in the Old Testament, and yet that requirement was overturned to allow uncircumcised believers into the church. Similarly, practicing homosexuals should also be included in church membership. This argument, however, is comparing apples to oranges. Unlike homosexual practice, circumcision was never regarded as sinful. The comparison is like suggesting that since the uncircumcised were welcome into the church, child molesters or those living in adultery should also be welcome! Modern church that openly bless behaviors that are called sin in both testaments, have departed from the faith and fall under the condemnations found in Second Peter and Jude.
The real issue[7]
Politically speaking, however, the real issue is not about whether someone should be able to marry someone of the same sex. The real issue is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion. As I mentioned above, in Oregon a Christian baker had been happily serving a gay customer for years. Contrary to impressions left by the news media, she did not hate gay people and was not opposed to serving them. When the customer, however, decided to “marry” his gay lover and wanted the baker to bake the wedding cake, the baker determined that her religious convictions would not allow her to support gay marriage in this way and she respectfully declined. The state of Oregon pressed charges against her.
When gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, the public school system began promoting it. One Christian family did not want their children exposed to this state-sponsored propaganda and asked that their children be exempted from the class sessions in which homosexuality would be promoted. The school refused. The family sued. The judge determined that since gay marriage was public policy in Massachusetts, the family did not have the right to exempt their own children from such instruction (the idea that parents have no right to exempt their children from state indoctrination on any topic should concern all Americans of any social or political persuasion)!
In Boston, a Catholic adoption agency that specialized in difficult placements was forced by the state to go out of business because they could not in good conscience adopt to gay couples—even though there were other adoption agencies that would adopt to gay couples!
In Maryland a Christian camp faced legal battles with the state because they could not in good conscience rent their own privately owned facilities out for same-sex civil unions. A Christian family in New York also faced legal battles when they could not in good conscience rent out the facilities on their own farm (which they made available for weddings) for a gay marriage. There is an important distinction here. It would be wrong for this camp or family to refuse service to a client just because he or she was gay. But freedom of speech and freedom of religion should protect their right to refuse to lend support to an institution, i.e. gay marriage, they believe to be sinful.
In yet another case a Christian counselor faced legal opposition when she declined to counsel a gay couple having relationship problems. Even though the Christian psychologist referred the couple to another counselor who was open to gay relationships, the gay couple sued anyway. Similar legal battles were faced by a Christian photographer who could not in good conscience photograph a gay wedding.
More recently California bill SB 1146 would have cut off all state funding (student aid) to colleges that prohibit sex between people of the same sex. This would discriminate against Christian Colleges based on their religious beliefs and effectively put most Christian colleges out of business.
            Chai Feldblum, who was the Obama appointee to head up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission once said that when gay rights clash with religious freedom there is virtually no case in which religious freedom should win! Several law school professors once wrote that the clash between gay rights and religious freedom was going to be a “train wreck.”
            It is very important to note that this issue is NOT about whether the government should be able to force people to violate their beliefs. For example, if someday the government passed a law forcing me to swap my gas car for an electric car because of climate change dogma, this would violate my belief that climate change is more about politics than science, but it would not violate my religious convictions and I would obey the government.
The real issue, politically speaking, is whether the government should be able to force people to do (or refrain from doing) something that they sincerely believe would constitute sin against God. That is what the first amendment was designed to protect. There are always exceptions to any rule of course, (e.g. freedom of speech does not allow you to yell fire in a crowded theater), but generally speaking, a government is tyrannical that attempts to force people to do things they sincerely believe are sinful. This is just as true, whether we are talking (hypothetically) about a government that would force a Muslim grocer to sell alcohol, or a Jewish deli owner to sell ham, as it is about a government that would force Christians to promote homosexual behavior through the support of gay marriage.
There is a very simple solution to this problem. If the government would simply ensure that any and all gay rights laws and regulations were also accompanied with strong freedom of religious conscience protections, the issue would largely dissolve. The fact, however, is that many gay rights advocates (both gay and straight) strenuously object to religious conscience protections, and such objections to religious protections are, in my opinion, not only in opposition to the first amendment, they are fundamentally anti-American.
First, gay people are people for whom Jesus died—every bit as much as he died for me or you. Those who call themselves Christians but physically or verbally abuse gay people are like Pharisees, demonstrating that they really have no concept of God’s grace or the magnitude of their own sin.
