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Why I Welcome People Who Are Gay (Part 4)

World_homosexuality_laws

There are many passages in the Old Testament and several passages in the New Testament that very few Christians in the United States or in the larger Developed World interpret as binding for all time.

Here are only a few examples of social customs found in the Bible:

  • God commands Late Bronze Age Israelite soliders to commit genocide (Deuteronomy 7v1-2, Joshua 10v40, Joshua 11v18-20).
  • Paul instructs women/wives to wear veils in worship services as a sign of male authority or “headship” over them (1 Corinthians 11v-16).
  • Paul instructs slaves to obey their slave masters or remain content in their slavery (1 Corinthians 7v21-24, Ephesians 6v5,)
  • Both the Old Testament and New Testament state that those who are gay deserve death (Leviticus 20v13 , Romans 1v18-32)

If I showed you a map of the world (like the map above) and asked you to point to a country you associate with the social customs I listed, you would point to a country like Saudi Arabia, Iran or a similar nation.

The above social customs are still at home in some parts of the Middle East and Africa today. This should come as no surprise, as the above social customs were informed by Ancient Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman cultures in which the biblical books were written.

The map of the world at the top of this post shows the current status of gay rights on earth. The countries shaded in brown and red either execute those who are gay or impose sentences of life in prison for being gay! The nations in light blue, blue or dark blue (The U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, France, Brazil and many others) grant basic human rights to those who are gay.

The above social customs are certainly not at home in the 21st century United States of America or in the Developed World. This fact should cause thoughtful Christians to seriously consider how we interpret the Bible and what passages we interpret as binding for all time.

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Why I Welcome People Who Are Gay (Part 3)

Confirmation Bias is the tendency to consume only information that confirms what we already believe.

After 20 years of experience in pastoral ministry, I’ve lost count of the conversations I have had with people who held very strong emotional convictions but were not able to articulate logical reasons why.

In addition to confirmation bias, unfortunately, many of us hold opinions based on emotional reasons and social conditioning:

  • Perhaps family and friends have influenced our conviction, and we know that if we were to change our minds, our relationship with them might be strained. What do your family and friends believe about the issue, and how might that influence you?
  • Perhaps we consume media that only conforms what we already believe. How does what you watch on TV, listen to on the radio or read online influence your beliefs?

If we “feel” strongly about an issue but cannot explain why using rational statements that stand up to questioning, this should cause us to consider that we may be wrong on the issue and honestly examine why we believe what we believe.

Read the entire article about Confirmation Bias here- http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/

(Go to “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay- Part 4”)

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Why I Welcome People Who Are Gay (Part 2)

Here is a simplified list I use to describe how Christians must thoughtfully wrestle with passages in the Bible that raise questions in 21st century developed world.

Some examples of these passages would be:

  • Slavery- Ephesians 6v5, 1 Corinthians 7v21-24
  • Women’s Rights- 1 Corinthians 11v-16, Ephesians 5v22-24
  • Science- Genesis 1-11
  • People who are gay- Leviticus 20v13 , Romans 1v18-32, 1 Corinthians 6v9

A Simplified Guide for Interpreting Difficult Passages

1. God inspired human authors to author the biblical books (this does not imply dictation).

2. Because human authors are involved in the authorship of scripture, all scripture is culturally conditioned.

3. The culture of the 21st century developed world differs in many ways from the cultures in which the biblical books were written.

4. When we interpret the Bible we must determine what is God’s eternal instruction and what is culture bound.

5. When the view of the 21st century developed world differs from a biblical teaching, we should thoughtfully and seriously consider whether or not we should interpret the passages as eternally binding.

 

(Go to “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay- Part 3”)

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Why I Welcome People Who Are Gay (Part 1)

(I recently gave a sermon on this topic. You can listen to it here or watch it here.)

Here are some of the most important reasons I welcome those who are gay into the church I pastor- Jesus, Genesis, and Paul.

