6.4 | getting caught
VI | GENDER AND SEXUALITY
In June 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States declared gay marriage federally legal, claiming that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to grant same-sex marriage licenses and recognize same-sex marriages on the same terms and conditions of opposite-sex marriages. Around the time of that ruling, I went to lunch with my dad and another well-known pastor. This pastor was doing what many pastors did after that ruling: asserting that America had lost its moral compass. The belief of many pastors was that the government was now going to require churches to perform gay weddings, in conflict with our deeply held convictions.
This wasn’t a lunch to discuss the Supreme Court decision though. This was a simple get-together and catch-up. I’m the young man in the room. I look at this pastor and my dad as OGs. They’re free to discuss whatever they want and I’m just glad for the free lunch. I’d rather eat my sandwich and not talk about it, especially with people 20+ years my senior. I prefer Abraham Lincoln’s approach: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
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However, that option was not available to me at this lunch. My dad, knowing full well that I had absolutely zero desire to engage in this conversation, turned to me and said, “Josh, what do you think?” My dad’s pastor friend looked at me and said, “We can’t allow this type of thing to take hold in the church, can we?”
My response was “Well, I’m willing to be wrong, but let me give a thought. Let’s say that we’re not going to allow people to be a part of the church based on which sins are in their life. That’s pretty much what we are talking about here, right?”
The pastor said, “Well, kind of, but more that we should not make allowances for sin. We can’t look at sin and say it's ok.”
“Absolutely agree,” I said. “So what we should do is start with the things that God says he hates. Because the Bible has lists of the things that God hates.” I pulled out my phone.
“In Proverbs, there’s seven things that God hates: ‘eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family’ (Proverbs 6:16-19 MSG). Then God says in Malachi, ‘“I hate divorce,” says the GOD of Israel. GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies says, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage.” So watch yourselves. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t cheat’ (Malachi 2:16).”
“The Bible doesn’t say that God hates homosexuality; it says that he hates divorce. If we’re going to talk about who is allowed to be here and who is not allowed to be here, I think we should start there. There was a time in church history where people who got divorced were no longer allowed to attend church. If we’re going to take a strong stance on one sin, we should most certainly take one on the things God hates. But then we’d probably have 10 people left in our churches, and they would all be liars.”
My dad liked my answer. I’m not sure the other pastor did. We haven’t gone to lunch together since.
The Kingdom works differently than the world. It always has. From time to time, we all must be reminded of that. We all have preferences and prejudices. CT tells us that the only time those things are “bad” is when they are used to oppress. Kingdom says our preferences must be submitted to God’s preferences. God doesn’t see issues, sins, gender, and sexuality like we do.
For a long time, and still today, many Christians have enmity towards divorce and “sexual sin.” Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850, and although it’s a novel, the response of the Puritans in that book was true to life. In more recent history, the church has responded the same way to divorce as they did in the 1800s to adultery. Divorced people have been fired, removed from leadership positions, or excommunicated by churches. I have a good friend whose wife left him after she had an affair. The church that they had attended together, where he and his kids had deep friendships and relationships, where he ministered and spoke banished him. Not because he was complicit in a divorce but because divorce disqualifies you from ministry in their perspective. Forever.
When I was growing up and traveling with my dad, I would be asked to leave churches he was speaking at because I was wearing a hat, and wearing a hat is “disrespectful” in God’s house. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a biblical reason for that. When they found out my dad was preaching, they couldn’t make me leave, but I saw other people kicked out for wearing a hat or for the unforgivable sins of sagging pants or having an untucked shirt. I’m sure that “cleanliness is next to godliness” lady would have loved it.
In John 8:1-10, Jesus is speaking when religious people bring a woman to him. Can you imagine? You’re in the middle of a conversation and someone you don’t know drags another person you don’t know right up to you? These religious people were trying to trap Jesus. They tell Jesus that the woman was caught in the act of adultery and that the law of God said she needed to be stoned to death. Interesting. How was she caught?
