Category: Contemporary Church Issues

Is it (really) OK to vote YES?

“It’s OK to vote NO” I’m told by some of my friends’ Facebook profile pics. But as the same-sex marriage (SSM) postal survey gets mailed out this week, we also need to ask: is it really OK to vote YES?  

yes

When I ask, this question – I’m primarily concerned with Christians who may be entertaining the possibility of responding in this way. I’m not asking whether Christians have the right as democratic citizens to express a YES to the question being put to Australia. We do.

I’m asking whether it’s OK to vote YES if we’re seeking to live faithfully as disciples of Jesus, witnesses to His gospel and loving neighbours?

I’m asking whether the reasons a Christian may think justify saying YES to SSM make it OK to invite the Australian government to alter a fundamental, divinely-sanctioned human institution so that it includes an expression of sexuality abhorred by God?

In short I’m asking whether God will be OK with Christians saying YES to SSM?

I’ve identified 3 main motivations that might lead Australians who identify as Christians to support a change to the law to allow SSM.

  1. A sincere belief that the current Marriage Act enshrines discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians and denies them one of their human rights.
  2. A sincere belief that Christians should promote a vision of society where people are free to pursue whatever they understand to be necessary to living “the good life,” without being constrained, compelled or coerced by Christian beliefs about virtue and morality.
  3. A sincere belief that SSM is an inevitability and that voting YES now would enable better legislated protections and exemptions for conscientious objectors to SSM (including Christians), because the current government is more sympathetic and responsible in this regard than the opposition would be.

I will attempt to deal with each of these possible justifications for a Christian to vote YES. Because a detailed response is necessary, I’ve tackled the first one below and will follow up with a response to the others in the near future.  

  1. The current Marriage Act enshrines discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians and denies them one of their human rights.

This has the potential to be a powerful justification. Denying people their human rights is a serious matter that fair-minded people are naturally inclined to avoid. But the fact is, the Marriage Act doesn’t discriminate unfairly against homosexual couples. And calls for “marriage equality” are more demands for social recognition than they are claims of a genuine human right.

Discrimination?

The Marriage Act defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” This 2004 amendment to the 1961 Marriage Act simply clarified what marriage had meant in Australian law and society since the time of federation (and for a much longer time in the British legal tradition from which the legal and social frameworks of modern Australia are derived).

This does prevent gay and lesbian unions from being interpreted by Australian law as “marriages,” but it equally precludes bigamy, polygamy, forced marriages and marital unions where one or more parties are incapable of legally giving consent. It’s all there in that definition. No unfair discrimination exists, because all Australians have the same right and freedom to marry under the law. Any adult can marry a consenting, non-married adult of the opposite sex who isn’t a close biological relative.

The fact that some citizens of homosexual orientation choose to seek fulfilment in committed relationships with members of the same sex and can’t legally call that relationship a marriage is not unfair discrimination. It’s simply the case that they’ve chosen to pursue a relationship that has never fit the definition of marriage in this country.

Denying people their human rights?

But that brings us to the human rights claim. We often hear that being able to marry the person you love is a basic human right that needs to be enshrined in Australian law.
But is that really the case?

As I’ve argued elsewhere, what is really being claimed – even demanded – by SSM advocates, is that all Australians be compelled to legally and socially recognise committed homosexual relationships as marriages: even if they don’t personally believe them to be so.            

International law has refused to recognise same-sex marriage as a genuine human right or hold nations accountable for human rights violations if they fail to legislate SSM. The courts in Northern Ireland – where SSM remains illegal – recently found that a gay complainant had no claim to his human rights being abused by the government’s refusal to recognise gay partnerships as marriages.

“Marriage equality” may feel like a right to those who are passionately fighting for a change to the law. But it just isn’t a right the way that our rights to life, political and religious liberty and basic essential provisions are true, universal human rights.

Everyone has the right to marry. But no one has an innate right to redefine what marriage means and compel their fellow citizens to accept the new definition.

So if a Christian is inclined to tick YES in the postal survey, because they believe they need to support gay and lesbian couples in their struggle for freedom of discrimination and enjoyment of human rights – that’s unfortunate. Because our laws do not unfairly discriminate, nor deny anyone their human rights.

POSTSCRIPT: When “Christians” adopt this position because they affirm homosexuality as good in and of itself…

There’s actually a more serious issue that could be at play for some who identify as Christians and want to say YES for the above reason – which I’ll attempt to deal with briefly in closing.

It may be that someone who adopts the anti-discrimination/human rights rationale does so because their underlying view of homosexual relationships is that they’re good for those who are involved in them and that homosexuality is a neutral or positive – rather than negative – expression of human sexuality.

This is a serious problem, because if someone calls themselves a Christian but affirms homosexual relationships as good, they are giving support to a change in the law due to a completely unbiblical understanding of human sexuality and marriage.

Australian Marriage law corresponds with the biblical vision of marriage as affirmed by the creation account of Genesis, Jesus Himself, the apostles and the climactic vision of the Book of Revelation. To want the law in Australia changed because you believe the Bible gets it wrong on marriage and sexuality is an untenable position for a Christian to hold.

While I believe that other reasons a Christian might have for voting YES are mistaken and misguided, actual in-principle affirmation of homosexuality as good and acceptable is of more serious concern than all other motivations. Because when someone adopts such a position it is no longer a case of a difference in opinion over political and personal engagement with this issue and those affected by it.

