Blessed to Be a Blessing: How we are Changing the World
Texts: Psalm 46; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
October 26, 2014
The way we can change the focus of a discussion or a debate is to state that the other person is lying.
If, for example, I say that all blue-eyed people lie about being respectful, the conversation moves away from my audacity in saying such a thing, it moves away from talking about respectfulness, and puts the onus of burden on blue-eyed people and their honesty. It’s classic bait and switch maneuver in discussions; you bait people with one thing and switch the topic to something else.
I just saw this in an article with two slightly different titles, appear on two different website. It is written by a man named Gary LeMar, the President of American Vision, an organization that is looking to assure God’s will is lived out in all of life.
I’ve included a link to Mr. LeMar’s article. Simply click the graphic.
On the website called “Eagle Rising,” it is entitled, Why do Liberals Lie and Say "Jesus Never Spoke Against Homosexuality"?
The article is only partially on there and it refers you to a website called “Godfather Politics,” where the title is The Jesus Didn’t Say Anything About Homosexuality Lie.
The premise of the author is that the statement, “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality,” is a flat out lie. If one reads the title of the article one determines that Jesus, in fact, DID talk about homosexuality and condemned it and those dastardly liberals are covering this up and downright lying about this.
Then one reads the article. Ordinarily if someone says that someone else has lied in a document and they refer you to the document than you would presume, of course, that in the document they will point out the passages. If you read this article you just have to see where Jesus spoke about homosexuality----only to find no references where Jesus spoke about homosexuality. Mr. LeMar did not forget to put passages in where Jesus spoke about homosexuality because, alas, Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality.
His arguments are interesting, to say the least. He takes issue with the pastor of Hillsong Church, Carl Lentz who said:
“Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent, and I'm still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won't find it because He never did."
Actually, Jesus wasn’t in the thick of homosexuality in a way we were understand sexual orientation. The concept of sexual orientation and the terminology of homosexuality are relatively modern concepts. When the word ‘homosexual’ is used in the Bible it’s a poor translation as there was no word for that in ancient Greek or Hebrew. There was same gender sexual activity, however.
Although we view our modern world to be very sexual charged, the ancient world was significantly more sexual than our world is today. We know little about female sexuality from that era as no one at that time was interested in it. We do know that men were sexual with their spouses, concubines, and prostitutes. They were also sexual with one another. In most of the ancient cultures same gender sexual acts had little to do with sexual orientation and more to do with availability. Sex was often seen as entertainment and was not viewed church differently than having dinner or going to the ballgame with a friend.
I say this recognizing that Pastor Lentz was someone with whom Mr. LeMar disagreed, but it helps set my perspectives.
At Hillsong they said that they don’t judge behavior and Mr. LeMar does on to say that Jesus very often did challenge people’s behavior. He uses two instances, one of the adulterous woman and one of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus’ teaching of ‘Go and sin no more,” is quite valid. One woman was guilty of adultery and condemned whereas the other woman had been with many men. Of course, Mr. LeMar didn’t point out that in the story of the adulterous woman, who had been judged harshly by the mob, was the only one of the two people being punished. Under Jewish Law, and how it was practiced, if this woman was unmarried but the man she was with WAS married, she was guilty of adultery but he was not. Convoluted logic? Yes. Mr. LeMar didn’t say anything about this.
He goes on to intimate that Jesus was, in fact, speaking about homosexuality as he was teaching Jewish morality as found in the Hebrew Scripture. He uses a couple of examples….but….
Jesus used Old Testament examples and some of his teaching was the same as found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Some of his teachings, however, were different. The story of the adulterous woman being one instance. His view of the Sabbath was often different from many others at the time. His usage of the word ABBA in reference to God. Jesus’ teachings were often different from other people within Judaism and to say he bought Leviticus word for word would, in fact, be incorrect.
Mr. LeMar goes on to note that whereas rape, incest, and arson, etc., are condemned in the Old Testament, Jesus didn’t say anything about them and we don’t presume that he accepted those things. Of course, comparing rape, incest, and arson to a loving, committed relationship two people may have is intellectually dishonest and would be another bait and switch scenario.
If people want to discuss gay rights and gay marriage and use the Bible there actually are portions where this is somewhat discussed. In reading such books as Jennifer Wright Knust’s, Unprotected Texts, many of the passages often presumed to condemn homosexuality are questionable. (This is a fine book written by a Scripture scholar----it is not an easy read, however.)
There is also Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian, that also addresses many of these texts. This is a good read that is very interesting and much easier to comprehend than Dr. Knust’s book.
In fairness there are books written to the contrary and they are often worth considering and observing.