Jesus

Jesus does not mention homosexuality in the Gospels.

Some Christians believe that Jesus did, however, when the Pharisees asked him his stance on divorce (divorce, not same sex marriage). They believe this for two reasons:

  1. Because Matthew 19v9 contains the word porneia, and
  2. Jesus appeals to Genesis 1v27, which points out the obvious fact that human beings are male and female.

The original Greek of Matthew 19v1-12 includes the word porneia, often translated “sexual immorality,” as grounds for divorce. Mark 10v1-12, the parallel of Matthew 19v1-12, does not include the word porneia. In fact, in Mark 10, Jesus gives no exception to his prohibition of divorce. Matthew adds that exception of porneia, which most or all English translations understand to mean adultery, having sex with someone other than the spouse.

This difference, alone, between Mark 10 and Matthew 19 causes problems for proponents of biblical inerrancy, especially those who believe that God is the source of every single word in the Bible. Either Mark contains an incomplete quote from Jesus, or Matthew adds clauses that Jesus did not give.

Some Christians believe that because porneia probably includes same sex acts in the Bible, and Matthew has Jesus using the word porneia, therefore Jesus speaks against same sex acts. If it is true that Jesus has same sex acts in mind by the use of porneia (only in Matthew, as the word does not occur in Mark as ground for divorce), then Matthew 19 means that Jesus would permit a man to divorce his wife if she engages in lesbian acts.

In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, the religious experts ask Jesus a specific question, hotly debated in their time. Here are the actual questions they asked (Matthew adds a clause at the end):

Mark 10v2, “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Matthew 19v3, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?'”

Notice all of the specific scenarios we connect with marriage and divorce that are not listed in this question- domestic violence, neglect, emotional abuse, same-sex relationships, and, of course, there is no mention of a woman divorcing her husband!

Jesus does not address any of the above questions that 21st century Americans might have about marriage and divorce. In other words, Jesus does not speak to the many contemporary issues surrounding divorce, including a woman divorcing her husband.

Monogamy had become the cultural norm for marriage by the time of Jesus. In addition, famous rabbis Hillel and Shammai debated the grounds for divorce that could be used by Jewish men. Hillel gave the more permissive interpretation that a man could divorce his wife for trivial reasons. Shammai gave the interpretation that a man could only divorce his wife because of adultery. A woman was not permitted to divorce her husband in Jewish law, although Roman law did permit a woman to divorce her husband (Mark 10v12).

In Mark 10, Jesus’ answer is even more strict than Shammai. In Matthew 19, His answer is in agreement with Shammai. Matthew adds the phrase, “for any and every reason” in the question and “except for porneia” in the answer. Mark contains neither of these clauses.

The question is, (poorly paraphrased), “Jesus, what is the minimum reason I can give to trade in my wife for a younger model?” 

Jesus’ answer and appeal to Genesis 1v27 is to committed monogamy. Jesus answers (poorly paraphrased) “You’re looking for a legal loophole that permits you to commit adultery. God intends for marriage to mean more than that.”

Genesis Chapter 1v27

By appealing to Genesis 1, Jesus’ answer is in favor of a committed, monogamous relationship versus a man divorcing his wife for a trivial reason. Neither the question nor the answer addresses homosexuality, domestic violence, neglect, or even the right of a woman to divorce her husband.

Genesis 1v27 is used as the biblical support for the slogan “Marriage is between one man and one woman.” I hesitate to say that marriage in biblical cultures was seen as between one man and one woman, because the bride was most likely a teenage girl.

In cultures of both the Old and New Testament, most marriage was an arranged between a 25-30 year old man and a girl who would now be a freshman in high school. The typical monogamous marriage in biblical cultures was between a man and a teenage girl (this probably true of Mary and Joseph, as well).

To be precise, current politicians who want to use the Bible in its cultural context to speak about same sex marriage could say, “Marriage is arranged by the parents and is between one man and one teenage girl.” That doesn’t make for a very good political slogan… and it would require a very large bumper sticker.