Affirmation of homosexuality is nothing other than a step on the path of apostasy. If you hear someone who’s supposed to be a Christian leader doing this, beware of them. They don’t speak with God’s authority behind them. If you know a Christian who’s thinking this way – it’s much more important that you seek to win them back to the biblical truth than it is to convince someone to vote NO in a survey…

 

 

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Responding to a Christian leader’s 10 Reasons for abstaining from the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage

Short responses to Nathan Campbell’s 10 reasons for abstaining from participation in the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage.  

[N.B. This is a postscript to my recent article on the issues surrounding the plebiscite. NC’s comments ennumerated and italicised, my responses in bold. I have added [a] & [b] to his original text for some points to enable ease of response].

1. I believe the Golden Rule (treat others as you would have them treat you) isn’t just a nice idea, but an important command for Christians to pursue as we live together with neighbours who disagree with us


Response: I believe the second greatest commandment (as cited by Jesus): “Love your neighbour as yourself” precludes the encouraging, endorsing or enabling of any behaviour, activity or attitude that is inherently harmful to one’s neighbour(s).

 

2. [a] I believe the Christianity we see in the New Testament assumes a society and moral order that is fundamentally different in outlook to the way of being in the world produced by the Gospel, and [b] it’s not our job to police sexual morality outside the church (1 Corinthians 5).

Response:
a. Agreed, but the conundrum of how the apostles might have responded to imperial proposals to change any law from approximately agreeing with biblical morality to rejecting it – is an open question.

b. Agreed, but neither are we called to indifference towards sexual morality outside the church. Almost no churches or Christian leaders are calling for renewed legal penalties for private sodomy – that would be policing morality. Public recognition of what constitutes a marriage is different. 

3. [a] I believe the best version of a liberal, secular, democracy is pluralistic; that our life together as citizens of Australia works best when we allow for and accommodate a diversity of views on what a good or flourishing human life looks like. [b] If I want my definition of marriage recognised by law, and it comes from my convictions, as a Christian, about what God says a good and flourishing life looks like, then I should be prepared (because of the Golden Rule) to make space for others to have their definition of marriage recognised by law.

a. I broadly agree, in the sense that I too am a political pluralist. What ‘liberal,’ ‘secular’ and ‘democracy’ mean to NC and whether I agree with his appropriation of these concepts as a fellow Christian with differing views on our participation in society, I’m not sure.

b. This logic is concerning, as it presumably surrenders any meaningful say for Christians in the limitations of what can be regarded as marriage. This Golden Rule ethic can’t realistically stop at male-male “marriage” and “female-female” marriage…

4. I believe that religious freedom is a big part of pluralism, and that all people are worshippers, whether they worship God, or something like sex and marriage; that worship is about our primary love and our vision of the good or flourishing life. That’s part of our humanity. This means everybody defines marriage through the prism of their worship, or love, or vision of the good life (Romans 1 seems to make a connection between what we choose to worship (creator or created things) and how we live in the world. I believe that if I, as a Christian, want the legal freedom to define marriage as God defines it within our church community, and as a Christian in the community, then I should allow my neighbours to have their definition of marriage receive the same legal freedom within the context of a liberal, secular, democracy.

Response: This doesn’t differ in substance from 3b above, except for the introduction of the freedom of religion element. Some people could be said to absolutise their relationship with their pet dog or cat in the same way that self-identifying LGBTI&c people absolutise their sexuality and relationships. Surely we are not proposing pagan marriage to animals if it represents what our neighbours treasure most in life? 

5. [a] I believe the plebiscite is a bad idea (and poorly executed); that democracy is not about populism and ‘majority rules’ but about balancing competing and different visions of the good life, and making space at the table for all views to be protected and represented in our life together. [b] I think Christians should be particularly concerned about how minority groups in our society are treated both while we have power (because of the Golden Rule), but because I’m not sure we’ll have that power for much longer.


a. This is confusing democracy with pluralism. NC may be a principled political and religious pluralist, but many of his fellow citizens aren’t. The only thing that stops democracy from becoming populism or ‘majority-rules’ is a commitment to something deeper or higher than democracy itself. I fear those deeper commitments are disappearing across Australia.

b. There isn’t much to disagree with here on the surface, except to flag that adherence to the “Golden Rule” shouldn’t necessarily anticipate reciprocation. That is, the goal of treating minorities well is not to be treated well when one becomes part of a minority.

6. I’d much rather encourage people in my congregation to love their neighbours, regardless of their religion or sexuality, because it’s in our Christ shaped love for those who are different (our following of the Golden Rule), that the message of the Gospel as the ultimate account of human flourishing actually has sense. I don’t want to fight for Christian morals apart from the Gospel, because seeing the world God’s way and living in it as those being transformed into the image of Jesus actually requires his Spirit (Romans 8).

Response: Loving people who are different and earnestly seeking to share Christ with them is not mutually exclusive in relation to opposing change that is bad for society. Voting NO to changing the Marriage Act is not necessarily forcing non-Christians to accept Christian morals apart from Christ. It’s simply expressing what you believe is the best for the society in which you dwell. SSM does not promote the good of homosexual people, nor children, nor Australians who uphold the traditional understanding of marriage, nor the wider nation because of the adverse side-effects it will bring about. 