The way they talked to Jesus and the language they used makes it clear that these men are making a legal claim, like a DA would do today. The law then, just as now, required proof to charge someone with a crime. These men possessed all the evidence the law required to convict her. Open-and-shut case. The law required strong testimony from two witnesses who saw the couple in a sexual context. Things like lying in the same bed, unmistakable body movements, and positive identities. The two witnesses had to see these things at the same time and place so that their testimonies would be identical. Such evidence virtually required the witnesses to set a trap. When they caught her engaging in adultery, it was potentially an intentional trap, one that would lead to her death. The guy she was engaged with? I’m not sure where he went; obviously wherever cowards go in situations like this.
What does Jesus do? He says nothing. He stoops down to write in the sand with his finger. We don’t know what he wrote, and we don’t know how long he wrote for. But it must have been a while because verse 7 says they “kept demanding an answer.” I’ve heard it said that he wrote a list of all their sins. There’s no evidence of that. There’s also no evidence that he didn’t do that.
We do know what he did next. The accusers demanded an answer. He stands up and says, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” Some translators say “without the same sin.” The accusers each walk away, starting with the oldest. I imagine they dropped the stones they had picked up as they went.
Jesus looks at the woman and says, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” the woman says, and Jesus, the son of God – the creator of all the rules this woman had broken – says to her, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Isn’t her sin problematic to the Kingdom? Isn’t the Kingdom’s perspective on sin problematic to her? Yes. Sin is the problem, and the grace of God is the solution. Jesus didn’t condone her sin. He didn’t approve of it, but he also didn’t condemn her.
The Kingdom doesn’t condone our sin, but it doesn’t condemn us sinners.
Discussing gender and sexuality, even without a biblical context, is fraught with peril. The objective truth of Scripture says that sin of any kind is wicked. Pure evil. Not just homosexuality. Go back and review your checked boxes. Romans 1 alone has 24 different kinds of sin listed, including that of “invent[ing] new ways of sinning.” That’s kind of like being able to wish for more wishes. Even the invention of sin is ruled out. In Romans 14, Paul also tells us that if we think something might be sinful, then it is. There’s no getting around how infected we are by sin.
The aversions that we feel in culture are often preference and prejudice related. We must be careful about conflating what we are averse to and what God is averse to.
Maybe one of the reasons it is so hard for people to discuss gender and sexuality is the discomfort we have about it. How much of our response to the LGBT+ community has to do with discomfort that has been hardened into condemnation?
Divorce is no longer an aversion for many Christians. For years, the divorce rate of Americans has hovered around 50%. This seems to be declining with the increase in cohabitation as more millennials and Gen Zers abandon marriage entirely. Abandoning marriage is also a sin issue. A friend of mine recently asked me to come to his house and pray a blessing. He and his girlfriend had just had a baby and were moving in together. I told my friend that he was welcome to pray his own blessing over his home, but I was unable to. I told him I could once he decided to do his relationship God’s way. Cohabitation is not God’s way, and neither is homosexuality.
Does that mean that we should take my sarcastic advice? Start removing people from our lives because of their sins? We shouldn’t if we claim to be citizens of the Kingdom. God doesn’t deal with sin lightly, but every sinner – us included – is given a chance to be new.
The Kingdom says there is absolute truth. There is absolute morality.
Critical Theory says it’s subjective, and if anyone judges you as immoral, they are oppressing you.
Paul reminds us in Romans 2 that we all do these things. We are all wicked, we are all immoral, we are all incapable of good without God. None of us are truly moral. Matthew 7:1-5 is worth repeating.
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. 3 And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” // Matthew 7:1-5
There is the Kingdom and there is the world. The world tells us that judging others is acceptable and even preferred. In Critical Theory, judgment is required. If we are in an oppressed group, we must judge the sins of others as oppressive. If we are in an oppressive group, we must judge our own sins. It is not kindness that turns us from our sins but judgment and problematizing. CT tells us to judge others as oppressors or oppressed and overthrow them if necessary. CT tells us to judge ourselves as oppressed or oppressors and then dismantle and disrupt or lament and make reparations.
In the Kingdom, the judgment of others is not our responsibility. For any reason. There’s too much wrong with us to have time to judge anyone else. The Kingdom gives us no right to judge or condemn another person. The Kingdom tells us that God created each person and he is going to judge them. Not us. That’s what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8, that’s what he said in Matthew 7, and that’s what he says to us today.
