October 17, 2017

iMonk 101: The Sin We Love To Hate

iMonk 101 posts are replays of previous Internet Monk posts.

This piece comes from February of ’07 and was written in response to comments by then NBA player Tim Hardaway about gays. I’ve never republished it. Hardaway apologized for his comments, but Jewish pundit Michael Medved wrote a column that gave the Jesus-subtracted culture war view of the subject. I think it will keep the IM audience involved in the Andrew Marin/Love is an Orientation discussion.

love-the-heterosexual-hate-their-sin.gifUPDATE: Michael Medved regularly reminds me of the difference Jesus makes in how I look at a cultural issue and how a Jewish conservative looks at the same issue. Law by Moses. Grace and Truth by Jesus.

“You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people,” he said. “I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” -Former NBA player Tim Hardaway.

As soon as I read the comments of former NBA player Tim Hardaway, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I heard a Christian come as close as possible to saying the exact same sentiment.

True to my intuition, it happened within a week. “Let’s not join the secular media in condemning Hardaway for not being politically correct, because as Christians, we hate that sin, too…..”

Someone wrote me the other day using the phrase “the other Trinity,” referring to evangelicals’ obsession with homosexuality, abortion and evolution. All are important issues, but does anyone else have the suspicion that we are no longer dealing with a balanced approach to Christian ethics, but a situation where the reactive energies attached to these issues are the engines dominating much evangelical engagement with the world?

In this atmosphere, when someone like Hardaway lets it fly with unapologetic hate-rhetoric, many Christians will feel a greater attraction to the opportunity to denounce homosexuality than to the opportunity to distance themselves from an especially ugly expression of bigotry. Ironically, is there anyone left in the galaxy who doesn’t know, or who actually cares, what conservative evangelicals think about the issue of homosexuality? Still, we have to be heard saying things about how we don’t hate anyone, but we sure know what he means. We want Jesus to be on the record as hating homosexuality, and of course, mildly offended at the hating people thing.

“Hate,” when applied to persons as Hardaway did, is the antithesis of what the Christian believes about God, the Gospel, Jesus or being a disciple. While a few creative exegetes are finding ways to use the imprecatory Psalms to allow us hate evil men with a clean conscience, the Gospels show Jesus loving adulteresses, prostitutes, the immoral woman shacking up at the trailer park, tax collectors, cowards, betrayers, thieves, violent men, liars and the general scum of the first century earth with equal divine generosity. The closest he came to the rhetoric of the imprecatory Psalms was for religious bigots and hypocrites.

Everything about Jesus is the opposite of Hardaway’s comments, right down to “I don’t want them in my locker room,” or table, or house, or wherever sexual sinners are to be found in your world. Associating with Jesus, but finding some way to cozy up to Hardaway’s disapproval of homosexuality doesn’t amount to a statement of your strong disapproval of sexual sin. It reveals your profound disconnection and ignorance of what Jesus was all about.

I have a young friend who, according to reputation, evidence and behavior, appears to be in a same-sex relationship. More than one mutual Christian friend has come to me concerned about this person. It’s a difficult matter. She is clearly not comfortable with femininity, and this relationship brings her much happiness and a feeling of being loved. In every instance, the message others want to send seems to be “She needs to know this is wrong.” (How they know the actual nature of the relationship is unknown to me. I wouldn’t presume to know quite as much.) In fact, if anything is true, I’m quite sure she knows that homosexual behavior is wrong in the eyes of the Christian God believed by the Christians she knows. She’s heard that from me on several occasions, with an open Bible, all the relevant verses and an earnest explanation of what God desires and commands in the area of sexuality. (Hebrews 13:4)

At the same time, I’ve made it a priority to love this individual. She needs love from friends like me. I’m sure Jesus would love her, and I’m sure he wants me to. I try to give her dignity and respect every day. I want what she’s heard from me to be matched with unparalleled acceptance. It’s important to me- really important- that I apply the Gospel to myself as well as to her.

You see that’s the problem that any Christian should be able to see with Tim Hardaway’s comments. They are totally vacant of the application of the Gospel. The Gospel greets and diagnoses all of us as sinners. The Gospel is like God in Genesis 6, a passage I teach my students over and over:

5 The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. 6 So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. 7 And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” 8 But Noah found favor with the LORD….
11 Now God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. 12 God observed all this corruption in the world, for everyone on earth was corrupt. 13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided to destroy all living creatures, for they have filled the earth with violence. Yes, I will wipe them all out along with the earth!