7. I believe that our current public posture (as the ‘institution’ of the church in Australia, or the political arm of Christendom) is damaging the Gospel by, amongst other things, failing to take points 1-6 into account. I want to be a different voice to those voices (also by failing to speak the Gospel at all, a Crikey essay on the ACL I read this week claims they deliberately avoid religious language in their lobbying).


I too have concerns about the way in which some Christian organisations approach social issues – especially if their engagement is carried out in the name of Christianity, but devoid of meaningful representation of Christ Himself. I do however feel that disdain for the ACL drives NC to over-correction with respect to Christian political involvement. 

 

8. I have big problems with any ‘Christian’ activity that feels coercive or manipulative, or like an attempt to apply our power or clout to the lives of others outside the church. I don’t think coercion is consistent with the Gospel of the crucified king who ultimately renounced human power and influence; and I believe the Cross is the power and wisdom of God, not the sword (or the democratic equivalent). I think lobbying and special interest groups distort the operation of democracy.


I also believe that coercive use of power by Christians – and especially the institution of the Church – is dangerous. I don’t believe that acting in a way that upholds the legal definition of marriage in Australia is inherently coercive. Furthermore, voting to prevent “forced recognition” of same-sex relationships as marriage is simply using legitimate democratic participation to say NO to coercion being used against our brothers, sisters and neighbours. You don’t vote for things that restrict religious freedom, nor should we remain silent when they are proposed.

 

9. [a] I don’t want to talk to my gay friends and neighbours about why the church doesn’t want them to enjoy what they understand as a basic human right in the context of telling people how to vote in the plebiscite, I want to talk to them about the goodness of Jesus, and the (I believe objectively) better life that is produced if we worship the God who is love, and created us to love, rather than what’s wrong with their ‘worship’… [b] I believe, like the old preacher Thomas Chalmers, that what is required for people’s loves to be changed is ‘the expulsive power’ of new loves, not the creating of a vacuum.


a. I can appreciate this and I think it shows the heart behind the approach. A sincere desire to engage non-believers with the gospel and not get sidetracked by red herrings, hobby-horses and rabbit-trails is positive and commendable. It is too easy for non-Christians to mistake the church’s core business as involving being against those we think are the problem with society. We don’t want anyone, gay, straight or whatever to make that mistake.

But it is not a one-sided matter of Christians driving people who identify as homosexual away by our stance on marriage – it is also their sin driving them away from the truth. Not voting in the plebiscite might seem like a way to build a bridge, or at least avoid burning one down, but I don’t know that it will appease anyone or make them more receptive to the truth.

b. Chalmers was right on the money. I doubt very much that he’d say that the power of an expulsive affection leaves no place for the civil law to uphold a certain understanding of marriage though.

10. I don’t want to bind people’s consciences to follow my lead, or my vote, because I recognise that within my church community, and denomination, there are many different views on the last 7 points, and coercing or manipulating people to act according to my understanding of the world fails the Golden Rule too.


I also hope that none of my Christian brothers and sisters feel coerced to go against what they think and feel about this issue and how to approach the plebiscite. But because I believe voting NO is critically important, I’m hoping that many will agree and act accordingly.

 

The Fall of the West & “The City of God”

donald_trump_august_19_2015_cropped
The next President of the United States of America [1]
It’s the day after Donald Trump’s historic election victory in the U.S. Presidential contest and the sun has still come up, the world continues much the way it has since the dawn of time and one would think this will equally be the case on 21st January 2017 – the day after President Trump is sworn in as “POTUS.”

But while the rise of Trump itself is not necessarily the cataclysmic, Armageddon, nuclear-meltdown scenario that some of his critics have predicted, it is symptomatic of trends that do have concerning, world-altering implications.

In a repugnant failure of democracy, the American people chose one of two very poor candidates offered to them as the main – and perhaps only viable – contenders for the top office of the land. The fact that Democrat and Republican voters selected Clinton and Trump in the first place, thus setting us up for a contest that seemed best described as King Kong vs. Godzilla (Kong won, just like in the movie), was an appalling state of affairs.

Similarly tragic is the willingness of both major parties to endorse such terrible nominees and the compliance of millions of Americans who voted for one or the other, as though they truly had no other option. Nothing seemed able to fix the Trump v. Clinton debacle from eventuating and that fact itself suggests American democracy is broken.

America and its Western allies – particularly kindred nations in Europe and across the Anglosphere – are facing uncertain times. The political climate across these nations is volatile, restless and even enraged with the failures of the status quo. The deterioration of our collective cultural atmosphere should concern us to the same extent that many are concerned about the health of the physical atmosphere – perhaps even more. The West appears to be possibly years, rather than decades, away from degenerating into a putrid mess, where the healthy tension between competing and conflicting interests is no longer maintained through the mechanisms of pluralistic, liberal democratic societies.

Rather than worry about a “Clash of Civilisations” between Western and non-Western powers – which may still be the eventual outcome – we must first find ourselves gravely concerned with the seemingly unavoidable collision course of ideologies, values and claimed rights and freedoms that threatens to irreparably tear apart Western, post-Christian societies from within.