Polygamy was common in the cultures that produced the Old Testament. Abraham enters into a polygamous marriage with his slave(!), Hagar. He then divorces her and leaves her to die with their child. Paul commends Abraham’s faith, in Romans 4v3. Solomon famously had 700 wives and 300 concubines. His polygamy is not criticized in 1 Kings 11v2,9-11, but his idolatry is. Polygamy was quite common and uncriticized in the cultures in which the Old Testament was written. Genesis 1 was not used to criticize Abraham or Solomon.

Of course, Genesis 1 is true, that God created human beings as male and female. It’s also true that a small percentage of human beings are born intersex, literally both male and female. That alone creates a question for thoughtful, compassionate people.

Of course, male and female marriage and complementary genitalia makes male-female marriage the statistical norm for the human race. At the same time, we know that there is a percentage of people who do not naturally fit into this mold and are attracted to the same sex. What do we do with those persons whom God has also created?

So far, the standard Evangelical answer to persons who are gay has been, “Either marry someone you’re not attracted to, or live the rest of your life alone, without romantic companionship. If you choose companionship with someone you’re attracted to, then you’re an abomination, a reprobate, and you’re bound for hell… but… God loves you!”

Paul

I believe that Paul saw same-sex relationships in a monolithic way that, in Greco-Roman culture, included pagan worship, same-sex prostitution, pederasty (pedophilia), violence and exploitation. We know that the same sex relationships commonly practiced in Greco Roman culture were disgusting to Paul. All of the practices I just listed are rejected by contemporary Americans as well.

If Paul saw same sex relationships in this light, it is understandable why he condemns them the way he does. So would most, if not, all Americans.

For me, the question becomes, “When Paul condemns same sex relationships as sin, does he have in mind two loving, consenting adults, some of whom want to worship Jesus and want to commit to loving monogamy?” I don’t think he does.

The Greek word Paul uses to describe sexual relationships in Romans 1, “natural,” is the same word he uses to insist that short hair for women is unnatural and long hair for men in unnatural in 1 Corinthians 11v1-16. Do we agree with Paul that men wearing their hair long is unnatural and a disgrace and that long hair for women is a covering for her to show male authority over her (1 Corinthians 11v14-15)?

If so, what qualifies as short hair or long hair? Do we need to use a ruler to measure? Furthermore, do you want to live in a society where we measure men’s and women’s hair to determine if its natural or unnatural? Regardless, for people who have been attracted to the same sex for as long as they can remember, their attraction is natural to them.

Ephesians 6v5 instructs slaves to obey their slave masters, and in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul encourages slaves to be content in their slavery. Paul commands women/wives to wear veils in worship as a sign of male headship in 1 Corinthians 11v1-16.

Someone in the church I pastor actually challenged me by saying, “Have you ever considered that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad then?” I was so dumbstruck that I didn’t know how to respond. When someone asks such a thoughtless, uninformed question in a sad attempt to defend their view of the Bible, where do you begin? How do you explain that there is no such thing as “not so bad slavery?” The person was unwittingly supporting one of the worlds most heinous evils in the Name of Jesus.

I actually had to explain to this twenty-something person in 2013 America that slavery is always wrong, always evil, without exception. By the way, Greco-Roman slavery involved the exploitation of human beings, abuse, rape, generational poverty and everything else that comes with enslaving other humans.

Paul never imagined that slavery would be made illegal. That did not happen for another 1700 years. The best he could do was encourage slaves to be obedient, stay out of trouble and keep their heads up. This is precisely the point. Paul’s statements are firmly rooted in his culture, and they are clearly out of place in the 21st century developed world.

I believe that Paul’s comments on slavery (Ephesians 6v5, 1 Corinthians 7) and women wearing veils in worship as a sign of male headship (1 Corinthians 11), would be much different if he were writing in the 21st century U.S. with a 21st century understanding of slavery and women. His comments are firmly rooted in Greco-Roman culture.