Second, the Bible says nothing about sexual orientation. It is not necessarily sin to love, be attracted to, or tempted by someone of the same sex. Third, the Bible is very clear that sex between two people of the same sex is serious sin—so serious that the Torah said God would destroy nations over it. Finally, the real issue, politically speaking, is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Gay marriage and Christian business owners
As mentioned above, Christian florists, bakers, psychologists, printers, photographers, and others have been sued for discrimination against gay people. While most, if not all of these Christians are happy to serve gay people, they cannot in good conscience provide services which they believe to be in support of the institution of gay marriage. Other Christians would insist that there is nothing wrong with providing services for gay weddings.
We need to be clear that there are at least three separate issues here. First, “Can a Christian business owner biblically provide services to non-Christians, including gay people?” The answer should be an unqualified “yes.” There can be no serious doubt that Jesus the carpenter, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila the tentmakers, Simon the Tanner, and Lydia the Christian business woman all served unbelievers—many of whom were likely very unethical or immoral. Jesus and the others apparently did not think that serving such people constituted support for ungodly lifestyles.
The second issue is whether the U.S. government should be able to force people of faith to violate their fundamental religious convictions. The answer is absolutely not! In a nation in which the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, the government has no Constitutional right to force people to promote causes with which they disagree, whether that involves requiring a Christian to bake a cake for a gay wedding, forcing a Muslim to provide catering services for a wine company, or forcing a pro-choice sign maker to promote a pro-life rally! Freedom of Speech is not just about being able to say what you want—it also involves not being forced to say or promote something you don’t want to say or promote.
For clarity sake, it was important to separate these two issues from the third, and much more difficult issue which is, “Would it be sin for a Christian business owner to provide services for a gay wedding?” Specifically, would providing such services constitute “support” for gay marriage? Christian business owners who refuse to provide services for gay weddings do so because they sincerely believe that providing such support constitutes support for the unbiblical institution of gay marriage. In the discussion below I’ll use catering as an example but the principles apply to virtually any Christian service companies (florists, bakers, printers, photographers, etc.).
Whatever we decide on this issue, it is important to be consistent. Suppose, for example that you are a Christian owner of a catering service. If you could not in good conscience cater a gay wedding, could you cater an anniversary party for an unmarried heterosexual couple celebrating 10 years of living together? Could you cater a wedding for a heterosexual couple who had each divorced their spouse in order to marry each other (something Jesus clearly calls adultery)? If catering a gay wedding constitutes support for gay marriage, wouldn’t catering these other two events constitute support for other relationships the Bible call immoral? Interestingly enough, I’ve never heard of a case in which a Christian business refused service to couples in other immoral relationships.
You could, therefore, say you won’t provide services to any couples living in sinful relationships, and that would at least be consistent (although possibly illegal since apartment owners cannot legally refuse to rent to unmarried couples). But then you have to ask whether you could cater other parties in which sinful activities are likely to take place. Then you have to ask whether you could provide catering services for businesses or organizations which you may consider to be unethical or immoral, like Planned Parenthood, for example? Many Christians are also having trouble with Target’s policies now. Could you cater an office party for Target? If so, why not for Planned Parenthood, and if for Planned Parenthood, why not for a gay wedding?
Unfortunately, if Christian caterers can’t in good conscience cater for businesses, organizations or events which may not be entirely ethical or moral, the pool of potential clients is going to be pretty small—probably limited mostly to churches and Christian-run organizations. But some churches have ethical problems too, and even ethical organizations like Hobby Lobby or Chick fil a undoubtedly have immoral or unethical people working for them. If you decided to only serve non-sinners, your only possible customer lived 2000 years ago!
            As Christians, we should not arbitrarily pick out one hot button sin issue and decide we will not “support” that, while supporting all kinds of other sinful institutions, organizations or events. As mentioned above, it would seem to be inconsistent to refuse to cater a gay wedding, but cater an unmarried couple’s celebration of 10 years living together.
Unfortunately, the biblical solution to this issue is not as clear as we might like. Some remote but possible insights might be found in the following:
When tax collectors asked John the Baptist what they should do, he didn’t tell them to stop collecting taxes for Rome. He just said they should not collect more than they were required. It would seem that John didn’t think collecting or paying taxes to Rome constituted support for the violent, imperialist Roman government. The same is true for Jesus who said to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and for Paul who said we should pay our taxes. There have been times in our country when well-meaning citizens have advocated withholding taxes, thinking that paying taxes constituted support for immoral or imperialist government activities. But John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul did not seem to think that paying taxes constituted support for the immoral, corrupt and imperial government of Rome (America is certainly no worse ancient Rome)! The point is that if paying taxes does not constitute support for an immoral government and does not involve the taxpayer in sin, perhaps we should not automatically jump to the conclusion that providing paid services for a gay wedding constitutes support for gay marriage.