I teach this passage because it is the best description of what God saw when he looked at all of us this morning that I know of. I stress this passage because I know my students are going to cruise right past Romans 6:23 and Romans 3:23 and camp on how outraged we all need to be at homosexuality. Because, like Tim Hardaway, we don’t LIKE it. We don’t LIKE people who do it and promote it. And it’s so much easier to talk about the sins we don’t like. We can be so much more convincing and genuine.

We can also, conveniently, keep the light of truth off of ourselves.

God is just as outraged, offended and wrathful at my pettiness, pride, laziness, lying, lust and gluttony as he is at my friend’s same sex relationship (if there is one.) The problem is, I LIKE my sins. Not as sin, but as behaviors that WORK for me just fine.

Where I live, our community is ravaged by poverty. Visible poverty is everywhere, much of it of the kind that would shock and sicken the typical suburban adult. There is a plague of meth and other drugs. Federal drug enforcement has the former mayor of our county seat under lock and key. We have DEA in the air half the year. Domestic abuse, incest, fraud, stealing: they are all rampant and we all drive past them every day. We see some of the problems up close in the lives and families of our students.

But when Tim Hardaway says, “I hate gays,” it strikes a chord in many Christians, because we hate homosexuality in a way we don’t hate poverty, racism, the neglect of children, government corruption, and the violence that surrounds us. We’ve allowed ourselves to feel the hatred of one sin that offends us, while we’ve thrown the blanket of denial and minimizing over our true character.

So let me say it for you it you have trouble: If you are someone in my life who is engaged in the sin of homosexual behavior, I love you. I respect you. I embrace you as a human being like me, a sinner like me, and person to whom God offers forgiveness and grace in the body and blood of his Son, Jesus. The Gospel is good news for both of us. My sexual sins are grevious to a holy God, and I need to confess and repent of them. I hope and pray you will join me, in believing and in repenting. If the way is hard, and it always is, I will stand with you. If you stumble, I will forgive you and help you pursue purity in and for Christ. If you insist that Christ did not die for your homosex, but has given it to you as a gift, I will disagree with you, but I will still love and respect you. I will still want you to be my friend, to be in my home, to worship with me and to be part of my life. I am blind to many of my sins as well, and I can’t look at you with hatred or condemnation when Christ Jesus died in order for me to be forgiven.

If what I just wrote to that friend bothers you, and if Hardaway’s statement makes you want to say something similar, but cleaned up, well I love you too, but we’ve got a ways to go to catch up with Jesus. The good news is I’m sure he’s waiting for us…as always.

[Note: I am aware that Hardaway has apologized, and I am in no way attempting to avoid the trap door I might be standing on with all other people who have written about this incident. I pray that Mr. Hardaway grows in gracious words and grace towards others.]

Comments

  1. aimai: Can you point towards a real-this-world- consequence of your lesbian relatives existence that is actually a problem?

    Just to name a couple: A trail of broken marriages (she has a history of befriending married women – who, eventually, leave and divorce their husbands). The financial burden on her parents, as they try to help raise her son (because she often acts more like an irresponsible aunt).

    Also, the argument that something is only a sin if it causes problems for someone else is a red herring. There are are plenty of sins mentioned in scripture that don’t necessarily have negative real world impact on others — but that doesn’t make them any less sinful.

    You also said: Because if its not a problem for her, your continued insistence as a particular kind of christian that its *going to be a problem* down the road, in heaven, is going to come across as…well…ugly.

    What’s “ugly” is misquoting (or erroneously quoting) someone, just so you can take some self-righteous cheap shots at things they don’t believe in to begin with.

    I never said anything about it being “a problem down the road, in heaven” — so you must be getting me confused with somebody else.

    And as for the rest of your comment (on 08 May 2009 at 7:58 am): Wow, you provide a perfect example of the kind of blind bombastic rhetoric I was talking about in my initial comment (on 08 May 2009 at 3:40 am). Your description of what you think I believe is wildly off the mark — and none of my friends fit the description, either. No one that I know condones the kind of ridiculously hypocritical behaviour you describe (in fact, I explicitly condemn it in my comment). But you’re so convinced of your own bigoted view of what you think people you’ve never met believe, that you apparently feel justified in whatever lies and slanders you use to attack them.

    My original comment (which you quoted a couple of snippets of) was pointing out how the my-mind’s-made-up-don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts attitude, of too many people on both sides, obscures the fact that many, many Christians don’t fall into either extreme. Maybe if you’d actually read all of my comment, you would have seen that. But thanks for proving my point.