Yes, there are stands we must make. The Bible makes no room for a spectrum of gender or a choice of gender. God created people male and female. The Bible admonishes homosexuality as sinful. This is absolutely true. God also makes no room for liars, or gossips, or those who cannot forgive, or any form of immorality. Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 if we look at someone with lust in our heart, we have already committed adultery. I don’t have same-sex attraction and I am cisgender. That still doesn’t preclude me from being an adulterer.
It's not cisgender vs. non-cisgender. It’s not heterosexuality vs. homosexuality or bisexuality. It's about sin. If we’re looking to throw people in “sin jail,” then we should tell them that we’ll meet them there.
I’ve been asked, as many pastors have, if a person can be gay and be a Christian. Can a person be divorced and be a Christian? Foolish? Greedy? Bitter? Deceitful? Disobedient? Alcoholic? Hypocritical? Jealous? Unforgiving?
It is not my, or anyone else’s, responsibility to decide that. We are incapable of assessing the state of another person’s heart.
“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” // Romans 2:4
What we all need is not DEI. We need the kindness and the goodness of God in our own lives. Experiencing the kindness of God turns us away from our sin. It turns us from being citizens of America, citizens of our groups and citizens of the world. It makes us citizens of the Kingdom. A Kingdom of truth, yes, but also a Kingdom of grace.
His is a Kingdom where we experience grace that saves us and truth that sets us free.
If we understand this, we embrace it. Jesus said, “Whoever has been forgiven much loves much, whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). Those who cannot express empathy and kindness are those who don’t realize how much has been extended to them. A person who loves knows that their heart was once deceitful and desperately wicked. They speak the truth, but they do so with kindness.
God wants us to be a completely new creation. When you’re new, you don’t get to be old anymore. There are parts of all of us that we must abandon for the sake of the Kingdom. There are some things we must leave behind and some things that we must kill. Without the Kingdom there is only wickedness, and we must allow everything that is not of the Kingdom within us to end.
5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. // Colossians 3:5-15
Kingdom requires full metamorphosis. Complete, universal, and all-encompassing change. Where Critical Theory seeks to change the world, Kingdom seeks to change us so that we can change the world. The Kingdom is not affirming of non-binary definitions of gender. Nor is it affirming of any intimate relationships not based in a heterosexual marriage. It is also not affirming of people who judge other people’s sin.
KHT (Kingdom heart transformation) and UHR (unity, honor, reconciliation) give us standards. CRT and DEI do as well.
Kingdom is personal, individual. We don’t join the Kingdom and then get to attack those who aren’t in the Kingdom. This is not that type of Kingdom. The Kingdom response is graceful and truthful.
I’ve heard people say that the Bible does teach us that we can know people by their fruit, the results of their actions. Jesus makes such a statement in Matthew 7:16. We sometimes read this word “know” as “judge.” The word Jesus uses is not about judging and critiquing someone. The word he uses, epiginṓskō (ἐπιγινώσκω), is about knowing and recognizing someone.
In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us to speak the truth in love. Jesus himself came in grace and truth. We discussed both earlier, but they bear repeating here. We can know a person by their fruit and still make them feel loved. It’s hard to make people feel loved as we judge and critique them.
How can I know I’m speaking the truth in love? When I connect with someone before I correct them. When you’re tempted to tell someone the truth about their issues, ask yourself this question: “Does that person know I love them?” If the answer is yes, then with all empathy, love, and grace, speak the truth to them.
Theodore Roosevelt said it, and we all know it: “People don’t care about how much you know until they know about how much you care.”
As for gender and sexuality and how the Church is supposed to address that, the Church is at its best when we all strive to act like Jesus. To act like Jesus means that we walk in grace and truth. We speak the truth in love. To be the Church means that we listen to Jesus and work on ourselves first. We put our own house in order and let God worry about those who have a speck in their eye. Our beam is going to take our whole life to remove.
Billy Graham said, “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” Grace is loving. Truth is loving. I agree with Billy Graham. Judging and convicting aren’t our job. We would do well to heed his advice.
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