Baseball was in the news last week and the lesson it offers us has everything to do with how the church and many within it view sexuality. We desperately need to learn that being the people of God is a higher calling than being a sportswriter. Unfortunately, it seems that much of the evangelical world doesn’t yet know that, and as a result, there are lots of Christ followers on the bench, or worse, on the streets because they’ve been judged guilty of high crimes along the lines of John 8, with the “faithful” picking up metaphorical stones, aiming, and firing at any hint of sexual failure, be it divorce, pornography, or any form of promiscuity. At least in John 8, the zealots asked Jesus opinion before tossing the rocks, and though I know that they asked only with the worst of intention, their pause eventuated in the woman’s forgiveness and restoration, eventually landing her (in all likelihood) among the few whose faithfulness transcended even the disciples – they fled at Jesus’ arrest, while a few women stood at the foot of the cross until his last breath.
Our throwing of stones at sexual sins seems analogous to what happened in the sports world last week, so brilliantly illustrated in the NY Times photo above. It seems that the sports writers couldn’t find anyone worthy of endorsement because the best potential candidates had their careers tainted by drug use. I’m not writing to suggest in any way that the sportswriters erred in their judgement. They are living by the conventional wisdom of their culture, and it seems sound, because when an baseball player is “uber-ized” by drugs, the actions he performs are no longer a reflection of who he really is. Babe Ruth vs. Barry Bonds becomes an impossible comparison, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, that’s OK – just know that lots of big name baseball players were cut off from the possibility of honor for a significant failure. In baseball, you can have a bad temper, big ego, be a bit of womanizer, and still make it to the hall fame. But drugs or gambling? Those are crimes of a different color, and the sportswriters association has only one word for you: “You’re outta’ there”.
The church does this too, and like baseball, they do it selectively. Credit card debt? Ego? (veiled, of course, in pious language) Control Freak? Anxious? Disregard for your body through misuse of food or lack of exercise? These are all acceptable forms of failure, as long as you also display the piety of church attendance, Bible reading, serving on some committee or teaching some class, giving generously, and a few other minor criteria.
Here’s the thing though – if your sexual brokenness is exposed, like Barry Bonds in baseball, it’s likely over for you with respect to church life, at least in some circles. This is, of course, hyper-true for leaders – but it’s also true for the rank and file. There’s a sense in which we’ve elevated sexual sin and brokenness to the moral equivalent of drug use in baseball, which means that it’s grounds, functionally, for dismissal from playing an active role in the body of Christ. I’ve spoken with many people over the decades who are angry and bitter towards the church because of how they were treated in the wake of their divorce, or infidelity, or the discovery of porn in the house, or because they had an abortion, or whatever. They felt shamed, exposed, marginalized, judged.
Here are lessons I hope we can learn as soon as possible:
#1: The church is not a collection of sportswriters/judges
#2: Sexual failings in the church are different than steroids in baseball
#3: Faith stories include redemption from brokenness – hide brokenness, lose transformation
I know these things are true because the testimony of scripture reveals them. Just think about some of the famous people in the Bible. Lots of them, held up as exemplars of faith, are found in a chapter of the Bible we ironically nickname the “Hall of Faith”:Abraham not only “when he was called, obeyed” – he also lied about his wife’s identity, giving her to a foreign king and forcing her to sleep with him in order to save his own skin. Later his wife would suggest that he sleep with the maid in order to address the family problem of infertility.
Rahab, a Gentile and prostitute, had more faith in the power of God than the Hebrews, being utterly confident that God would bring His people into the land God had promised them.
David? Not only was he a man after God’s own heart – he used his power to sleep with his neighbor’s wife and then, having impregnated her, had her husband killed. And you thought Barry Bonds had problems!
Let me finally add Tamar to the list. So powerfully did she desire that the line of Judah should have offspring, that she disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce and sleep with her father-in-law, so as to raise up offspring. It’s a long story worthy of it’s own blog post, but for now note that the offspring of that night in the shadows resulted in the birth of Perez, whose name shows up here – in the genealogy of Christ.
All these men and women are saints. All of them knew sexual brokenness first hand. All of them, in contrast to the baseball world, will be forever remembered and exalted – famous for their faith.
Pity, though, the contemporary Christian who falls or struggles like any of these because in too many places, their life in the community will come to a shame filled end. That’s because we’ve decided that sex in the church is like steroids in baseball. But it’s not. Here’s the reality.
Sexual sin is just like any other sin: it’s sin. Don’t misread the Bible to think that God’s “soft on sin”. The whole purpose of God’s grand endeavor is to free us from the self-destructive and other-destructive ways that are our lives so much of the time. God does this by filling us with Christ, who enables us to live differently, wholly, redemptively. Along the way, though, we’ll fail.
There’s grace for sin. The Bible asks the rhetorical question: “If you, God, mark our sins, who could stand?” and of course the answer is none of us, as Jesus proved in John 8 when all the rock throwers, ready to kill the woman caught in adultery, finally saw their own sin. We could, all of us, stand to see our own sin a little more clearly too; then we’d put our rocks down, and join the ranks of the broken in worshipping the One who’s changing us, and the world.
Elevated sin always goes underground – and gets ugly. It would be nice if the church were a safe place to confess not only credit card debt, but marriage failure, lust, a porn problem, an affair, confusion about whether sex outside of marriage is OK or not, or “is it sex if its just oral”, and o so much more. But alas, we’ve become, too often, “baseball church”, with the result that our small groups talk about lots of things, including our commitment to “moral purity” – but we never talk about our slip ups, choosing to hide our sexual brokenness instead because “the hall of faith awaits only the pure”, or so we tell each other.
That’s pure, surely. Pure BS.
Try this instead: “Confess your sins to one another… and you will be healed”