  2. I think it’s easy to see (from the comments here and elsewhere) why this issue is so contentious, and why that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

    There…is…no…balance.

    The very same people who hammer away on the verses about God hating sin, and _______ not entering the Kingdom of Heaven, and not giving sin a foothold, seem to completely ignore the verses about all sins being equally offensive to God, and not judging hypocritically, and loving people as Jesus loved people (i.e., while we were still sinners, Christ died for us).

    Likewise, the very same people who hammer away at those who are considered intolerant, or hateful, or homophobic — and keep harping on the fact that homosexuality is (at worst) just one sin among many — then go on to denounce intolerance, and bigotry, as if they’re the unpardonable sins.

    Bigotry and hypocrisy are sins. Period. They need the same compassion and love as people who are caught up in the more currently respectable sins. But I don’t see it happening. No one is calling for more understanding of bigots.

    There is no balance. There is no humility. Each side is clearly convinced that the other side’s sins are worse. Each side is hopelessly convinced of their side’s moral and spiritual superiority.

    Jesus calls us to love indiscriminately. If the occasion arises naturally, to discuss the sin in someone’s life, then do it humbly, carefully, and compassionately. But don’t feel like you have to force the issue, as if God’s gonna let someone’s eternal destiny hinge on whether or not you awkwardly and tactlessly confronted them with the fact of their sin. God’s not that desperate, or that weak.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many (on both sides of this and others issues) who justify a rude, disrespectful approach by claiming that some things are too important to worry about such trifles as common courtesies. What nonsense.

    Jesus didn’t stop loving or being kind to people just because they didn’t accept him. So why should we?

  3. God loves us aliasmoi. He will not send homosexuals to hell.

  4. iMonk:

    Clarification appreciated.

    The “consequences” dimension is one I think could stand examining. I say this because while it is good, and very needed, to be open to and love our neighbors in homosexual relationships, in my own experience their embrace of these relationships has far more easily visible or long-term noticeable effects than sins like … well, even saying it like this sets me up for problems. But I’ll simply say sexual sins seem to often have very soul-deadening effects that make me hesitate to lump them as “sin like all sin is sin,” even though I agree with your clarification.

  5. iMonk, the Orthodox do not talk about mortal and venial sin. That is a Roman distinction. Nevertheless, uhm, there is a verse that is used to speak of that distinction.

    In 1 John 5 it says, “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.”

    So, there is a sin leading to death and a sin not leading to death. From that the Romans derive mortal and venial sin.

  6. I think I might stand a better chance of going to hell for simply being an American, living in and implicitly supporting a society based on greed, a society where everything from justice to health care to education to political influence is based on the amount of money a person has, than for any sexual sin.

    We like to occupy ourselves with this bedroom stuff while meanwhile we’re living in the modern incarnation of the Roman Empire.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Likewise, the very same people who hammer away at those who are considered intolerant, or hateful, or homophobic — and keep harping on the fact that homosexuality is (at worst) just one sin among many — then go on to denounce intolerance, and bigotry, as if they’re the unpardonable sins. — Ricky H

    Ricky, in the Game of Christian One-Upmanship, The Unpardonable Sin is ALWAYS “Whatever YOU Do that I Don’t”. Keep that in mind (and its mirror-image of “The Really Really Real Proof of Salvation is Whatever I Do that YOU Don’t”) and a lot of Christian Culture War talk (and infighting) falls right into place.

  8. Holly S. says:

    I don’t really get why us Christians make such a big deal about what we don’t believe/condone than what we should be believing. Does that make sense? We spend more time arguing about stuff we say shouldn’t be done than doing stuff we SHOULD do.

  9. frank sonnek says:

    Jesus became sin.

    Jesus became EVERYTHING that we are.

    Jesus became everything that YOU are.

    There must be no quotes around that word sin.

    He bodily represented the ENTIRE human race as second adam eclipsing the first.

    No. one. is. excluded. from. this. fact.

    So we MUST say that he who knew no sin, was a mother, a father, a son, a daughter , a black man, a gay man.

    Jesus also became a child molester, a drug addict, a gossip, a liar, a thief, and whatever is the very worst thing you have ever done or continue to do in your life. He became that secret thing about you that you would die for people to know is true about you.

    In exchange, he gives you, through the instrumentality of your baptism: everything he is. everything he has. You become the righteous-ness of God.

    He does all this PURELY out of goodness and mercy, without any goodness or merit on our part. not even ONE DROP of merit in an ocean of His goodness.