If and when this occurs, the American-led West may find itself a house divided to the point of being unable to stand in any meaningfully “united” way. Other powers will begin to encroach into what has traditionally been the Western sphere of dominion and influence and eventually, Western nations may find themselves in economic and even military decline in much the same way we presently are culturally, religiously, morally and politically.

Augustine’s City of God  

While many Protestants are excited about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation next year, there’s another – less notable – anniversary of a nonetheless highly significant event in Christian history, that might do us some service in the closing months of 2016 and beyond.

1590 years ago, one of the most significant Christian theologians of all time published a work he had begun many years earlier, as he sought to deal with the decline and eventual fall of the world power of his day: Rome. Augustine’s reflections in City of God offer a detailed defense of Christianity with respect to Rome’s downfall, in the face of accusations and criticisms from disgruntled pagans who blamed the Empire’s decline on her change of religion and gods.

But he also seeks to help Christians have the right perspective in a situation when the world was in massive upheaval, as the imperial stability offered by Rome was crumbling. Here are just a few of his thoughts which might help us deal with both the present political realities and the possible further decline of the U.S. and the Western world.

#1 “The Times of All Kings and Kingdoms are Ordained by the Judgment and Power of the True God.”

“Therefore that God, the author and giver of felicity, because He alone is the true God, Himself gives earthly kingdoms both to good and bad.  Neither does He do this rashly, and, as it were, fortuitously,—because He is God not fortune,—but according to the order of things and times, which is hidden from us, but thoroughly known to Himself; which same order of times, however, He does not serve as subject to it, but Himself rules as lord and appoints as governor.  Felicity He gives only to the good.  Whether a man be a subject or a king makes no difference; he may equally either possess or not possess it.  And it shall be full in that life where kings and subjects exist no longer.  And therefore earthly kingdoms are given by Him both to the good and the bad; lest His worshippers, still under the conduct of a very weak mind, should covet these gifts from Him as some great things…”
– 
City of God, Book IV, Chapter 33.

#2 Bad rulers hurt themselves more than they do their subjects and they can’t affect true freedom

“In this world, therefore, the dominion of good men is profitable, not so much for themselves as for human affairs.  But the dominion of bad men is hurtful chiefly to themselves who rule, for they destroy their own souls by greater license in wickedness; while those who are put under them in service are not hurt except by their own iniquity.  For to the just all the evils imposed on them by unjust rulers are not the punishment of crime, but the test of virtue.  Therefore the good man, although he is a slave, is free; but the bad man, even if he reigns, is a slave, and that not of one man, but, what is far more grievous, of as many masters as he has vices; of which vices when the divine Scripture treats, it says, “For of whom any man is overcome, to the same he is also the bond-slave.””
– City of God, Book IV, Chapter 3.

#3 It is tragically possible for nations and empires to fall or decline as a result of divine judgement, and yet not learn from their sins and punishment

“O infatuated men, what is this blindness, or rather madness, which possesses you?  How is it that while, as we hear, even the eastern nations are bewailing your ruin, and while powerful states in the most remote parts of the earth are mourning your fall as a public calamity, ye yourselves should be crowding to the theatres, should be pouring into them and filling them; and, in short, be playing a madder part now than ever before?  

…Depraved by good fortune, and not chastened by adversity, what you desire in the restoration of a peaceful and secure state, is not the tranquility of the commonwealth, but the impunity of your own vicious luxury…”

– City of God, Book I, Chapter 33.

#4 We have hope in the face of fading earthly powers, because the City of God excels every city, nation & empire! But Christians ought to exceed the pagan patriot’s love for his country with a greater love for God’s City. 

“But the reward of the saints is far different, who even here endured reproaches for that city of God which is hateful to the lovers of this world.  That city is eternal.  There none are born, for none die.  There is true and full felicity,—not a goddess, but a gift of God.  Thence we receive the pledge of faith whilst on our pilgrimage we sigh for its beauty.  There rises not the sun on the good and the evil, but the Sun of Righteousness protects the good alone.  There no great industry shall be expended to enrich the public treasury by suffering privations at home, for there is the common treasury of truth.  And, therefore, it was not only for the sake of recompensing the citizens of Rome that her empire and glory had been so signally extended, but also that the citizens of that eternal city, during their pilgrimage here, might diligently and soberly contemplate these examples, and see what a love they owe to the supernal country on account of life eternal, if the terrestrial country was so much beloved by its citizens on account of human glory.”

– City of God, Book V, Chapter 16.

[1] Michael Vadon “Donald Trump” CC BY-SA 2.0 wikimedia commons.

Looking Forward, Looking Back: Brisbane and the Gospel 3 decades on (1987-2017)

No doubt churches across the city have begun discussing and planning out what 2017 will look like for their ministry. Well I picked up a very interesting study from the Brisbane School of Theology Library this afternoon, which considers the state of religion across Brisbane and suggests strategies for reaching people in each of the city’s many suburbs with the gospel…

castlemaine_perkins_brewery[1]

The problem is, Brisbane: Resistant or Neglected? was compiled almost 30 years ago – meaning that of course the statistics are outdated and many of the proposed strategies are of limited contemporary use. And yet reading through the study’s account of some of the suburbs provides a great insight into where things were at in the city 30 years ago – allowing for fruitful reflections on what has changed and what remains the same.

I wanted to provide a sample from the profile for St. Lucia (where I attend church).

