I knew when I saw the title of last week’s World Magazine column, The Couple Next Door, that Andre Seu Peterson was up to it again.
Ten years ago homosexuality was fringy and dangerous and you were dead set against it. Today homosexuality is the guy grilling steaks next door, waving to you over the picket fence, calling, “How about those Phillies!”
Oh dear. Andre, who thinks measures to prevent kids from sexual abuse at church are a drag (?!) and that bisexuals are just sexually promiscuous adults interested in orgies (??), is now horrified that homosexuals are, like, normal people. I don’t buy that there were no gay men grilling steaks next door in 2005, either. I mean by 2005 we already had marriage equality in Massachusetts!
But I think Andre is referring to, well, this:
It is also the friendly couple (guy and guy) who want to join your church. You have had good conversations with them, and they really seem to love the Lord. And come to think of it, haven’t you been hypocritical in your attitude about gays, when in your congregation there are gossips, gluttons, and remarried divorcés? How can you despise one sin over another? Isn’t this exactly what Jesus meant by saying that “whoever has no sin, let him cast the first stone”?
In other words, as gay and lesbian relationships have become more normalized in our society, an increasing number of churches have found themselves grappling with how to react. I find it encouraging that Andre feels these conversations need to be met, even though she’s (obviously) going to come down very strongly against acceptance of gay and lesbian couples. That she even feels the need to deal with this point suggests (to me at least) that gay and lesbian couples have made long strides toward acceptance.
And the weary sun keeps beating down and you are feeling dizzy and unsure, and all you can remember at this point is that the Lord said “love your neighbor” and that he accepted you when you were still a mess, and maybe you should do the same for homosexuals without insisting that they change, for heaven knows, you haven’t changed that much yourself.
Let’s shake ourselves out of this funk, shall we? “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isaiah 8:20). The Bible identifies homosexuality as sin—more, an abomination: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). If there are other sins inside the church not being handled well, it doesn’t make things better to invite another sin not handled well.
I think Andre is missing the point here. I mean the Bible identifies eating shellfish as an abomination, and guess what? Christians like Andre don’t see anything wrong with eating shellfish. Andre thinks she’s on the side of “let’s just follow the Bible mmkay,” but she’s actually being very selective in her interpretation.
Here’s the thing—there are New Testament verses Andre could point to to condemn homosexuality. Granted, these passages are contested by some Christians, given that it can be difficult to translate terms between very different cultures. But the real problem, for Andre, is that those passages are the ones that only mention homosexuality (if it even is that they’re mentioning) in passing along with things like gluttony. In order to argue that homosexuality is somehow especially bad (as she does), she has to reach for the Old Testament—but to do that she has to ignore everything else the Old Testament says is especially bad.
Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians often claim a sort of high ground when it comes to following the Bible. They assume that they are hewing to the Bible when in fact they are being just as selective as anyone else. This is worth pointing out when we see it because conservative Christians are convinced they are doing the whole Bible thing right while everyone has it wrong.
If you want to talk about “love your neighbor,” need we mention that neighbors don’t let neighbors go to hell? As the “Intelligent Man” said to his bemused fellow passenger in the dingy twilight town of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, “It will be dark presently.” “‘You mean the evening is really going to turn into a night in the end?’ The man nodded.” What good is all the good will you reap now when in the future Mr. Steak Griller next door curses you from across the chasm for your quiet complicity in his damnation?
Of course she would quote C.S. Lewis’s fiction rather than his actual writing about homosexuality.
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize,” challenges atheist Penn Jillette of the magician duo of Penn and Teller. “I don’t respect that at all. … How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? … I mean if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. …”
Unless, of course, you don’t believe in the Last Judgment anymore. Do you?
We the church of Christ are salt and light. Salt retards the spread of perversion by resisting it. Light shows the way out of bondage. In our effete wrangling over the gays-in-the-church issue, has it been entirely forgotten that you and I have what our trapped neighbors need—Christ, the breaker of all demonic Delusions and Enslavements?