    So when you fail to see a homosexual, a black man, or a white man as Jesus, he will at the end say “you did not know me”.

    To the extent you have given love to the unlovable, the least the last, the lost, and those not worthy or deserving of anything good, indeed those justly worthy of your righteous condemnation for who they are or what they do, Jesus says “whatsoever you have done unto them, you have done unto me!”

    THIS, and nothing short of THIS, is what christian morality and sanctification looks like.

  10. Anna W. says:

    @Holly S., you’re absolutely right. If we spent more time working on ways to include people rather than find rationales to exclude them, it would be much better.

    Good article, iMonk.

  11. “‘If EVERYTHING about how we treated homosexuals was completely different, NOTHING about how homosexuals view the church would be any different.’

    Hm.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re mistaken about this one, Brian.”

    Maybe you believe that an approach of “I maintain that the lifestyle on which you base your identity is sinful and wrong, but I’m going to be very kind and compassionate towards you anyway” is going to impress your gay neighbor. Maybe for some it will. I say that the gay neighbor more likely will receive it as something like “I maintain that you as a black person are inherently inferior to me as a white person, but I’m going to be very kind and compassionate towards you anyway.”

    I say that our discussion sounds to them like “How do we treat black people with dignity and respect without compromising our belief that we are racially superior to them?”

    So no, I don’t at all buy this nonsense of “If we’re just super nice to gays, they’ll overlook what our religion teaches.” If the Christian carries out Jesus’ commands correctly with regard to loving his gay neighbor, he will be perceived as a very polite bigot.

    The reason this is important is because if getting the larger culture to stop calling us hateful bigots on the subject of homosexuality stays as the unspoken assumed goal (which your response confirms to me that it is), or that it is the physical evidence that we have come into accord with God’s will on the matter, then when being very kind and compassionate to gays fails to work, we’ll be sorely tempted just to move away from the faith as handed down to us.

  12. Sarah O:

    “So it seems to me that the call to love everyone- regardless of their sexual behavior- is one that shouldn’t be held hostage to the likelihood that loving people in the verb sense won’t make them automatically agree or affirm your own believes, or even stop hating you.

    It should be done because in that joyful, radically, giving of the self in love to others, we create a space that can be filled with God’s love for us- for us to experience and appreciate that love?”

    That sounds correct. Bless those who curse you, love your enemies, etc. Suffering for doing right is blessing; suffering for doing wrong is justice.

  13. Aliasmoi: There’s a difference between orientation and behavior. Even if a person has no control over who he feels attracted to, he certainly has control over who he as sex with. For example, I may have no control over feeling attracted to women who are not my wife, but God clearly expects me not to act on this “orientation.”

    Luckily, it’s not my job to condemn anyone, but it doesn’t really surprise me when some Christians speak out more loudly about homosexuality than they do other kinds of sin. Adulterers, for example, generally do not hold parades in which they claim that they’ve made a perfectly valid lifestyle choice and that the rest of us should offer them some kind of legal recognition.

    Fortunately for me, most of my sins don’t show on the outside.

    iMonk: You said you weren’t going to have a Protestant/Catholic discussion on the issue but then ask for Bible quotes to support the Catholic position.

    In related news, I’m not about to have any sweet snacks today. Also, if anyone has any cupcakes, I’ll take one.

  14. I can’t read these comments anymore, and IMonk, I can’t read your words on this subject anymore. It’s just so frustrating and heartbreaking.
    Once again I will post that I am a Christian lesbian. I have posted other thoughts on other threads of this same topic, so I won’t repeat it all here. Just let me say that I tried for years to do it the “biblical” way of denying myself, taking up my cross. What I have discovered is that this is man’s idea, not God’s. He wants His children happy, healthy and whole…not suffering for Him. He wants us to enjoy this life. He also told me in many different that He made me perfectly and wonderfully….that I should stop hating the person He made me to be.
    That’s where I rest in Him…Jehovah God and His Son Jesus….the Way Shower. So….what can man to do me? Nothing. I do love you all….sincerely and completely.
    Now, carry on figuring out how to carry this burden of judgement around in a state of grace.

  15. frank sonnek says:

    Ben:

    You have category errors. You make orientation into something that is behavioral. Behaviors include thoughts, words and deeds.

    Ontological labels (labels that are true about you independent of behavior or choice): man,black ,white ,human, gay.

    Consider: white/black/human/heterosexual lifestyle/choice

    Behavioral Labels (labels that are meaningless apart from behavior. Some of those behaviors may seem indelible and involuntary(ie no choice): adulterer, liar, thief, alcoholic, addict, child-molester, gossip, glutton, hero, or in the example you provided: bridled adulterer.