In strict churches I have attended, some would argue that a Christian should not attend any function which included alcohol (including a wedding reception) because people there may drink too much and the Christian’s presence would be lending support for sin. Jesus, however, attended a wedding in which alcohol was not only served but provided by him—and John 2:9-10 implies that people at such weddings regularly drank a bit too much. Jesus apparently didn’t think that attending this wedding and creating wine for it constituted support for possible excessive drinking which may have occurred. If Jesus’ attendance at an event in which people may have drunk excessively did not constitute support for their sin, perhaps we should not automatically jump to the conclusion that providing paid services for a gay wedding constitutes support for gay marriage. When our ethical scruples become more strict than those of John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul, perhaps it is time for some reexamination.
We should remember that Jesus accepted invitations to eat with Samaritans and Pharisees. He apparently didn’t think those associations constituted support for Samaritan or Pharisee beliefs or practices. When Jesus attended Temple ceremonies and even told Peter to pay the Temple tax, Jesus apparently didn’t think this constituted support for what Josephus believed to be a corrupt Temple leadership. Further, as mentioned above, it is hard to imagine that Jesus, Paul, Simon or Lydia provided services only to those with whom they agreed! In fact, Paul had to know that some of the tents he sold could be used for very immoral and ungodly purposes and yet that didn’t keep him from selling tents.
The point is that if these cases did not automatically constitute “support” for the various institutions, organizations, people or practices, perhaps we should not quickly jump to the conclusion that providing paid services for a gay wedding necessarily constitutes support for gay marriage.
These examples are admittedly a bit of a stretch. Some Christians may think a better basis for decision is Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves. These Christians may believe that when they provide services to various organizations and events, they are not supporting institutions or approving behaviors, they are simply showing love to individuals exactly as Jesus commanded.
One of the issues Paul addresses in both First Corinthians and Romans was the controversial issue of meat offered to idols. The issue seems to be that some Christians thought it was perfectly OK to eat meat that had recently been offered to idols (maybe it was on sale?) because, after all, an idol is just a block of wood or stone. Other Christians were like, “You’ve got to be kidding—that was offered to an idol! To eat that meat would be like idolatry!” The interesting thing about this controversy is that Paul did not come down on one side or the other. I can’t help wondering if the issue of whether a Christian business person could offer services for a gay wedding would be a “meat offered to idols” issue. Each Christian is going to have to decide for themselves, and avoid judging other believers who may have different convictions.
So when Christian business people—whether bakers, or florists, or caterers, etc.—make a profit providing services for non-Christian events such as gay weddings, I am not at all convinced, from a biblical perspective, that this necessarily constitutes support for those events. In fact, it may constitute obedience to Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor.
           But even so, there are still undoubtedly limits. For example, I am quite sure that Jesus and Paul would have refused to make or sell idols, and I find it had to believe that any informed, dedicated Christian sign maker, for example, could in good conscience make a sign promoting Satanism or ISIS! Where to draw that line is the $100,000 question. That is a question that each Christian business owner will have to decide for themselves.
            If they decide to refuse service for gay weddings, Christian business owners should be aware that they may have to give account in court of law. They may have to explain why they have a religious conviction against providing services for a gay wedding, but have no problem providing services for other celebrations they may consider to be immoral. If they can’t answer this question, it may appear to the court that their decision is not based on principle but is simply discrimination.
Ultimately, and infinitely more important, is the fact that each Christian business owner will one day have to stand, not before some human judge, but before  God himself to give account. Whatever you conclude, you need to be convinced in your own mind before God.
            One final thought: If the issue is that you can’t in good conscience “support” gay marriage, would a disclaimer placed on your website make any difference? When running paid advertisements, TV stations often make a disclaimer saying something to the effect that “The views expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of the management of WXYZ TV.”
An example of one such disclaimer might be: “We happily serve clients of any race, nationality, orientation, creed or political ideology, but we reserve the right to refuse service promoting causes which violate our religious convictions.” This would not necessarily keep you out of legal trouble, but it may help to clarify that you are refusing to support certain causes and are not discriminating against individuals.
On the other hand, if you chose to provide services to anyone regardless of the cause they are promoting, you could post a disclaimer saying, “Services provided by this company do not necessarily imply support or endorsement of any issue, group or cause.”

