March 26, 2017

Christians, Israel and Homosexuals: A Common Error

shalom.jpgWhat do homosexuals and the political state of Israel have in common?

Both are the subjects of a flawed approach by Christians concerned about suffering and the Christian witness. While the Christians involved are very different, their errors and resulting actions are very similar.

The suffering of the Jewish people is one of the great facts of history. In many ways, the acknowledgement of the extent and significance of that suffering is a defining characteristic of a civilized value system. All people who deny the suffering of the Jews throughout history are in need of correction, and the chronic denial of that suffering is to be condemned without hesitation or reservation.

How does past suffering relate to present actions on the part of political Israel? It is not my job to sit in judgement on a nation protecting itself from enemies sworn to destroy it, but I have to wonder if evangelical Christians have carefully considered the status of the Arab Christian community in the middle east in the past ten years? Have evangelicals, in giving unqualified and unquestioned support to all the actions of the political state of Israel, failed to speak up for their elder brothers and sisters in the Middle east

Some Christians have even extended a theological “free pass” to Jewish people on the basis of God’s covenant with Abraham, saying they are under no obligation to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Christians differ in their views of political Israel, though the vast majority of evangelicals believe that the Jewish people hold an eschatological significance in scripture. Even those of us- like myself- who believe that God has gathered a new Israel around Jesus Christ still believe that a special compassion, concern and appreciation are due the Jewish people, for their own good and for the good of the church of Jesus.

But supporting Israel and in appreciating its past history and suffering, Christians must bear witness to Jesus as Messiah, stand for universal human rights, peace with justice, right treatment of Arabic Christians. Israel is a nation of fallen, sinful human beings. John Piper has put it well: this is a covenant breaking people with no divine right automatically making their present actions above reproach.

Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.

This follows from all we have said so far, and the implication it has for those of us who believe the Bible and trust Christ as our Savior and as the Lord of history, is that we should not give blanket approval to Jewish or to Palestinian actions. We should approve or denounce according to Biblical standards of justice and mercy among peoples. We should encourage our representatives to seek a just settlement that takes the historical and social claims of both peoples into account. Neither should be allowed to sway the judgments of justice by a present divine claim to the land. If you believe this, it would be helpful for your representatives to know it.

We are not whitewashing terrorism and we are not whitewashing Jewish force. Nor is there any attempt on my part to assess measures of blame or moral equivalence. That’s not my aim. My aim is to put the debate on a balanced footing in this sense: neither side should preempt the claims of international justice by the claim of present divine rights. Working out what that justice will look like is still a huge and daunting task. I have not solved that problem. But I think we will make better progress if we do not yield to the claim of either side to be ethnically or nationally sanctioned by God in their present conflict.

Neither their past sufferings or their present circumstances should cause any Christian to be blind to the effects of the actions and policies of Israel on Christians, their communities or their mission.

Have you read Martin Accad? Has your church prayed for Arab Christians? Do they know the status of evangelical freedoms in Israel?

Liberal Christians, in a similar way, ask us to appreciate the suffering of homosexual persons. As a minister to students, I am very aware of the terrible things said and done, even in the name of God, to homosexual young people. There is a legacy of violence, oppression, discrimination and exclusion that must be admitted. I am ashamed that evangelical Christians have not denounced Fred Phelps in anything similar to the degree they have denounced homosexual activists.

I’ve sat at lunch tables and heard my fellow believers make the most hateful comments imaginable about homosexuals; remarks that undergird the commonality of the kinds of violence that lead to deaths like Matthew Shepherd.

I believe Jesus would have judged no one primarily by sexual preference. He would not have hesitated to eat with and befriend homosexuals. He would have been found among AIDS patients, and he would have deplored hate excused in the name of righteousness.