“St. Lucia

The home of Queensland University, St. Lucia’s population pyramid reflects student residents. 39% are in professional employment, while 7.5% make $26 000 per year. The university and golf course and club are unique to St. Lucia. This strongly rejuvenating suburb has a substantial Asian and Malaysian population. Strategy to reach students and these two ethnic groups should be carefully mapped out.

What Could be Done?

…The characteristic population decline has reversed, and is currently on the increase. The majority of these people are professional and have not declared a religion. The Asian population needs to be evangelized. Coordinating church outreach with campus ministries would strengthen the existing work here. Drugs and immorality are prevalent problems in such an area and need to be dealt with aggressively.

Older age groups are concentrated here, as well as young adults 20-29 years of age. Therefore effective evangelism strategies must include outreach to both of these predominant age groups. The housing stock of this area has been through more than one cycle of ownership. Single persons or childless couples occupy rental accommodation in old houses or multiple dwellings. The majority of residents are lower middle class…Evangelism strategies for young adults need to include the development of friendship and interest groups. From these, share groups may emerge in which the Gospel may be effectively presented.

Outreach to the elderly population may include yard and home maintenance, social activities and home visitation to build relationships. “Meals on Wheels” and home nursing care could provide vital inroads into the lives of the families. The elderly population in this area must not be neglected at the cost of outreach solely to the young. Evangelism strategies for young adults needs (sic) to include the development of friendship and interest groups. From these, share groups may emerge in which the Gospel may be effectively presented.”[2]

 

Significantly, many of the general observations here still ring true. The presence of the university means the age demographics and population of international students have remained a constant feature (though we can allow for shifts within broader categories over the decades). Then there’s what I nickname the “landed gentry” of the area – the (often elderly) non-student population whose families have owned houses in the area for some time – perhaps pre-dating the dominance of the university over the suburb. The suburb is still significantly irreligious. And while the assertion that “Drugs and immorality are prevalent problems in such an area and need to be dealt with aggressively”, may raise an eyebrow in 2016, the problem certainly remains real, even if one hesitates to speak of “aggressive” engagement with it.

uq_bus_station
The University of Queensland dominates the suburb of St. Lucia [3]

My feeling, having been involved with churches in this suburb for the past 5 years is that the target groups for evangelistic engagement probably remain very similar 30 years on, but no one church is attempting to effectively reach them all.

The churches I’ve been involved with directly, more or less have the Asian demographic covered, and certainly attract a great number of university students. But there’s limited on-campus or residential community engagement and we gain most of our new members through (pre-existent or newly established) friendship connections; being seen by newcomers to the area who are passing by; word-of-mouth/reputation (eg; as a predominantly “Asian”, “Chinese” or “Singaporean/Malaysian” church or a solid evangelical church with expository preaching); and the internet.

Other churches in the area have greater campus involvement, including co-operation with para-church student ministries or running their own student outreach in the residential colleges. But I’m not aware of their strategies for reaching the wider, non-student and/or elderly community members – or how effective any such initiatives may be.

My suspicion is that the churches in the area which service and engage the most with the long-term residents and elderly population are those which we would not typically identify as evangelical in their theological outlook. These more traditional and long-established churches are reaching out to the older and equally established community members, but perhaps not with the good news of Jesus. Those of us of the evangelical persuasion should also not under-estimate the potential capacity of these churches to “out-outreach” us when it comes to migrant and minority communities in the area, through social programs, English classes and friendly community engagement.

Significantly, the study doesn’t mention anything about strategies for building relationships and gospel opportunities through local schools and community clubs and organisations. I know that some of the best engagement with the local St. Lucia community – from members of churches I’m reasonably acquainted with – has been through making the most of the opportunities that come from being a parent at a local school, or serving as a chaplain or volunteer RI teacher. English classes have also been a more recent innovation that allow great relationship building opportunities for international students and residents from diverse ethnic backgrounds, who may be lonely and isolated by their poor grasp of English.

Reflections

Looking at Brisbane: Resistant or Neglected provides us with food for thought:

I wonder what’s changed in the suburb where you live, work, study or minister over the past few decades?

What was the ministry outlook and evangelistic goals of your church when it began ministering in your area?

Are we addressing yesterday’s trends and issues? Or are we well-acquainted with the changing face of our communities and the contemporary challenges and needs in our area?

Is your church ministry team working hard to ensure your whole congregation is making the most of opportunities they have to advance the gospel in your local area?

Is there a group or subculture in your suburb that’s not actively being engaged with the gospel? What kind of ministry could be started to ensure they have the opportunity to connect with Jesus and His people?

Can we co-operate more effectively amongst evangelical churches to ensure we are reaching out to everyone with the gospel and not just one group or another?

These are questions that churches and their leaders must consider and re-visit from time to time to ensure we’re being faithful in the place God has placed us. More work can be done on ensuring there are local and city-wide strategies for reaching the maximal amount of people with the gospel. And I think a 2017 revision of Brisbane: Resistant or Neglected 30 years on would be a wonderful endeavour for someone to take up!  