[1] Some argue that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-8) was lack of hospitality and concern for the poor. They base this on Ezekiel 16:49 which says, “Behold this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughter had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” That’s true, but it is only part of the story. The next verse, Ezekiel 16:50 says, “They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them when I saw it.” The “abomination” for which they were removed is described in Genesis 19:4-5 when the men of the city came to Lot’s house demanding to have sex with the two male visitors he had taken in. In response, Lot’s visitors told Lot and his family to leave because God was going to destroy the city. The same behavior in a similar story described in Judges 19 is described as wicked and vile (Judges 19:23). Second Peter 2:6-7 refers to the “sensual conduct of the wicked” in the context of Sodom and Gomorrah. Likewise Jude 7 say, “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment f eternal fire.” Any attempts to limit the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah simply to lack of hospitality or unconcern for the poor are a result of a very selective reading of Scripture.
[2] Some might want to interpret Romans 1:27-28 as being about orientation: “In the same way men…were inflamed with lust for one another…God…gave them over to a depraved mind.”  I would argue that there is a difference between 1) sexual attraction, 2) temptation 3) lust and 4) a depraved mind. Virtually everyone is subject to sexual attraction, but just being sexually attracted by someone is not necessarily temptation. Granted, the line between attraction and temptation can be pretty fuzzy but I think there can be a distinction between the two. Neither attraction nor temptation are sin. Lust goes beyond attraction and temptation to mentally dwelling on, strongly desiring and perhaps fanaticizing about the object of one’s lust. Jesus equates sexual lust with adultery (Matthew 5:28). The “depraved mind” to which Paul refers in Romans 1:27-28 goes beyond someone who may be struggling with the sin of lust to someone who is “inflamed with lust” (Romans 1:27, NIV). I would interpret this as someone who has totally abandoned himself and given himself over to sexual lust. Paul is speaking here specifically of same-sex lust but the depravity could apply equally to those who have totally abandoned themselves to opposite sex lust as well—e.g. those who have given themselves over to pornography or “one-night-stands.” Of these four categories, sexually orientation falls into the first category of sexual attraction. Just because someone is attracted to someone else does not mean they are “inflamed with lust” toward that person. By itself, same sex attraction is no more sin than opposite sex attraction.
[3] In his article, “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?” (JETS 58:1; March 2015, 95-115) Denny Burk argues that same-sex orientation alone is sinful. Burk seems to equate lust with any kind of desire for anything outside of God’s will. If Burk’s argument were taken to its logical conclusion it would seem that Jesus’ desire for food in the wilderness (hunger, Lk 4:2), constituted sin since he was desiring something outside of God’s will (i.e. to eat, thereby prematurely ending the ordeal in the wilderness to which the Spirit had driven him). Apparently Jesus sinned again in the garden of Gethsemane when he strongly desired to avoid the cross (sweating drops of blood!), praying, “…let this cup pass from me.” By Burk’s definition it would appear that for a young man to recognize that his fiancé is beautiful is not sin—but if he is attracted to her, it is sin because attraction equals desire and the couple is not yet married! Burk’s Jesus was apparently born without testosterone! This leads to my second observation which is that Burk also seems to have a very docetic view of Jesus. Burk’s Jesus is one who could only be tested externally but never felt temptation the same way every other human being does—not even in his human nature! If Burk’s view was accurate, it would seem to undermine the whole point of Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” How could Jesus possibly “empathize with our weakness” if he never experienced such human weakness? Admittedly there is a fine line between normal desire and lust but to erase the line completely would seem to make Jesus a sinner!  I’ve heard that Martin Luther once said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.” For Burk, it would appear that if the “birds” fly over your head, you have sinned!