In the same way, I believe that Paul would write about same sex relationships differently if he had a 21st century U.S. view of orientation and two consenting adults who are only attracted to the same sex.

So again, for me, the pressing question is this, “There is a percentage of human beings who are not attracted to the opposite sex. How do we respond to them?”

Do, we quote passages to them that may or may not specifically address their situation and tell them to live alone for the rest of their lives without companionship of someone to whom they are attracted? If they enter a romantic relationship with someone to whom they are attracted, do we condemn them, bar them from church participation and consider them bound for hell because of their choice? For me, the questions are too great to make such heavy pronouncements.

Sexuality and The Great Commission

According to the polls I have seen, as American Christians have morphed in their interpretations of Bible passages on slavery, women’s rights, and science, Evangelicals are slowly but methodically morphing in their interpretations on passages regarding same sex relationships. For the past 30 years, Evangelicals have been told, mostly by politicians and televangelists, that same sex relationships must be opposed at all costs. Many Evangelicals I know personally are realizing that they religion has been used against them by politicians to get their vote.

I can’t support slavery or women wearing veils as a sign of male headship or condemn people who are gay as sinners. I think American Christians were right to morph their interpretations on those issues, and I think it is the correct choice on same sex relationships as well.

In addition, after 30 years of the “God, Guns, Gays” political strategy, Americans are increasingly rejecting the Religious Right’s demonization of people who are gay. This strategy still appeals to a percentage of Americans who believe guns are safe and gays are dangerous, but this is a minority of Americans. The view that same sex relationships are sinful is being increasingly viewed as prejudice in the same vein as racial segregation.

That was my point behind the section about Great Commission in my sermon “What Does the Bible Teach about Slavery and Sexuality?” on October 20, 2013. Unchurched and dechurched people do not hear the Gospel as good news if they see Christians as prejudiced.

This is not only true of America, but it is true of the entire Developed World. Countries who have a record of valuing human rights are increasing the rights of people who are gay, while countries with a dubious record on human rights are continuing to execute or imprison those who are gay.

So for the sake of the Great Commission in the Developed World, Christians need to bring our best and most responsible thinking to this issue.

(Go to “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay- Part 2”)

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The Bible and Slavery

The following is from my sermon, “What Does the Bible Teach about Slavery and Sexuality?” (October 20, 2013). All Scripture quotes are from the NIV.

In the early 1860s, slavery divided our nation to the extent that 600,000 to 750,000 Americans killed each other during the Civil War.

Historian Mark Noll authored The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. His theme is that the Civil War was a crisis of biblical interpretation. Because the Bible is ambiguous on the topic of slavery, American Christians were not sure which way to interpret it. He suggests that the Bible’s ambiguity on slavery may have been the most important reason that America experienced the Civil War.

It may be shocking to some to learn that the Bible does not call slavery a sin.

Here is a very brief overview of the Bible on slavery:

The Bible mentions slavery 200 times and “servant” hundreds more. Not once does the Bible call slavery a sin or say that slavery should be made illegal. 1 Timothy 1v10 does condemn slave traders, but out of hundreds of mentions, the Bible does not once call slavery a sin or state that slavery should be abolished.

If a professor asked you to write a paper on slavery, and you mentioned the word “slavery” 200 times in your paper, could we expect that you would call slavery a moral wrong and suggest that slavery should be illegal at least once?

If you were to write in your paper that slavery should be illegal, you would not have gotten that idea from the Bible. You would have gotten that idea from 21st century American culture. American culture, not the Bible, tells you that slavery should be illegal.

Examples of Bible Verses on Slavery

We love egalitarian verses like Galatians 3v28:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

But then we read verses about slavery that do not communicate a message of which Christians can be proud. For example, Paul exhorts the Christians living in the city of Corinth that they should be content in life in whatever circumstances they find themselves. He then writes:

“21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. 22 For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. 24 In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.”