The evangelical obsession with the sin of homosexuality begs the question of whether those same evangelicals have read the many uses of the term abomination in the Bible that refer to the sins common in any evangelical church. Liberal Christians often remind us that many homosexuals are our own sons, daughters and persons professing to love and follow Jesus. We cannot separate homosexuality- or any other sexual sin- from our own humanity. We are right to be warned that many of us may find ourselves denouncing members of our own families and churches when we denounce homosexuals.

At the same times, liberal Christians also seem to believe that the suffering of homosexuals has somehow removed the moral demands of scripture. God does not, as far as I can tell, recognize particular categories of sexuality. He recognizes those who live in fidelity in marriage, purity in chastity and all of us as sexual sinners. The particular manifestations of sexual sin are plainly described in the Bible, but only to show the extent of human brokenness. We are all sexual sinners. Sexual sin is immoral. It is, like so many other sins, an abomination to the holiness of God and the holiness of the temple of God he intended in our bodies and sexuality.

Advocates of gay marriage, gay ordination and gay Christianity seem to believe there is some kind of moral atonement that takes place when the suffering of a community is recognized and accepted by Christians. Such a notion is, frankly, absurd. We may weep over the suffering of those who have been cruelly abused, but neither their sufferings nor our tears amount to the incarnation and the cross. Our sin is deep. Only the suffering of Jesus atones for it.

Sinners suffer at the hands of other sinners. That does not atone for their sin. It does not make their own constructions of how they would like to continue practicing their sin valid. It does not obligate acceptance in ways that perpetuate further sin. Previous injustice- or continuing injustice- has absolutely no effect on the moral commands of the Bible.

God gives his law to a people who were in slavery for 400 years. I see no evidence that God said, “I’m going to take your four centuries in Egypt into account when I demand exclusive worship. I know you’ve been in a bad situation of idolatry and injustice, so I’ll make my demands a bit less stringent.”

I hear this kind of reasoning from evangelicals and liberals, and it’s wrong whenever it occurs. Suffering is real. Christians need to care about suffering. We need to be a people of justice and compassion. We also need to be loyal to the truth. We’re all sinners. The Gospel is for all of us. God’s moral demands upon all of us are the greatest kind of truth and his gospel is the greatest kind of compassion. For Israel, for homosexuals, and for all who have suffered in the past.

Comments

  1. Brian Pendell says:

    “but I have to wonder if evangelical Christians have carefully considered the status of the Arab Christian community in the middle east in the past ten years?”

    These would be the Christians being driven out by the PA and it’s allies?

    http://www.americanthinker.com/comments.php?comments_id=5953

    Fundamentalist terrorists don’t like Isreal, don’t like Christians, and persecute them both.

    Further, the tactics they use … murder of the innocent, deception (http://www.zombietime.com/fraud/ambulance/) , sowing dissension and discord (witness AQ attempting to foment civil war in Iraq by bombing Shiite mosques) should leave no question in anyone’s mind which spirit is motivating their actions.

    John Piper’s assessment of Isreal as a nation that is “out of covenent” is 100% correct. But IMO there’s more to the story than that. If Isreal is not “on the side of the angels” … that doesn’t follow that the other side is.

    I don’t see a war of good vs. evil. I see a war of fallen human beings against other fallen human beings being manipulated by evil spirits into once again attempting to foil God’s plan for the Jews by exterminating them. We know that God has a plan for them at the end (Romans 11:25-26), and we know that the Enemy has sought to foil that plan by killing them all (See: events 1933-1945, Russian Pogroms, Nun’s tale in Canterbury Tales, etc.), thus fulfilling the prophecy given in Revelation 12:13-17 — that the nation of Isreal would be hunted to the ends of the earth by the Dragon. Ask a Jew if it isn’t true that men have risen in every generation with just that goal in mind.

    Of course, I am speaking of the Jewish people and not of the state of Isreal. All my reasoning says the nation should disappear — being out of covenent, it should once again be scattered, becuase my understanding is that Isreal can’t possess any land except it be by covenent … with the Old Covenent is dissolved, the New Covenent unaccepted, what right do they have to be there? None that I can see.

