This is the 14th and final installment in this blog series on the theology of the body. If you want to listen to the messages, they are found by clicking “listen.”
The scope of what has been covered is quite vast, but we will conclude with some pastoral advice in how these issues are playing out in the wider culture. One of the themes of these blogs is that most Christians are not aware of the larger biblical vision and therefore we may encounter stiff resistance even within the church to historically orthodox positions regarding human sexuality. Indeed, the voice of the culture has often overpowered the voice of the grand biblical vision.
I would like to briefly highlight four of the challenges you will face. First, there are those who say that the whole discussion about same sex marriage, homosexual ordination, gender reassignment and so forth is “much ado about nothing.”
This is the “distraction from mission” argument. They point out these issues do not appear in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, Jesus never specifically addresses homosexuality and that the Old Testament also condemns planting your field with two kinds of seed, so what is the big deal. In short, this whole debate is nothing more than a massive distraction from our real mission, which is evangelism and social justice.
In response, we must first begin by remembering that the body in general and marriage between a man and a woman in particular is the greatest physical icon which God uses to portray a range of spiritual truths and a primary means of grace. If the view of the body which this generation has embraced is allowed to prevail, then the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ will be vacated of its power and theological force. Furthermore, any issue which has torn almost every mainline church in two is not “much ado about nothing.” This is a serious issue, not a peripheral one. Second, the creeds do not address any ethical issues; that is not their function. The creed lives on the plane of historical acts set in a larger theological context: So when the creed says, “We believe in the forgiveness of sins” that is meant to cover all sins without listing any of them. So, homosexuality is not mentioned in the creeds, but neither is murder or rape or embezzlement. Third, Jesus’ provides an unambiguous affirmation of marriage between one man and one woman in Matthew 19 and the strong embrace of the original creational design. Fourth, we should always be on guard against the Manichean heresy which has re-emerged today. It views the body as morally irrelevant and therefore incapable of sinning. The body is not to be trusted. They accomplish this, in part, by driving a wedge between the Apostle Paul and Jesus; or between the Old Testament and Jesus, allowing the church to ignore, for example, the sin lists in the New Testament which repeatedly condemn homosexual behavior.
The second argument you will hear is “why has the church focused so much on this one sin to the neglect of hundreds of other sins of which they are, by comparison, silent.”
Why, for example, would the church devote so much energy to fighting homosexuality, and never even mention even more pervasive sins such as greed or covetousness or stealing? The answer is that to my knowledge no one in the entire church anywhere in the entire world has tried to take greed, or covetousness or stealing off of the New Testament sin lists and put it on the sacrament list. The church universally condemns sins like greed. However, if someone tried to take greed off of the sin list as found in Col. 3:5-9 and say that we are now taking that sin off of the cross and making it a sacrament or a means of grace, then we would all be up in arms, and the church would be splitting over the issue of greed. We are often accused of singling this issue out, but they are the ones who have singled it out by seeking to engage in a modern version of doctrinal re-assignment: taking a sin and making it a sacrament. This is the sole reason for the focus on this sin.
The third argument you will hear is what I call the “agree to disagree position.”
In this vision, this issue is not about revelation. Rather, we only have endless human preferences and multiple paths to human flourishing. The church is not seen as a defender of biblical revelation, but as an adjudicator in the midst of a sea of human preferences. Conviction has been overturned by preferences; divine revelation has been supplanted by personal perspectives. Truth has been uprooted by experience. In this miry pit, the only solution is the market share solution. We all agree to disagree about human sexuality and allow that there are multiple versions of truth and that the church will find a way to accommodate each segment of its market share. This is a post-modern view of truth setting up shop in the church.
The fourth and final argument you will hear is that we are portrayed as angry and bigoted, which seems to be in such contrast to Jesus, who is warm, embracing and affirming.
This is an argument which we must take very seriously. Kindness and gentleness are fruits of the spirit and we must always conduct ourselves in this way. It is very important that we communicate very clearly that we are not opposed to homosexual people. Our struggle is never against flesh and blood. We must have a zero tolerance for all forms of bullying and harsh, hateful attitudes and attacks. The church opens its doors to all. We can no longer expect non-Christians to embrace Christian ethics (adultery, fornication and sodomy were once against the law in the US, now none are). In our text Paul makes it very clear that even in a pagan culture (like Corinth) we are to exercise church discipline within the church, but exhibit an open embrace of those outside the church because that is the only avenue of witness we have to an unbelieving world. The main strategy we have used to portray our “civility” to the world is summed up by the phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” The idea behind this phrase is that we can be opposed to homosexual behavior and even call it a sinful act, but we must clearly affirm how much we love the homosexual person. However, the wider culture neither understands nor accepts such a distinction. Any judgments about sin in this culture, however gently we communicate it are regarded essentially as hate speech. We have the added problem in that there are numerous painful examples where the church has not been welcoming to homosexuals. The real distinction, according to Paul, is with those who call themselves Christians (where we uphold the highest Christian ethic) and those who do not, with whom we offer a bold and even extravagant embrace.
Today, we must approach the whole issue from the widest possible frame. The church must wake up to the realization that the current debate about sexuality is not merely whether the church should “accept” or “reject” same sex marriage. That assumes that this whole debate is about one issue rather than a whole vision of human identity and the sacramental nature of the body. Today we hear quite a bit about the LGBT and the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer/Questioning, Intersexed and Asexual) community. The proliferation of letters beyond L and G and the growth of “choices” on Facebook clearly demonstrates that there is far more going on than a discussion of same sex marriage. We are on the front end of something, not the end of something. Today, the debate also includes, for example bi-sexual, transgendered and intersexed persons. In other words, this is not a discussion only about sex or marriage, it is, at a deeper level, a discussion about the elimination of all gender gender identity, even those markers physiologically given to us through creation. This is, therefore, fundamentally about the Christian view of the body, the moral boundaries inherent in our creation, and the spiritual, sacramental nature of Christian marriage.
So, we end where we began at the start of the series. We are engaged in a 50 year struggle. I will not live to see the end of this struggle. But, many of you will and you will be the faithful bearers of re-inserting the full Christian vision into the life and witness of the church. We need not shy away from the immensity of this task. We must roll up our sleeves, build beautiful Christian families and patiently articulate the inter-connectedness of these various issues with the whole vision. I am very confident that you can do this and do it with grace. This does not lend itself to a quick fix. We don’t need a better argument, we need to embody a deeper truth in our lives. As Christians we must recognize how deeply we have been trapped by a whole array of sexual immorality ranging from pornography to fornication. Our focus should be on the manifestation of holiness within the church. We have much to do in our own midst. The most important spiritual work we need to do is not within anyone “out there” but the face we meet in the mirror each morning. Let us ask God’s help to make us holy so that the world will see that the church truly is the glorious bride of Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.