One thing both sets of books have in common is that they don’t reference Jesus’ statements on same sex relationships and both perspectives acknowledge the same thing. Jesus didn’t speak about same sex relationships.
Mr. LeMar is welcome to his own opinions but he is not welcome to his own facts. When he calls people liars who say that Jesus didn’t speak about same se behavior, he is flat out wrong and owes people an apology. His effort is a classic bait and switch and it is, in my opinion, a very poor way to discuss difficult subjects.
One of the most heart-breaking stories in the news is the story about Brittany Maynard, a young woman with an inoperable brain tumor. She and her husband moved to Oregon where she can avail herself with the state’s ‘Death with Dignity’ law and her plan is to take a lethal dose of medication on November 1st. She has only months to live and her plan is to end her life in this world before she and her family have to endure the final stages of the disease.
Her choice and the publicity around the choices have resulted in significant conversation and controversy. Many applaud her courage and many are horrified at her decision. She is only 29 years old and has been married for a year.
I hate this story. I say that I hate this story not because I hate Brittany Maynard, I just hate the fact that a young woman is dying of a brain tumor at such a young age and has been faced with horrible choices. Choice one is to end her life quickly and painlessly and very soon, or to die in a horrible fashion pretty soon. Choice number one and choice number two are both terrible options.
The story, obviously, has raised many questions.
She has been applauded by many people. The idea of death with dignity is popular and it allows physicians to prescribe medication that will provide a lethal dose to a person should that person choose to take it or not. People have the ability to have a final day with loved ones, take the dose, and die effortlessly before the final months of agony. The argument, of course, is that we do this with beloved pets and it makes sense that we be able to provide this option for people we love.
On the other hand others will say that we cannot take on the role of playing God. We can only die, the argument says, when it is our time and God is the only one who can choose that time.
I, personally, wrestle with these ‘life’ issues. I wrestle with abortion. I wrestle with death with dignity. I think capital punishment is appalling. I was educated in a Roman Catholic seminary in the 1970’s and that was the era of the ‘seamless garment’ view of life issues. In that theory of Christian ethics, abortion, death with dignity, and capital punishment were all wrong. Many so-called ‘pro-life’ people now are against abortion and death with dignity, but are fine with capital punishment. I cannot call people pro-life unless they embrace the seamless garment premise. Being for some and not others and calling one’s self pro-life strikes me as hypocritical.
If someone says, to me, “Hey, but look at your, you WRESTLE with two of the issues but come down clearly on one, doesn’t that make YOU a hypocrite too?” The answer is yes, of course. I wrestle and no matter how hard I try, I’m stuck.
There is one thing that really disturbs me, however. Recently, wrote a column that ultimately condemned Brittany Maynard and her choice. Ms. Tada not only disagrees with Ms. Maynard, but says that God has been removed from the process and that Ms. Maynard is ultimately condemning herself to hell. Ms. Tada recently wrote:
“I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God. The journey Brittany — for that matter, all of us — will undertake on the other side of death is the most important venture on which we will ever embark… Unfortunately, three countries and five states have now determined that individuals can make these choices for themselves. This is what happens when God is removed: The moral consensus that has guided that society begins to unravel.”
My initial instinct is that Ms. Tada and I have a theological disagreement on the removal of God. I don’t believe God is ever really removed from situations. God is present. Period. How people listen to God is often different but to say God is removed is, to me, very presumptuous.
But worse than this, Ms. Tada seems to assert that Ms. Maynard is condemning herself to hell.
Joni Eareckson Tada is a person I have to respect on many levels. She broke her neck in a horrible diving accident when she was young and has spent her life in a wheelchair with no use of her arms and legs. She is a survivor of breast cancer. Her concern about death with dignity is genuine and she is not speaking from the perspective of a person who has not made difficult choices in her own life. She is not talking from the perspective of a person who, herself, has not suffered. While I disagree with many of her theological perspectives, she’s a person I do respect and admire.
There is a line, however, that she crossed that she has no right to cross. She determined that Ms. Maynard is condemning herself to hell. To avoid some suffering in this world, Ms. Tada believes that Ms. Maynard is assigning herself eternal suffering in the next. She sees herself as warning Ms. Maynard that this is something she ought not do. Her words, while harsh, are actually loving----but they are not words he has a right to use.
We people seem to have determined that we have a right to judge others and to state where people are heading when our lives in this world have come to an end. We seem to be missing a critical factor in our formula of judgment: God.
What strikes me is that when people like Brittany Maynard are forced with two horrible choices and makes one, God is present in her life. We may see God or we may not see God, but God is present.
We can debate anything we want but let’s take God’s judgment out of the equation. As for Brittany Maynard, my heart breaks. In my view of God, the first heart that broke was God’s heart and that when her journey in this world comes to an end, my faith is that her journey will continue with God.