 

[1] Kelly Hunter “Castlemaine Perkins Brewery” flickr/wikimedia CC BY 2.0

[2] Ralph W. Neighbour & Lorna Jenkins [eds.] No Room in the Inn…Brisbane: Resistant or Neglected (Brisbane: Touch International Ministries, 1987): pp. 268-269

[3] Bilious “University of Queensland Bus Station” CC BY 2.5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Queensland#/media/File:UQ_Bus_Station.jpg

6 things Jesus said about homosexuality (pt. 2)

In part one, we looked at several things Jesus did say, which have implications for questions about sexuality and marriage (homosexuality in particular). In this piece, we continue with 3 more. 

4. The Law: Jesus took the Law given by YHWH in the Old Testament very seriously. Consider:

Do not think that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I have not come to destroy them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one tiny letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all takes place. Therefore whoever abolishes one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever keeps them and teaches them, this person will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19).

3370859327_ca39731af9_z                        [1]

Christians for centuries have needed to wrestle with the fact that Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law included Him upholding or reinforcing many of the precepts and principles that were already familiar to the Jews of His day – while also revolutionising the way people related to YHWH and recasting our framework for ethical living in numerous ways.

In what is perhaps the key Old Testament text on YHWH’s boundaries for human sexuality, Leviticus 18, we find the command: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (18:22). It’s right there, nestled amongst commands forbidding incest, adultery and even bestiality. When God spoke to His people concerning acceptable, sexual behaviour He forbade men engaging in sexual acts with men (as though it were the same as the sexual norm: a man sleeping with a woman).

According to Jesus’ statement above in Matthew 5, He didn’t come to abolish or destroy Leviticus 18. Its outline of what is sexually unacceptable still stands as a good and true command of God. In fulfilling the Law, it is possible that Jesus may have recast the way we understand this prohibition against homosexual sex – but if He didn’t, it remains legitimate to think of the act as an abomination in the sight of God.

In this case, Jesus’ silence on homosexuality works against those who attempt to use it as an argument in their favour. His ‘failure’ to speak specifically and directly about homosexual sex – in a manner that would lead his followers to view it in a new light – strongly suggests that He allowed the force of the Law’s condemnation of it to stand.

Significantly, when Jesus goes on in Matthew 5 to engage with the Old Testament Law which He came to fulfill, and deals with issues of sexuality and marriage – He recasts them in a more comprehensive (dare I say stricter) way than the original law. For example the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” is recast to include not only sleeping with another man’s wife – but sexually fantasizing about any woman other than one’s spouse.
Likewise, Jesus tightens the legitimate grounds for divorce so that they only cover cases of “sexual immorality” by a guilty spouse.

Jesus does not tighten or extend the prohibition against homosexual sex (although condemning homosexual lust would be a completely legitimate application of His extension of the seventh commandment against adultery), but He does not mitigate it either. It remains an abomination within the framework of His Jewish sexual ethic, based on the foundation of God’s law.

In fact, there’s every reason to believe that Leviticus 18 is the biblical background that informs Jesus’ use of porneia as a catch-all phrase for sexual immorality (which we discussed in part 1). When a first-century Jew heard “sexual immorality”, their minds would have gone to the sexual prohibitions in this well-known passage of the Law.

Therefore, Jesus didn’t need to use a “special” word to condemn homosexual sex in particular, because His hearers would have already  known that it was included in the term He did use. Much the same as “(all kinds of) theft” could refer to a range of specific acts that all involve the unlawful acquisition of someone’s property or resources.

5. Sodom & Gomorrah: Jesus very readily employs the example of God’s condemnation and utter destruction of these two ancient cities by the Dead Sea as an illustration of how great God’s judgement will be upon those who reject His disciples’ preaching of the gospel.

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matthew 10:14-15, ESV)

John Martin's terrifying rendition of the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah
John Martin’s terrifying rendition of the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah function as one of the most severe displays of divine wrath in the Old Testament. But what were they judged for? While there have been numerous, recent attempts to suggest they were condemned for other sins like pride or inhospitality, the weight of the Genesis 19 account points towards their aggressive homosexual desire for the two (angelic) visitors to their city. Certainly that was how Jews and Christians understood the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the first century – we see this clearly in the writings of Peter (one of Jesus’ closest followers) and Jude (Jesus’ younger brother)  [see Jude vv.6-7; 2 Peter 2:6-10].

Jesus appears to not only hold to the fact that these cities were destroyed – His words seem to suggest they will yet face God’s intense wrath at the final judgement. Thus it’s no comfort to anyone that Jesus doesn’t mention homosexual sex specifically, when He forecasts eternal judgement for two cities that were chiefly known for it.

6. Paul: [Ok, this one is the trickiest, but bear with me…]

Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and commissioned Him to be His messenger to the non-Jewish peoples of the Mediterranean. This is the best biographical explanation for Paul’s turn-around from persecuting Christians to embracing their faith and propagating it more than probably anyone else in the First Century. Jesus really spoke to Paul.

6800520620_552fbe6fd3_bSaul (later known as Paul the Apostle) meets Jesus en route to Damascus to persecute Christians [3]

And Paul heard Jesus say the following words to him: “…because for this reason I have appeared to you, to appoint you a servant and witness both to the things in which you saw me and to the things in which I will appear to you, rescuing you from the people and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.‘” Acts 26:16-18.