I’ve seen atheists say that they have more respect for Christians like Andre who understand that their beliefs should lead to constant and active proselytizing than for those Christians who believe nonChristians will go to hell and just stand by and do nothing. On some level, I get that. (I would note that not all Christians believe in hell, of course.)
The problem I’m having here is, well, this:
And if you think a man lying with a man is the moral equivalent of eating too many doughnuts, produce a passage in Leviticus where overeating called for execution. There are degrees of hell and degrees of heaven, a matter easily ascertained in Scripture. For the rejection of God’s order of male and female is a strike at the heart of creation itself, Satan’s endgame evisceration of the imageness of God.
I grew up in an evangelical church community that believed what I’m pretty sure is standard evangelical doctrine—that there are no degrees of sin. Degrees of sin was a Catholic idea! Catholics talk about mortal and venial sin, and so forth, but evangelicals believe that every person is a miserable sinner regardless of how trivial their sins may appear.
I mean gosh, I had this verse memorized by the time I was six:
James 2:10 — For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
It appears that Andre is so eager to argue that homosexuality is worse than other sins that she is willing to reject standard evangelical doctrine to do so.
There is a turning going on, and how grievous if it is in the wrong direction. But Jeremiah, as if anticipating the present challenge, reminds us that the order of the day is not compromise, or Rodney King’s “let’s get along,” but a mouth that utters truth and feet that stand their ground:
“If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 15:19-20).
Taking comments from a specific historical context completely out of that context and applying them to your situation today sounds like a great idea.
Love your neighbor. Sound the warning (Colossians 1:28). Someday he may thank you for it.
Andre is at pains to argue that homosexuality is worse than other sins. In fact, she literally does argue that. This flies in the face of both evangelical doctrine and, well, the very Bible she claims to follow.
I’ve often seen evangelicals criticized for treating homosexuality as especially bad while being willing to overlook things like divorce or gluttony. Andre herself acknowledges this criticism, but rather than calling her readers to more consistently oppose sins like divorce or gluttony (and to remember that homosexuals are no more sinners than those having premarital sex or gossiping about others), she responds by contending that homosexuality is a worse sin than other sins.
As I see it, there are three main Christian responses to homosexuality. One is the one Andre is taking, which sees homosexuality as especially bad. The second, and one I see increasingly often, is the response that argues that homosexuality is a sin, yes, but lots of other things are sins too. A third response, of course, is one that does not see homosexuality as a sin to begin with, and embraces both gay and lesbians and marriage equality.
I have always seen the first response as based in homophobia, because evangelicals generally hold that all are miserable sinners, and that we shouldn’t distinguish between small sins and big sins. It is this that the second response seeks to correct, by arguing that homosexuality is a sin but at the same time contending that it is not worse than any other sin and that gay and lesbian individuals should not be approached with revulsion or condemned as worse sinners than anyone else. It is this second response that I see increasingly often.
But Andre’s response to this correction is not to admit that her revulsion to homosexuals is based in homophobia but rather to create a Biblical basis for this revulsion. Until now I had assumed that the first response was an inconsistency—that these evangelicals would verbally say that no sin is worse than any other, but still react with revulsion to homosexuality because of their homophobia—and that yes, some would call homosexuality an “abomination” and quote Leviticus, but if pressed they would say that we are all sinners and all sins are equal in the eyes of God.
And then here is Andre, willing and ready to adjust evangelical doctrine in order to argue, biblically, that homosexuality is a worse sin than other sins.
Note: After writing this post I spent some time googling and found other evangelical sites making the same argument—that there are degrees of sin. It appears that this may be less settled than I’d thought. The former evangelical in me still finds the idea that some sins are worse than others preposterous. I was taught that sin is breaking God’s law—period. Indeed, the idea that a little lie is as bad as a grievous sin like murder was used to convince me and the other children in the Bible club I attended that we were all horrible sinners, even though we’d never done anything really bad. In the years since then I’ve seen “who among you has not sinned” used to justify reinstating “repentant” child molesters to positions of church leadership. I had always assumed that “sin is sin” was settled doctrine. And perhaps it is—until someone mentions homosexuality.