Thursday, February 18, 2010

Denying Identity, Denying God

The below is a "mini-sermon" that I prepared for Homiletics, but I think it speaks well as a blog post:

One of our central tenants as Christians is that our faith is not some private element to which we devote a small portion of our time, but an overriding calling that shapes who we are, what we do, and the values we hold. There is no doubt that the bible contains a number of moral proclamations- around economics, vocation, diet, hospitality, criminal justice, and yes, sex. It is this final category, and specifically around sexual orientation, in which most of the energy goes.

Given the breadth of issues covered in Scripture, its vital to explore just why this issue has become the greatest source of conflict for the church. It certainly isn’t because it is a main topic in the bible: its acknowledged by both sides of this debate that there are only 5-6 verses of scripture that appear to deal with sexual orientation directly. Given the paucity of verses that address the issue, one would expect humility when it comes to interpretation. Instead, we find that these 5-6 verses dicate tax codes, inheritance, church membership, and ordination rights. Why?

Many will claim that it is because the Bible is absolutely clear on the subject...

Now, I find this to be a curious claim- given the sorry state of biblical literacy, how many among us is willing to take the bet that the majority of people even knows where these verses are? No, rather than being something gleaned from their personal study of scripture, I would argue that the assumption that the Bible condemns homosexuality is passed down from generation to generation. As such, its our obligation to examine the common claims about sexuality in scripture by exploring the text that is considered to be the most damning to Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgendered (GLBT) people, that of Romans 1:26-27.

Hear than the words of Paul:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

So there it is, who can object? We are just following God’s word- its absolutely clear on the subject.

The truth is, if one is going to argue that we must take the absolute letter of the law in scripture, by what right do we say we only believe in the first part of this passage?

Verse 32 says "They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them."

How can we say that that the prohibition is true, but not the punishment:

“In July 1999, Matthew Williams and his brother murdered a gay couple in their home near Sacramento, California. Speaking to his mother from the jail, Matthew explained:

I had to obey God’s law rather than man’s law,” he said. “I didn’t want to do this. I felt I was supposed to. I have followed a higher law…I just plan to defend myself from the Scriptures.”

Now, I know that this is the work of a few crazed men and that nearly all people would condemn such an act. But I defy you to argue that they aren’t taking the passages more literally than those who argue for a literal reading.

Even if we ignore the punishment, we still can’t claim that prohibition of GLBT sexuality follows the plain sense of the scripture. Even in this context, a fair reading does not reveal sexuality to be the issue. The issue here is that all of creation points to the existance of God, and yet the people fail to worship and honor God. When we turn passages about God into passages about sex, we cheapen God’s message.

A second objection-  We are merely following the sexual standards that God has ordained

We ignore plenty of the statements about sexuality in the bible

Leviticus 18:19- if you have intercourse during a women’s period, you should be stoned

Deut 22:13-21 if a bride is not a virgin, she should be stoned

Mark 10:1-12 divorce is forbidden, remarriage after divorce prohibited

We are right to disagree with these teachings on sex from the bible. But let us not claim to be following a Biblical Sexual Ethic.

A third claim-  “Therefore, if we are to be faithful to the ‘clear teachings of scripture,’ we too must condemn homosexuality; it is the last moral absolute, and we compromise it at our own peril.”

This is where I think get to the heart of the matter. We have identified ourselves as Christians based on the idea that we are obedient to God’s law. Our identity has been created, in part, by being in opposition to the other. If we cannot truly draw a line of demarkation between us and them, who are we? We have to be morally superior. And by no means, by the way, is this limited to those who oppose homosexuality. In some ways, my very passion for this issue could be construed as a way to advertise my moral superiority over my conservative brothers and sisters. Do I think this is my main motivation? No, but I have to admit there is some self-righteousness in there.

We used to draw our identity lines by race. Then it was by gender. Now, if we give up the fight on sexual orientation, how will we identify with those on the in?

Here then these words from the first chapter of Genesis:

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

27 So God created humankind in his image,in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Our identity is not drawn from how we differ from some other group of humans- it is drawn from our common bond of being created in the image of God. The point of our faith is to live into our identy as children of God. It is to embrace the fact that we are created in God’s image, and to challenge ourselves to find the ways in which we deny this identity. This is where it gets scary: if we can’t point at others, we are then left to examine our own lives to see where are lives are falling short of being like God- maybe this means we have to change how we spend our money, how we treat our neighbor, the possessions that we own. My brothers and sisters, gay and straight alike, we must not deny God, and deny ourselves and others that they were created in God’s image. Where we prevent others; where we prevent ourselves from embracing that image, we deny God.

1 comment:

  1. Passed down from generation to generation.....sounds like another Christian belief, I hear while on the job, that those who commit suicide are going to hell. Still haven't found that verse either.