[4] One reason Jesus didn’t specifically single out homosexuality may have been because although homosexuality was widely practiced in pagan Roman culture, it was not so prevalent among the Jews of Judea and Galilee, to whom Jesus usually confined his ministry (cf. Matthew 15:24).
[5] This does not mean women can’t wear pants or that men can’t wear kilts! It is a prohibition against members of one sex deliberately dressing up to portray themselves as members of the opposite sex. How this actually works out may vary from one culture to another. This paper will not address transgender issues except to say this: Biology places human beings in a box from which they cannot escape. People may change their sexual appearance through surgical procedures but they cannot change their chromosomes! Modern sociologists, therefore, make a distinction between sex and gender, saying that gender is a social construct that can be fluid. The Bible knows no such distinction between one’s sex and one’s gender. The Bible knows only of male and female—determined by biology not by social constructs of so-called male and female characteristics. There is nothing inherently sinful for a man to have what a culture might consider to be feminine traits—for example, to be nurturing or to love beauty, style or shoes. There is nothing inherently sinful for a woman to have what society considers to be masculine traits—for example, to love hunting, or mixed martial arts, or to dislike makeup or frilly clothing. Just because a man has what a culture might consider to be feminine characteristics, does not make him female. Just because a woman has what a culture might consider to be masculine characteristics does not make her male. People need to stop letting society pigeonhole them into its alphabet boxes! Be who you are and accept people for who they are within biblical boundaries which include prohibitions against 1) pre-marital sex, 2), sex with people of the same sex, 3) lust after people of either sex, 4) sex with close relatives or animals or 5) dressing in such a way as to pass oneself off as the opposite sex (Deuteronomy 22:5).