And God, last I checked, doesn’t need our input as to who walks with God in Heaven.
Ministers pretty much all have a common experience. We are at a wedding reception and are seated next to someone’s Great Uncle Waldo from Nebraska. Great Uncle Waldo is enjoying the fact that there is an open bar at the wedding reception and mildly freaked out that he’s stuck being seated next to the minister. The minister is looking at his or her watch, hoping that time passes quickly so he or she can leave before Great Uncle Waldo musters up the courage to talk. After four or five drinks, Great Uncle Waldo decides it’s time to have a conversation.
He puts his arm around the minister’s shoulder and exhales. The member of the clergy offers thanks that this particular clergy person had quit smoking and didn’t have an open flame in proximity to Great Uncle Waldo’s breath because the alcohol content near an open flame would immolate both of them.
Great Uncle Waldo then says, “I’m not really a church going person and I can’t say I know much about the Bible, but the whole secret is to be nice to one another.”
For most clergy this would be revelation.
Clergy in mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church have pretty comparable educations. After four years of college 3-4 years of graduate level seminary are taken. The Master’s of Divinity degree required to become ordained is usually a 75-90 credit degree whereas many Master’s degree programs are usually between 30-40 credit hours. (Interesting side note is that most mega-churches do not have seminary educated clergy and do not require the M.Div. degree. Further comments shall be restrained.)
In any case, most clergy are well-educated individuals and have a working knowledge of the history of Christianity, systematic theology, Christian ethics, Scripture, as well as extensive field education. Most have listened to countless sermons preached by scholars and have read extensively. Most have libraries filled with resources and can articulate and explain often very difficult and obscure passages of Scripture. There is one thing clergy to not learn in this extensive education and one thing all the scholars who have taught us also seemed to have missed.
Never have any of us heard in all that education that the whole secret of Christianity is to be nice to one another. Either Great Uncle Waldo has been given divine revelation and should be put immediately on the preaching circuit or…
Here’s the bad news. Great Uncle Waldo is wrong. The central theme of the Bible isn’t about being nice. If you actually read the Bible, Jesus wasn’t always nice. He was loving, but loving isn’t always being nice. Sometimes confrontation is more loving than being nice. If you read the letters of St. Paul, St. Paul was not always nice. Again, sometimes confrontation is more loving than being nice.
Does this suggest that we ought to be mean to one another? No. Does this mean that we shouldn’t be nice to each other?
Actually, for the most part, being nice to one another is a good thing. I like to think that I am a pretty nice person and I like nice people. To be honest, the world would be a better place if people were nicer to one another. I say this, of course, in terms of that niceness being genuine and not phony.
Having said all of this, being nice is not a Biblical theme. The Biblical message is about truth and love and sometimes truth requires bitter medicine. It doesn’t require meanness, but it requires directness and sometimes the directness is painful.
Alas, Great Uncle Waldo is wrong. It may be nice when people are nice, but it’s not Biblical.
We’ve all heard it said, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It sounds like a good Christian thing to say doesn’t it? As Christians we are anti-sin and pro-love so this seems to make a lot of sense. We’ve probably all heard it said, “As it says in the Bible, ‘hate the sin but love the sinner…’ The problem is that it’s not in the Bible.
It’s actually something that Gandhi wrote in 1929 when he wrote, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” St. Augustine expressed a similar thought back in AD 424: “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The thoughts were close but not Biblical and not, exact.
Some have used Jude 1:22-23, 22 And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies, as something of a proof text for this, but, alas, it’s not even close.
There are a bunch of problems with this statement and good reason why it’s not in the Bible.
For one, when we begin to entertain the thought of ‘hate’ it blurs the line between love and hate. Hating the sin allows us to judge people by their sins. Hate is something we are called, specifically NOT to do. God is love and we who abide in love abide in God. When we venture into the world of ‘hate’ we are moving in the wrong direction.
Secondly, it gives us permission to judge one another. Have I ever judged another person? Yes. Did I have any right to judge another person? No. Have I ever looked at the speck in another person’s eye and missed the plank in my own eye? Far too many times. When we begin to think we have the right to ‘hate the sin,’ we go down the path of judgment and judging others, from a Biblical perspective, is most definitely a sin.
Thirdly, it puts us into a position of determining sins. Sin is classically seen as moving away from God or living outside of God’s will or God’s way. The difficulty in determining ‘sins’ comes from the fact that we have to determine what God’s will or God’s way happens to be. It means what my conscience determines is sinful or not supersedes your conscience. That ultimately leads to judging one another and, again, that is most definitely a sin.
So, how do we treat sinners?
Love everyone. That covers it.