    Consider: Your example: “bridled adulterer” not “bridled man” or “bridled heterosexual”

    The Sin Label: 1) All humans bear labels from both categories. 2) The label “sinner/sinful” applies to all humans and all labels and so is unique.

    Consider: Evangelicals believe that we are sinners because we sin (behavioral). Lutherans (like me!) believe we sin because we are sinners (ontological, or rather the anti-ontology. What would be the implications of this fundamental theological difference in viewpoint here?

  16. Dave the pk says:

    I agree with a previous poster that homosexuality is a scapegoat for the immoral nature of society. Considering the moral ambiguity that some Evangelicals can display concerning torture, I don’t believe the problem Evangelicals have with homosexuality is a case of Manichean understanding of the world. I think the problem is that these days Evangelical identity is oppositional, they know what they aren’t, but they don’t know what they are. The same could be said of many Americans. Many of these folks are so ignorant of Scripture that they don’t know that serial monogamy (divorce and remarriage) is verboten in the New Testament. Try telling some of these people that Reagan was engaged in ongoing sin, they don’t like it.

    I think another problem is the clergy. Many clergymen, including my father, are aware of double-standard their flock have vis-a-vis socially acceptable sins. Yet these preachers are too cowardly to confront their own flock. Instead, they keep the focus on the “world” (external forces) so everyone can continue to feel good about themselves.
    There are other incoherences in certain strains of Evangelical Christianity; cheerleaders for war, but pro-life. Pro-death penalty, but pro-life. I also think many Evangelicals don’t realize that we are supposed to pay our taxes and be loyal to the powers that be, but we aren’t supposed to try and justify their actions. I don’t recall Christ or Paul ever saying “we need a righteous man in Rome.” The debauchery the emperors were capable of would make even the worse escapades in the Oval Office pale by comparison.

    Personally, I find my grandmother (traditional Church of the Brethren with Mennonite ancestors)’s German Anabaptist sensibilities to be more coherent and less full of inconsistencies than Anglo-American based Evangelical traditions. For her people the world is always sinful, there is no changing it, and the greatest struggle is the internal one.

  17. For what it’s worth, there’s a web piece (I spotted it on Google) entitled “God to Same-Sexers: Hurry Up” that takes a decidedly different approach to the gay issue. Controversial? Yes. But definitely thought-provoking. Ralph

  18. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    You can see the demonic presence in their eyes, just like you can in the eyes of many idol worshippers in overtly pagan societies. Those who have spiritual eyes themselves can see it. — Forrest James

    That sounds far too much like the Gnostic “*I* Have Spiritual Eyes” type that makes me wonder if I just stepped through the reality barrier into a bad Star Wars prequel or Call of Cthulhu game. Or into the hands of some Witchfinder-General smelling out Witches through Spectral Evidence.

    I think the problem is that these days Evangelical identity is oppositional, they know what they aren’t, but they don’t know what they are. — Dave the PK

    “WHATEVER IT IS — I’M AGAINST IT!”
    — Groucho Marx as Professor Wagstaff, Horsefeathers

    Try telling some of these people that Reagan was engaged in ongoing sin, they don’t like it. — Dave the PK

    Oh, Reagan got on a LOT of Christians’ bad side back in ’81, but for a completely different reason. He told the Christian Culture warriors of the time that he had been elected President of the US — the entire country, not any single faction within it.

    You saw the “RONALD WILSON REAGAN = 666!” posters and grafitti within days of that statement.

    There are other incoherences in certain strains of Evangelical Christianity; cheerleaders for war, but pro-life. Pro-death penalty, but pro-life. — Dave the PK

    These are some of those inexplicable connections you find everywhere, like pro-abortion plus gun control, or pro-abortion plus pro-animal-rights. Just more of Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe.

  19. Ralph….”controversial” doesn’t come close to describing what I just read at that link.

    IMonk….you just made it really easy for me to remove your blog from my favorite list.
    Inflammatory rhetoric linked without one word of caution from you, our moderator.

  20. Donalbain says:

    As far as I can tell as a non Christian, the issue for me is not necessarily who Christians love. That is an issue for their own community. The issue is wether they want to use the force of the state to punish those who disobey their religious laws. I think that most Christians agree that it is a sin to worship another god, but I would posit that very few think it should be a crime. But for some reason, another sin is one they think SHOULD be a crime. That is what upsets me.