[7] There are actually at least two separate issues that need to be clearly distinguished. First is the question of whether we want a government that can force people to support causes with which they disagree (violation of free speech); or can force people to violate sincerely held religious convictions (violation of freedom of religion). Second is the question of whether it is actually wrong or sinful for a Christian baker (or florist, etc.) to sell products that will be used in a gay wedding. Those who say “yes” it is wrong, should ask themselves whether they would sell a wedding cake (or flowers) to someone who divorced his spouse in order to marry someone else—something Jesus clearly calls “adultery.” I’ve never heard of a Christian baker or florist denying services to those in second or third marriages. Christians should also ask themselves whether they would have the same crisis of conscience if they were the owner of a fast food place and were asked to sell a couple of their special half-pound bacon cheeseburgers to a morbidly obese person thereby facilitating gluttony—one of the “seven deadly sins.” The analogy is not exact, but in both cases the owners would be selling a legitimate product (wedding cake, cheeseburgers) which would be used for sinful purposes. I’ve never heard of a Christian who would have a crisis of conscience selling the cheeseburgers to anyone. However one answers these questions, it is important to be consistent.

Monday, December 11, 2017

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Mark 10:17-22, ESV).

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That is the question asked and answered in Mark 10:17-22 and its parallels in Matthew 19:16-22 and Luke 18:18-23. The core of these three passages is the same, even though there are minor variations between them. In Mark 10:17-22, someone comes to Jesus saying, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” One way this has been interpreted (e.g. by Jehovah’s Witnesses) is to understand Jesus as saying, Why are you calling me good? Only God is absolutely good and I’m not God.”

This interpretation, however, would contradict the broader context of Mark which clearly presents Jesus as saying and doing things that, in a first century Jewish context, would only be true of God. For example, Jesus is portrayed by Mark as claiming to directly forgive sins (Mark 2:2-12), to be Lord over the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28), to overturn Old Testament dietary laws (Mark 7:19) et al.

Second, if Jesus was denying his deity, it seems a little strange that he would say that the way to eternal life was to follow him. In the Old Testament, “life” came through absolute covenant allegiance to God alone, not from following any prophet.

Finally, as we shall see in the immediate context, far from denying his deity, Jesus is actually testing the man, almost as if to say, “Are you coming to me as a good teacher who can answer your question, or are you coming to me as the Good One (God) who can give you the eternal life you seek?”[1]

Jesus’ response to the question of how to gain eternal life is the same in all three passages: Keep the Commandments. The man responds saying “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” The text says, Jesus “loved him” and told him he lacked one thing. As we will soon see, Jesus was not suggesting that this man needed to do one more good deed in order to be saved. Jesus was about to test the man on his claim to have kept the Commandments. The test was to sell what he owned, giving the proceeds to the poor, and to follow Jesus.

Jesus’ instruction for the man to sell everything is puzzling because Jesus did not tell everyone else to sell all they had in order to follow him. For example, he apparently didn’t tell Mary, Martha and Lazarus to sell their home, since Jesus stayed there on his travels to Jerusalem. When a man in the Decapolis begged to follow Jesus, Jesus didn’t tell him to sell his home either, but rather to return home and tell all the good things God had done for him (Luke 8:39). Similarly, the Gospel of John records that after Jesus’ death, one of the disciples took Jesus mother to the disciple’s home (John 19:26-27). If this disciple was John, as many interpreters assume, then not even one of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples had been required to sell everything! Other examples could be cited, but the important question is, why was Jesus telling this man to sell everything when Jesus had not made that demand of others?

That answer is that Jesus was testing this man. The man had claimed to have kept all of the Commandments so Jesus tested him on the very first Commandment—“You shall have no other gods before me.” Jesus was asking the man to demonstrate that he valued Jesus (the Good One) more than he valued his possessions. The man’s response indicated that he valued his possessions more than he valued Jesus. Contrary to the man’s claim to have kept all the Commandments, he failed on the very first one!

So how, according to Jesus, does one inherit eternal life? Keep the Commandments! But doesn’t this contradict Paul’s teaching that no one is justified by “works of the Law” and that by the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; 3:5, 10)? Isn’t this understanding of Jesus’ teaching the kind of “salvation by works” which Paul so strongly condemns? Many have thought so. Many critics boldly declare that Paul taught a different Gospel than Jesus. Some Evangelicals have tried to deal with the issue by relegating the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to the “Dispensation of the Law.” In fact, a pastor once told me, “There is precious little gospel in the Gospels”). I am convinced, however, that there is no contradiction between Jesus and Paul.

First, we need to understand that when Jesus tells people to keep the Commandments, he is not thinking of a legalistic following of rules and regulations. It was precisely this kind of heartless legalism that Jesus condemned so strongly in the Pharisees. We see this, for example, in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee boasted in his good deeds, while the tax collector cried out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus said it was not the Pharisee, but the tax collector who went away justified (Luke 18:9-14).

Likewise, when Paul repeatedly condemns salvation by works he was attempting to refute a misinterpretation of the Law by those who focused, not on the heart, but on a legalistic following of the rules and regulations in order to be saved. That was a misuse of the Law by which no one could be saved because no one can keep the Law perfectly.

