What 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.