Then, Ephesians 6v5-9 reads:

“5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.”

21st century Americans would not tell a slave to be content in his or her enslavement. In the same way, we like the end of Ephesians 5v9, the “no partiality” part. It’s just that even that statement is within the context of telling slaves to obey their masters as though their masters are Jesus.

Last year, I asked a guy what he thought Ephesians 6v5 meant. He said, “I should do a good job for my boss at work.” Unfortunately, that verse is not about his job, for which he receives a paycheck and that he can quit at any time. It’s about slavery.

What’s worse is that slavery is not just a relic of the past. We still have slavery in America. Human smuggling and sex trafficking take place on a daily basis. Just this past week, a world slavery study was released finding that slavery is alive and well all over the planet.

Imagine, that you are refilling your car at a gas station in Chandler, and a man runs up to you, out of breath. In broken English, he tells you that he just escaped from someone who has been holding him as a slave. The person smuggled him across the border and promised him his freedom, but now he’s been held as a slave for the past year on this man’s farm. Would you quote Ephesians 6:5 to him, and say “Well, the Word of God says, “‘Slaves obey your masters?'”

You wouldn’t quote Ephesians 6v5 to him, would you? You would call the police. Why? The Bible says slaves should obey their masters. You would call the cops because you’re a 21st century American, and 21st century American culture tells you that slavery is immoral and has been made illegal.

For those who have this view of the Bible that it was dropped out of heaven and has no need of being interpreted, this verse says that practice is not a very good idea, doesn’t it?

The Bible Used to Defend Slavery

This verse and others like it were quoted in many sermons in the Southern United States in the 1800’s to defend the practice of slavery.

A pastor named Richard Furman wrote a letter to the governor of South Carolina in 1838 using the Bible to defend slavery:

“In things purely spiritual, they (masters and slaves) appear to have enjoyed equal privileges; but their relationship, as masters and slaves, was not dissolved. Their respective duties are strictly enjoined. The masters are not required to emancipate their slaves; but to give them the things that are just and equal, forbearing threatening; and to remember, they also have a master in Heaven….”

“Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who
feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of their God, would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church… But, instead of this, they let the relationship remain untouched, as being lawful and right, and insist on the relative duties.”

The consensus of the Bible on slavery is that slaves should obey their masters, masters should treat their slaves with respect, as equals in God’s eyes. The Bible does not say that slavery is wrong and should be made illegal.

Reverend Henry Van Dyke in 1860, “The tree of Abolition is evil… (it) is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures.”

The Teaching of Jesus

Mark Noll suggests that legal slavery was not abolished in the U.S. by following Bible verses specifically about slavery. He suggests that legal slavery truly ended in America when Christians in the North realized that the African American slave was their neighbor. Then, the overarching teaching of Jesus activated, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is when Christians realized that it should not be legal to enslave their neighbors.

These verses that address slavery in the Old and New Testaments are out of step with 21st century American culture. No Bible-believing Christian would quote these verses to a slave. In fact, in some states, if you were to quote Ephesians 6v5 to a slave, you could be prosecuted as an accomplice to hostage taking.

In fairness to Paul, Paul never dreamed of a country where slavery would be illegal. He was speaking out of his own cultural knowledge of slavery.

The Bible and 21st Century U.S. Values

There is an enormous cultural gap between 21st century North America and Paul’s experience of the Roman Empire. It took 1,700 years after Paul’s life for nations to begin making slavery illegal. The Bible knows nothing of abolition.

Are the Bible’s statements on slavery at home in 21st century America? Of course not.

If Paul were writing his letters today in the Southeast Valley of Phoenix, do you think he would make statements about slavery that are different than those we have in the New Testament? We certainly hope so.

Just as American Christians changed their interpretation of the Bible on religious violence, science and women’s rights over time, American Christians interpreted the Bible’s statements on slavery differently over time, as cultural shifts took place.

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