Second, for both Jesus and Paul, the essence of the Law was to love God with all one’s being, and to love one’s neighbor (and even one’s enemy). That Jesus understood the Law this way is clear from a story in which a teacher of the Law tried to test Jesus asking “What shall I do to inherit eternal life.” When Jesus asked him what the Law said, the lawyer replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke, 10:27-28). In Matthew’s version, Jesus adds, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40). For Jesus, the essence of the Law was to love God with every fiber of one’s being and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

Although Paul sums up the Law as love for neighbors in Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:9 there can be no doubt that he assumed love for God as well. So for both Paul and Jesus, keeping the Law was at its core about loving devotion to God above all else. The twist is that Jesus taught that he and the Father are One. He taught that his followers must love him (Jesus) more than father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter or even their own lives, i.e. to have no other gods before him (Matthew 10:37; Matthew 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-37; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:26; John 12:25).

Third, both Jesus and Paul were reflecting the teaching of the Law itself. In the Law, keeping the Commandments was always intended to spring from a heart of loving devotion toward God. Exodus 20:5 said that God shows “steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Deuteronomy 6:4-6 said, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” Deuteronomy 11:1 said, “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. Deuteronomy 7:9 said that God “keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” This quote was later repeated in Daniel 9:4 and Nehemiah 1:15.

In fact, Isaiah 1 made it very clear that a covenant relationship with God was not just about keeping commandments by rote. God, though Isaiah, condemns the people of Israel, likening them to Sodom and Gomorrah (1:10), saying that he is fed up with their sacrifices, offerings, feast days and Sabbath observances—all of which were commanded in the Law! What God wanted first was their repentance—a change of heart! The Law, at its core, was intended to be about absolute loving devotion and allegiance to God. Keeping the Commandments was to be an act of obedience springing from this kind of faith.

Similarly, for both Jesus and Paul, keeping commandments was the fruit of a heart of loving devotion/allegiance to God, not a means by which one was to earn eternal life (John 15:5-8; Luke 18:9-14; Romans 1:5; 16:26; Romans 2:6-8; Ephesians 2:8-10; Acts 26:20).[2] This heart of loving devotion to the Lord results in keeping the commandments (John 14:15, 21; 23-24, 1 John 5:2-3).

Far from contradicting Jesus, Paul was teaching exactly what Jesus taught, and both were teaching what the Law had taught—the twist being that Jesus claimed to be one with the Father. So when Paul insists that we are saved by faith, he is not speaking of intellectual assent to certain doctrines. He is not talking about merely repeating a prayer to “ask Jesus into your heart” or to “receive Christ” like one would receive a gift. He’s not even talking about “trusting Christ” like one would trust a chair by sitting in it (According to Matthew 7:21-23 there are people who are trusting that Christ will accept them into heaven but will be sadly mistaken). By the word “faith”, Paul is referring to the kind of loving devotion and allegiance to the Lord (the Good One) above all else demanded by the Law of Moses and by Jesus himself. This is why Paul wrote that “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

In other words, salvation in the Old Testament was by grace through a covenant devotion/allegiance to God above all else—an allegiance which resulted in keeping the Commandments. Jesus agreed, but insisted that this loving devotion or allegiance to God consisted of allegiance to him. Paul’s word for this Spirit instilled heart of loving devotion/allegiance to the Lord above all is “faith.”

Of course no one other than Jesus has ever kept the Law perfectly and no one loves the Father with the kind of absolute devotion Jesus had. But that is why God instituted the sacrifices under the Old Covenant, pointing to the One Final Sacrifice under the New Covenant. As we saw in Isaiah 1, however, even the sacrifices were of no avail if someone was just going through the motions apart from a heart of faith.

[1] According to Matthew’s Gospel Jesus asks, “Why do you ask me about what is good” but the point is the same. “Why are you asking me about what is good”—are you coming to me as a teacher who can give you an answer OR as the One who can grant you the eternal life you seek?
[2] This is also true of John the Baptist: Luke 3:8.