‘God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean’

‘God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean’ September 9, 2012

In comments a few days back, I see there was a question regarding whether I believe “that homosexuality is objectively immoral.”

It’s my fault if I haven’t been as clear as I need to be on that point: No. I do not believe that homosexuality is objectively immoral.

But that’s not strong enough. It’s more than that: I believe that denying LGBT people full legal equality is objectively immoral. I believe that excluding LGBT people from full inclusion, full participation and full equality in the church is objectively immoral — and objectively unbiblical.

Such civil discrimination and religious exclusion violates core principles of biblical Christianity — principles as pervasive and essential as the Golden Rule.

More specifically, I would point to Acts 10:1 – Acts 11:18 as a compelling argument that followers of Christ must not “call anyone profane or unclean.” This story teaches us that appealing to biblical law in order to declare another person or group of people as “profane or unclean” is not legitimate, even if we think we can make a strong case for interpreting the law in this way. The biblical laws regarding circumcision were not ambiguous or optional, yet such clear commandments regarding Other People’s Genitals were not to be allowed to exclude the uncircumcised from being baptized.

Let me be clear on that point: God commanded Peter to disregard those laws, commanded him not to allow those laws to exclude others. Peter wasn’t told that he now had the option of welcoming those who had been excluded. Peter wasn’t told he might maybe kind of sort of “tolerate” these people as second-class members of the community, “as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed” the gift of the Holy Spirit.

No, Peter was told that he must welcome them, fully and openly as equals. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Anything short of full acceptance would itself constitute disobeying a command from God.

I’ve been preaching this sermon from Peter’s vision in the book of Acts for many years now (for a few examples, see: “The Abominable Shellfish: Why some Christians hate gays but love bacon,” “Slavery, seafood, sexuality and the Southern Bible” and “Selfish Gentiles and ‘Shellfish Objections’“). I think it’s important. I think it’s very important, because right now, throughout most of the American church, across almost all denominations, we Christians are calling profane those whom God has made clean.

And I believe that is objectively immoral.

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Peter asks. LGBT Christians have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. To withhold the water for baptizing them, to call them profane or unclean, is wrong — it is disobedient, unloving, hurtful, harmful, unbiblical. It’s a sin.

It’s particularly astonishing that the very same American Christians now excluding LGBT Christians from full inclusion and full participation in the church are, overwhelmingly, Gentiles. We Gentile Christians would, ourselves, be excluded if it were not for that lesson Peter learned in Acts 10:1-11:18. Freely you have received, freely give. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

I’m very pleased to see an increasing use of this passage as the case for full equality — in the church and under the law — gains momentum. (“Who am I to Think That I Could Stand in God’s Way?” Mal Green asks in arguing for marriage equality in New Zealand.) I expect that this will produce some backlash — likely an attempt to reinterpret Peter’s vision to mean something other than what Peter himself said it meant (as both Al Mohler and Timothy Dalrymple have done recently).

There will always be a Jonah Faction in Christianity — a group that shakes its fists at God for “abounding in steadfast love” toward even the Ninevites whom that faction despises. They seem driven by the fear that if God’s love and mercy are extended even to include the Ninevites, then there will be less of them left over for us. From the perspective of the Jonah Faction, salvation is a zero-sum game.

Peter’s vision is a rebuke to Team Jonah, so that faction will eventually have to come up with a way of explaining away its expansive, explosive message. They will try to say, somehow, that this passage from Acts is only about Cornelius, or only about dietary law. They’ll dissect this passage with a lawyerly eye, studying the finger while refusing to look where it is pointing.

I’m sure they’ll find a lot to say about the finger, but it will all be beside the point.

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  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m suspicious of justifications like this for the excruciatingly slow moral progress of Western religion away from things like slavery and chattel-marriage.  I think the people oppressed by such an evil practice are always ready for the beatings, rapes, etc. to stop; it’s only the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the practice who “aren’t ready” to see the light.
    To be fair, a lot of rape survivors and domestic violence survivors today say that it took time, sometimes years, for them to realize what had happened, or that it was wrong, or that it wasn’t their fault. There are certainly rape survivors and domestic abuse survivors today who don’t identify as such because they haven’t yet had those epiphanies. Which isn’t to say you’re wrong, mind, it’s just that not everyone has gotten the message that (for example) your partner having sex with your sleeping self is your partner raping you (and it’s wrong of them and it’s not your fault), or your partner not stopping sex when you say to is your partner raping you (and it’s wrong of them and it’s not your fault), or etc etc.

  • Carstonio

    “God said it’s wrong” has two major weaknesses. One is that we don’t know if a god really said so or if it’s just someone claiming to speak for the god. The other is that those commands may not make the world a better place in terms of how humans interact with one another. That concept of morality would have no meaning in a deist or atheist context.

    I think it’s fair in principle to object to behavior that hurts only the person doing it, although in practice it far too often turns into “I know what’s best for you.” But I wouldn’t label such objections as moral ones, since morality seems to be about how one’s actions affect others. Would right or wrong exist for a person living alone on a distant planet whose actions cannot affect anyone else, since there would be no interpersonal context for those actions? I doubt it.

  • David Starner

     What is sexual immortality? Leviticus defines it as sleeping with a woman while she’s having a period. Somehow, I’ve never heard a Christian mention that line. It also tends to include lesbianism, even through the Bible never mentions it. There seems to be a lot of claims of following Leviticus that don’t stress about the fine details of what exactly Leviticus says.