    Yet … I cannot avoid the fact that Jews are being driven there from practically every other country in the world, including much of the Middle East (http://www.americanthinker.com/articles.php?article_id=5803). I cannot ignore the fact that outside of America, whether in Paris or in Warsaw, life for Jews is hard and getting harder. It would almost seem as if they are once again being gathered together again from all corners of the world.

    Nor can I ignore the fact that the nation — attacked at birth by six nations more powerful than it — has been miraculously sustained for sixty years. Doesn’t the Bible say that one man cannot put a thousand to flight, unless the Lord be responsible for it (Deuteronomy 32:30)?

    BTW, that’s not an exaggeration. That is the literal truth, as witness the exploits of Lt. Zvika Greengold (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zvika_Greengold) who, during the 1973 war, held off something like a brigade of Syrian armor all by himself for a good part of 20 hours. The rest of the 20 he had help.

    How can one man defeat thousands, unless God himself is intervening?

    Nor can I shake the intuitive insight that much of what God is doing today WRT politics revolves around that insignificant little country.

    I don’t understand it. My theology says it shouldn’t exist, but I can see God working very hard not only to make it happen but defending it once it’s built. I also see how hard the Enemy is working to destroy it.

    Who knows what that rebellious country which relies on it’s own strength will eventually be the seed of?

    Be that as it may, I’d like to introduce you to someone who doesn’t think my way at all. He calls himself “Omar”, and is an American/Iraqi Shiite convert to Christianity living in Texas. He doesn’t see the world at all my way, but IMO his voice needs to be heard.

    http://firstbornson.blogspot.com/

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  2. Michael, thank you for articulating this balanced though unpopular position that gets the focus back on the gospel.

    Thanks, Brian P., for the firstbornson link. So glad for the introduction. Indeed, his voice needs to be heard.

    Margaret

  3. Two families responded to an invitation hymn at the close of worship and decided to join the church. Both families had three young children and had been especially impressed with the commitment the church showed to providing strong programs for children and youth and support for families.

    One is a “blended family.” This is the second marriage for both partners. They both left their previous marriages to be together, having cheated on their previous spouses when they struck up an affair at work.

    They each have a child from their previous marriage and now have a five year old from their union – the wife became pregnant as a result of their affair, which was how their infidelity was found out.

    But that was five years ago. Both the husband and wife have been Christians since childhood and their seeking membership in the church is confirmation for them that they’ve gotten their spiritual lives back on track.

    The other couple with three children has been together for 15 years. Unable to have their own children, they opted for artificial insemination and the two resulting pregnancies produced a girl and twin boys. Neither partner has ever been married before. They have been faithful to one another since the day they met and have built a life together that would be the envy of any married couple. They’ve also both been Christians since childhood but estranged from the church since their early 20’s. They’re seeking church membership is a sign that their spiritual lives have come full circle and they want to reconfirm their commitment to Jesus as Lord. They are also both women.

    Who gets to join the church?

  4. centuri0n says:

    Michael:

    This is a formal invitation to take up the topic of the Christian response to the homosexual culture and individual homosexuals in my somewhat-obsucre DebateBlog.

    I read half this post and was stunned at how much we agree on, then I got to the second half and saw you make statements that I can’t imagine anyone making without pretty significant qualifications — on either side of the issue.

    Open invite. You have my e-mail, and if you’re in I’ll add you as a contributor.

  5. centuri0n says:

    u2wesley: The answer to your question is

    “the ones who repent and reconcile with the church”.

    If you think that’s an easy answer for either “couple”, or for the church, you need to think again.

  6. frank and i have exchanged some emails, so this comment may be less than up to speed.

    Frank is taking exception to the clarity of the following paragraph:

    >I believe Jesus would have judged no one primarily by sexual preference. He would not have hesitated to eat with and befriend homosexuals. He would have been found among AIDS patients, and he would have deplored hate excused in the name of righteousness.