Because Paul really did see Jesus, what Jesus said to Paul during that encounter has relevance to Jesus’ teaching concerning homosexuality. Because Paul – speaking as Jesus’ handpicked representative to share the gospel with the Gentiles – condemns homosexual behaviour very clearly.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done(Romans 1:26-28)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine… (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

Because Jesus essentially says, “Paul will speak for me”, we could say that Jesus’ most direct statements about homosexuality, genuinely come through one of the spokesmen He appointed.

Part of Paul’s ministry of seeing people turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God and receiving forgiveness of sins was to call them to repentance for their sexual immorality: including the homosexual variety. Without this, they could never have their share among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus – the very thing He sought by commissioning Paul to be His apostle.

If Paul doesn’t speak as an authentic representative of Jesus, Christians have much bigger problems than whatever issues people might take with our understanding of sexuality. But if he is, advocates of homosexuality and “same-sex marriage” would do well to take note of what Paul said on this issue, on behalf of Jesus Himself.

Summary

So if you encounter this shallow claim that Jesus was silent on homosexuality, here’s what you might want to remember and respond with…

1. Jesus affirmed a biblical perspective on Creation, which emphasised humanity being made by God as sexually complementary creatures: “male and female.”

2. Jesus advanced an understanding of marriage based on the above premise.
Marriage, for Jesus, is foundationally based on a heterosexual union: it doesn’t leave any room for a homosexual (per)version of marriage.

3. Jesus condemned “sexually immoral” behaviour. This includes any expression of sexuality that deviates from the above pattern of sexual intercourse within a marriage relationship. Thus Jesus opposed homosexual sex.

4. Jesus said He didn’t come to destroy or abolish the Law. He gives no indication that “lying with a man as one would with a woman” (i.e. homosexual intercourse) is no longer to be considered abominable (as per Leviticus 18).
In fact, His use of porneia (see #3) would have been understood by the Jews in line with these perimeter for human sexuality.

5. Jesus refers negatively to the two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, which were famously condemned for their exhibition of homosexual lasciviousness. He upholds the fact they were judged by God and seems to anticipate further judgement of their sins at the end of time.

6. Jesus commissions Paul to be His representative and messenger to the non-Jewish world. Paul speaks for Jesus, when he explicitly condemns homosexual behaviour as ungodly and deserving of God’s wrath, while instructing Christians from a Greco-Roman background.

Other articles like this one

https://gotquestions.org/Jesus-homosexuality.html [Got Questions?]

https://carm.org/did-jesus-talk-about-homosexuality [Christian Apologetics Research Ministries]

http://www.tms.edu/preachersandpreaching/jesus-never-address-homosexuality/ [Master’s Seminary]

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/04/06/did-jesus-talk-about-homosexuality/ [Scot McKnight]

Picture Credits

[1] Lawrie Cate “Torah” flickr (CC BY 2.0)

[2] John Martin “Sodom and Gomorrah” Public Domain

[3] Sabdiasep Mercado “The Conversion of Saul circa 1986” flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

6 things Jesus said about homosexuality (pt. 1)

Straight to the point, here they are:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6. Plenty of things that have definite relevance to any claims about human sexuality (but which are conveniently ignored by shallow interlocutors who seem to think “One punch can kill” is an effective debating ethos, rather than an anti-violence campaign slogan).

That’s right, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, except for a bunch of stuff He did say that have fairly clear implications when it comes to various approaches to sexuality.

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A picture of Jesus saying nothing about homosexuality… [1]

I’m sure you’ve encountered some variation of the above list by now (unspoilt by my #6 of course). The numbering varies, or sometimes the claim is just made outright (eg; “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, therefore…), but the substance of the assertion is the same. Because Jesus either didn’t have an Aramaic or Greek synonym for “gay” in His vocabulary, or did but chose never to use it in His extensive teaching ministry – we’re to believe that homosexuality can’t have been a big deal in His eyes.

The problem is that the biblical evidence suggests that Jesus was not only well aware of the existence of homosexual sex, but He was in fact against it. That He chose not to name it exclusively on any number of occasions (or that, perhaps, the Gospel writers simply did not include what He did teach on this issue for unknown reasons), was probably largely to do with the demographic make-up of His usual audience. Or perhaps it has something to do with “queer” sexualities not being viewed as “special” then in the manner they are now (instead they were just one of several ways a person could conduct their sexual urges in rebellion to God). But more on those points later.

Here are six things Jesus said that really have an awful lot to say when applied to questions surrounding homosexuality. [Most of these points have been made by others at different times, but I’m seeking here to collate them in a way that presents a clear picture on the issue. I’ll include links to several similar articles at the end of part 2].

1. Sexuality: Jesus spoke of human sexuality in terms of exclusively binary sex/gender categories: “Have you not read that the One who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” (Matt 19:4, LEB).

In context, Jesus is responding to marital relationships between men and women. He begins His answer with the above statement of complementary sexuality. God’s original creation involved a male human and a female human, with complementary sexual organs, capable of being joined together to bring about pleasure and procreation.

book_of_genesis_chapter_2-10_bible_illustrations_by_sweet_media
Jesus saw significance in Adam and Eve as male and female [2]

While the old “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” slogan is trite (and guilty of attempting the same throwaway-line debating tactics I’m criticising here), the point behind the poor framing is valid. Jesus had no theological notion of humans of the same sex being created to enjoy each other’s bodies in a sexual way. He approached all questions of sexuality and marriage from the starting point of Man and Woman being specially created by God as sexually distinct from one another.