  •  Sexual immortality sounds like fun, actually. Though who knows, I might get tired of it after a few millenia.

  • Content warning: Discussion of sexual kinks in a general sense.

    Pbafvqrevat gung fbzr zra naq jbzra npghnyyl, sbe gurve bja ernfbaf, yvxr univat frk juvyr ba n jbzna’f crevbq, bar fhfcrpgf guvf “fva” tbg engure dhvpxyl zragnyyl qvfpneqrq bapr ercebqhpgvir naq frhkny urnygu orpnzr jvqrfcernq naq orggre haqrefgbbq.

    Decipher with http://www.rot13.com/index.php

  • B

    Right, but that’s *your* belief about what makes something moral or immoral.  I tend to agree with it, but not everyone does.  I may think we’re right and they’re wrong, but they presumably think the same.

    I was just observing that thinking homosexual sex is immoral doesn’t necessarily mean thinking gay people should be denied legal rights.  I mean, in practice many people who think the first often think the second as well, but it requires additional assumptions to get there.  (Again, most such people consider adultery immoral as well, but no one is trying to make it illegal for adulterers to re-marry.)

  • Carstonio

    Of course some people believe in a different standard for judging morality. I just question the purpose or goal of such a standard, because it wouldn’t seem to involve the avoidance of interpersonal cruelty.

    And “denied legal rights” doesn’t quite get at my point. I’m suggesting that people who believe homosexuality to be immoral also believe that LGBT people deserve natural consequences or imposed punishment. If the latter doesn’t mean denial of legal rights, then it would mean some type of social opprobrium. SSM opponents generally don’t recognize that the issue involves legal rights – they wrongly see it as government or society endorsing homosexuality. My stance is that neither government nor society has an interest in which gender a person prefers for a lover or a spouse.

  • Joshua

    Alas I have only one like to give to this post.

  • Erista

     It’s true! O_O

  • My pastor gave his sermon this week on the “not calling someone a fool” and “not lusting after women”  section in the Sermon on the Mount, and this was exactly his point.  The Old Testament covers actions you take towards people, the Sermon on the Mount addresses how you speak to them and regard them.  From that section and many, many others, I think the principal guidance for all human interaction – sexual and otherwise – is to treat people with respect they deserve as people instead of as objects.

  • AnonymousSam

     I’d point at Matthew 15 in particular. That was Jesus saying “the old laws aren’t what make a man clean or unclean. What he says and does to others, on the other hand…”

    These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
    They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.

  • jwalker_cht

     The best response to this that I’ve ever heard is “I’ll hate my sin, you hate your sin, and we’ll just love each other.”

  • jwalker_cht

    arguments for/against same-gender unions aside, I would take sexual immorality to be any sexual behavior that detracts from our obligation to demonstrate the “New Man or New Woman” who has been resurrected in Christ.  if our behavior is driven by lust rather than love, if we’re engaging in promiscuity, “serial monogamy”, cheating or otherwise giving our bodies up to someone other than our dedicated partner then we’re not letting our conversation before men be one that glorifies God.

  •    True we should not judge people while we too are sinners.  LGTB should definitely be allowed to worship with everyone else since Jesus came for the sick, not the well.  
       Two points where you need to address.  First, leadership positions in churches are for people who are above reproach and are to be judged more strictly.  I want an LGTB as a leader in a congregation just as much as a thief, child abuser, liar, adulterer, etc.  
       Secondly, baptism is one of repentance.  if you are an LGTB and proud of it and embrace it, you are not fully repentant.  
       I am not allowed to call LGTB unclean myself, for I am dirty in my own sinful way.  But I want to put away my sin and fight against it daily.  But if I were to embrace a sin and not want to eradicate it from my life, that is not truly repentant nor humble thus making baptism null.  
       I do not doubt though, Jesus would have no problem dining with a homosexual like he did a prostitute in the Bible, but He would also part with the phrase:  “sin no more”

  • EllieMurasaki

    God–if, for sake of argument, she exists–did not create Anne a thief, Bob a child abuser, Cathy a liar, or Daniel an adulterer. Those are things Anne, Bob, Cathy, and Daniel chose to do. God did, however, create Emily lesbian, Fred gay, George bisexual, and Hayden transgender. These are not things Emily, Fred, George, and Hayden chose to be. You are saying that it is just as bad to be Emily, Fred, George, or Hayden as to be Anne, Bob, Cathy, or Daniel, and that no penalty attaches to being the straight cisgender Iris. (Or, probably more accurately, to being the straight cisgender Jack; Iris’s female, which is a mark against her in many eyes.)
    And you wonder why Emily, Fred, George, Hayden, and those Irises and Jacks who find nothing wrong with being Emily, Fred, George, or Hayden are abandoning your church in favor of one that distinguishes between what we are and what we do.

  • RockyMissouri

    There is no sin, other than the sin of bigotry….

  • RockyMissouri

    Thank you….for sharing that…

  • cringest

    I don’t think anyone’s sexuality is key to their identity. Christ should be the only key to their identity.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So you’re basically asserting that my whole queer atheist life is a lie?

  • Jurgan

    A key, but not the only one. Important, though.

  • So… Someone being gay wouldn’t be a problem, then, because the whole “Christ” thing would be the key to their identity, and their orientation just a triviality that no one should make a big deal about, right?