    It puzzles me why this is a problematic paragraph. Now if one wants to add in distortions by pro-homosexual types, or if I have a history of equivocation on this blog on this subject (or anywhere else) then the concern is valid.

    If there is going to be distortion of the statement that Jesus would befriend homosexuals into the statement that Jesus approves of homosexual acts, what can I do other than to disagree. Which I do vigorously, always have done so, and frequently take the heat from students for doing so.

    If I need to clarify that I am not advocating gay marriage, church membership for practicingm unrepentant homosexuals, then I’m pleased to do so.

    But these things aside, Jesus befriended sexual sinners so they would be loved and hear the Gospel. Jesus would visit an AIDS ward, he might heal someone, and he would offer himself as the savior of dying sinners.

    At no point have I- me, Michael Spencer- equivocated on these matters. The portrayal of me as one who does equivocate or approves of these things is simply untrue.

    I am sure the TR blogosphere would love for me to play Brian Mclaren for the amusement of the gallery, but I don’t agree with Mclaren, I do agree with Jesus, and I don’t think there is any doubt about what I mean in the post.

  7. Interesting that you’re ready to assume what I think.

    One caveat I didn’t mention in my scenario – no one in the church knows about the previous indiscretions of the heterosexual “couple.” Ironic as it is, they’re the one’s in the closet!

    So, once they’ve been outed as adulterers, should the hetero couple get churched?

    Shouldn’t the lesbian couple get some points for being open and honest about their sin? At least they haven’t committed the double sin of homosexuality and hypocrisy. Aren’t the hetero couple in fact hypocrites for representing themselves as being something they aren’t? Who’s wearing the beard in this situation?

    Regarding your answer to my question – “the ones who repent and reconcile with the church”.

    Which church should either/both couples “reconcile” with? The church that would have one standard for the hetero couple but a different one for the lesbian couple? Both are guilty of sexual sin – but the hetero couple gets a pass on theirs because their sin is more “normal.” Which in this case means hidden.

    If you follow the logic of exclusion then you’re going to have to give every person who wants to join your church a questionnaire regarding his or her complete sexual history. The days of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” are over!

    Said candidates will have to “reconcile with the church” on all points or their application will have to be rejected. That way you could out every closet adulterer and avoid polluting the church.

    You could also develop similar instruments that would detect gluttons (OK, we’re usually easy to spot), drunkards, slanderers, gossips, etc.

    You could call this wonderful fellowship Phone Booth Baptist Church, because that’s where you’ll meet and thank God you’re not like the others.

    Yes, there is a definite problem with the almost complete absence of church discipline in the Western church. And the few bodies that do practice discipline are almost all hyper-legalistic train wrecks. Churches that aren’t legalistic tend to have assimilated to the larger culture’s gospel of triumphant individualism and our sense of community is broken as a result.

    But the way out of this wilderness is not to hit the easiest target and then congratulate ourselves for restoring discipline to the church.

  8. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    u2wesley, unmentioned caveats in hypothetical scenarios tend to blunt their rhetorical power, especially for those of us who feel the question was just too obviously a leading question. Interesting that we were asked a question about two scenarios in which information was withheld. Does that mean you should repent of your question? 😉

  9. Michael,

    I am impressed with your courage to “walk the tightrope” on this issue. I tried my hand at it on my own blogsite, and frankly it is the only article I have posted and deleted. It required nuances that I was unable to bring. It would not have been so intricate in the past, but clearly, as you have noted, the “times they are a-changin'” for the toleration and even acceptance of gay sexuality as normal in our society. This acceptance has caused the church to rethink its treatment of gays. As you noted here and other places, that treatment has been less than exemplary.

    U2wesley poses an interesting analogy. Scripture clearly condemns homosexual behaviour in the Old and New Testaments. Once has to do way to many dances to avoid that fact. Yet, the New Testament, unlike the Old, also comdemns divorce and remarriage (not divorce so much as divorce AND remarriage).