2. Marriage: Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sexual union naturally flowed on from this framework. “And [Jesus] answered and said, “Have you not read that the one who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘On account of this a man will leave his father and his mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Jesus moves from his opening statement of binary human sexuality to a consequential picture of human marriage and sexual union. Marriage and sex (which are properly inseparable in Jesus’ mind, teaching and social/religious context) take place when an adult male leaves the familial arrangement founded by his parents (the very sexual/marital relationship that resulted in his own existence) and enters into his own, new, familial and sexual relationship with a woman. When the man and woman are “joined together” in matrimony as husband and wife, their social identities become inseparably linked and their bodies come to share in a oneness as a result of natural, sexual intercourse.

2607861005_9c667a9ef6_b                                                      Marriage between Man and Woman [3]

It’s at this point that Jesus’ silence on homosexuality should trouble LGBTetc; advocates, rather than buoy them. Because the manner in which Jesus has framed human marriage and sexuality makes the idea of male-male sex or female-female marriage a completely foreign concept. Jesus need not go through every possible example of what wouldn’t constitute a legitimate marriage or sexual relationship, as He has stated very clearly (using Creation as His theological foundation) what the genuine article looks like and it doesn’t leave room for innovation or clever redefinition.

3. “Sexual immorality”: Jesus spoke disapprovingly of porneia, which is a catch-all Greek term for immoral sexual practices, i.e. those which do not conform to the moral standards of what is held to constitute legitimate sexuality by the speaker/author.  “For from the heart come evil plans, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, abusive speech.” Matt 15:19

I’ve already attempted to show above (and will continue to do so in the next post), that homosexual intercourse was very much beyond the pale of Jesus’ binary understanding of human sexuality and complementary, heterosexual view of marriage. For Jesus, sexual immorality was any expression of sexuality that deviated from the picture of male-female marital intimacy we’ve seen described already.

While Christian(ish) and non-Christian proponents of gay and lesbian relationships have long sought to emphasise the similarity between committed, loving, homosexual couples and monogamous heterosexual relationships – this is not a relevant objection at this point, as Jesus seems to place the sexual complementarity as the foundational element of marriage – not monogamous exclusivity (this goes a-ways toward explaining the higher level of biblical tolerance for polygamy – as an albeit far-less-than-ideal arrangement in the Old Testament – than homosexual relationships. But that’s one for another day!).

There are three more things Jesus said that help us grasp His “position” on homosexual sex, but they’ll have to wait until part 2.

[1] Carl Bloch, “Sermon on the Mount” Public Domain.

[2] Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing “Book of Genesis Chapter 2” wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

[3] Peter Kenjerski “Wedding” flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Religious Scandals – Thomas Watson

A special guest post from my good friend Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686)

watson

I acknowledge the luster of religion has been much eclipsed and sullied by the scandals of men. This is an age of scandals. Many have made the pretense of religion, to be a key to open the door to all ungodliness. Never was God’s name more taken in vain. This is that [which] our Saviour has foretold. ‘It must needs be that offences come’ (Matthew 18:7). But to take off this prejudice, consider: scandals are not from true religion—but for lack of true religion. True religion is not the worse, though some abuse it. To dislike piety because some of the professors of it are scandalous, is as if one should say, ‘Because the servant is dishonest, therefore he will not have a good opinion of his master.’ Is Christ the less glorious because some who wear his livery are scandalous? Is true religion the worse—because some of her followers are bad? Is wine the worse—because some are drunkards? Shall a woman dislike chastity because some of her neighbors are unchaste? Let us argue soberly. ‘Judge righteous judgment’ (John 7:24).

God sometimes permits scandals to fall out in the church out of a design:

(1) As a just judgment upon hypocrites. These squint-eyed devotionists who serve God for their own ends, the Lord in justice allows them to fall into horrid debauched practices, that he may lay open their baseness to the world, and that all may see they were but pretend Christians, but painted devils! Judas was first a sly hypocrite, afterwards a visible traitor!

(2) Scandals are for hardening of the profane. Some desperate sinners who would not be won by piety—they shall be wounded by it. God lets scandals occur, to be a break neck to men and to engulf them more in sin. Jesus Christ (‘God blessed forever’) is to some a ‘rock of offence’ (Romans 9:33). His blood, which is to some balm, is to others poison. If the beauty of piety does not allure—the scandals of some of its followers shall spur men to hell.

(3) Scandals in the church are for the caution of the godly. The Lord would have his people walk tremblingly. ‘Be not high-minded—but fear’ (Romans 11:20). When cedars fall, let the ‘bruised reed’ tremble. The scandals of professors are not to discourage us—but to warn us. Let us tread more warily. The scandals of others are sea-marks for the saints to avoid.

Let all this serve to take off these prejudices from true religion. Though Satan may endeavor by false disguises to render the gospel odious—yet there is a beauty and a glory in it. God’s ‘commandments are not grievous’.

Let me persuade all men cordially to embrace the ways of God. ‘His commandments are not grievous’. God never burdens us—but that he may unburden us of our sins. His commands are our privileges. There is joy in the way of duty (Psalm 19:11)—and heaven at the end!

An excerpt from the closing paragraphs of Watson’s Beatitudes (1660). Available here.