    So in the authority of the New Testament, both couples are in sin and one way or another continuing in that sin. The Early Church appears to have encountered at least the heterosexual couple’s sin and sought to find a way to build healing membership without punishing the offspring of the “new” marriage. In essense, the couple was allowed into the church, but with limitations. They never could become teachers or leaders in the church. Also, in many cases they were barred from the Eucharist; in some cases for 10 years or more, in some cases for life until their deathbeds. In all other ways, they were members of the church in terms of their priveledges and duties. Yet, with these restrictions, the church appears to give the message that what they did and were doing still was less than acceptable and had consequences.

    In the past, the homosexual couple was considered to be still sinning by remaining together and was therefore barred from church membership. Period. However, might the time come for the above model to also be applied to them, especially in the case of children being part of the family as well? Breaking up the homosexual couple would be just as tramatic as breaking up the heterosexual one. So could we bring into membership the homosexual couple with the same restrictions: they could not be teachers or leaders or were barred from the Eucharist for the same period of time?

    I think this would be workable. Acceptance of both couples into membership would be a testament to the forgiveness that is in Christ; however the restrictions would be a visible sign that the church neither condones nor encourages the practices that continue in both marriages.

    I don’t think either group would be happy with such an arrangement as both want complete and full acceptance with no restrictions or strings attached. Yet, considering God’s stricter judgment on teachers (James 3:1) it may be a blessing to be barred from that office. Also, since few churches have communion with any frequency anymore, the second restriction — though tramatic in the first centuries — would probably not make much of a difference today. Yet the symbolic aspect of the restriction would remain.

    Hmmmm. The tightrope is getting wobbly again…

  10. Actually, it wasn’t a hypothetical situation. A few minor factoids were tweaked to maintain confidentiality, but this is in fact a story “inspired by real events.” So my reluctance to disclose “the rest of the story” is more a function of not wanting to “out” anyone, not a misfire of my paltry rhetorical skills.

    It is simply my strong conviction that the debate over homosexuality has not been a debate but a clash of presuppositions. Here’s something I wrote on the subject:

    http://www.ethicsdaily.com/article_detail.cfm?AID=6618

  11. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    I personally don’t think anything is gained by not mentioning outright the real events that have inspired the question. I can almost hear Bonhoeffer saying that an ethic that is not directed toward a concrete situation is not meaningfully a Christian ethic. No one wants you to disclose the secrets of another since there are verses in Proverbs about that but I don’t think it would hurt your question to mention that it’s a real-world situation. Not everyone who argues on iMonk’s forum is arguing based on real-world situations. 🙂

  12. To u2wesley:

    I guess much hinges on the question of whether one views remarriage after divorce as legitimate or at least permissible. If so, it is not a question of **past** sin, but a question of present sin, of walking in sin.

    I would guess that most people who read and largely agree with Michael understand the Scriptures to teach that living in a non-abstinent homosexual relationship is contrary to God’s revealed will and thus constitutes living in sin; then we’re not talking about the lesbian couple’s past indiscretions but their current “walk” or lifestyle.

    I would venture further that many of us are not real happy with the easy acceptance of divorce and re-marriage which is so common today; in my church (and I agree with that stance) divorced and re-married persons are disqualified for positions of spiritual leadership. But we would probably also say that in re-marriage of a male and female the created order is not violated to the same extent as in a homosexual relationship.

  13. Great Post! I admire Rick Warren’s effort to reach out to the Gay community with an array of social efforts without caving into the politically correct pressure to endorse homosexual behavior as an acceptable lifestyle. In a recent interview, Charlie Rose found it more difficult hem Warren in because his love for the Gay community was so palpable. Over 20 years ago, after listening to me bellyache about difficulties in my pastorate, Mark Dever said “we live in a world in which folks refuse to hear these two messages at the same time, 1. “I love you” and, 2. “I disapprove of your behavior.” Warren’s combination of politically correct service with politically incorrect truth strikes me as powerful and Biblically faithful model. I wish him well.