Posts tagged ‘LGBTQ’

A Better Root For Human Intimacy

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Two stories recently hit the headlines, one which made a big splash and one which went largely unnoticed.

In the story that made a big splash, last week, the nation of Brunei enacted new penalties for certain sexual acts.  Amy Gunia reports for Time:

Despite international condemnation, Brunei enacted new Islamic criminal laws Wednesday, including harsh anti-LGBT measures that make gay sex punishable by stoning to death.  The implementation of the draconian penal code is part of the predominantly Muslim country’s rollout of Sharia law …

Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei, but it was previously punishable with prison time.  The new legislation mandates death by stoning for gay sex and a number of other acts, including rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sex and insulting the Prophet Muhammed.

The new penal code also punishes lesbian sex through whipping and theft with amputation, and criminalizes teaching children about any religion except Islam.

The second story that made headlines, albeit in a much more modest way, was last month’s repeal of some anti-adultery laws, still officially on the books, though not enforced, in the state of Utah.  Paulina Dedaj explains for Fox News:

The governor of Utah signed a bill repealing a 1973 law that criminalized sex outside marriage … The offense, which was not enforced by police, was classified as a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

These two stories pull in two very different directions.  But both of them point to just how contentious questions concerning human sexuality have become.

It must be stated that the new penalties in Brunei are nothing short of appalling.  Stoning people is inhumane as a matter of course, regardless of the reason behind it.  But, especially for Christians, stoning people for crossing sexual boundaries should have a special kind of cringe factor to it when one stops to consider how Jesus, in a story from John 8, advocates for a woman caught in the act of adultery by sending her accusers, who wanted to stone her, away.

The repeal of Utah’s law banning sex outside of marriage, though certainly not as flashy as the story out of Brunei, is also worthy of our attention and consideration.  Using legislation to uphold the kinds of sexual mores Utah’s law did, even if those mores are laudable, strikes me as a recipe for corruption and selective enforcement.  Corruption and selective enforcement are certainly endemic to the story of that woman caught in adultery.  Her interlocutors are unquestionably corrupt and selective in how they enforce their penalty of stoning, considering that they bring only her, and not the man in the tryst, in front of Jesus to face the death penalty.  Though I am a wholehearted proponent of traditional sexual morality, I’m not sure if what is moral always requires codification by what is legal.

I am thankful that there are certain pieces of sexual legislation on our books.  The criminalization of pedophilia, for example, is wise and needed for the protection of our most vulnerable.  I also wish we had more legislation bearing down on the pornography industry, which makes its billions by flagrantly degrading the dignity of human beings and, as with pedophilia, by preying on society’s most vulnerable by enticing them with money to humiliate themselves on camera to churn out a never-ending stream of smut.

With this being said, however, the larger debate over sexual mores will take something more than legislation to solve, especially when it comes to the hot-button sexual debates of our day, which often center not so much around widely agreed upon boundaries to sexual activity, but around deeper contentions concerning sexual identity.

In the West especially, views on human sexuality are broadly rooted in two things:  the sentimental and the carnal.  The sentimental root of sex is what we generally think of as romantic love.  Two people fall in love and express their love for each other sexually.  The weakness in this root however, as countless broken marriages and relationships can testify, is that the feeling of love can dry up with time or, as many who have affairs will argue, can even shift to another person.  This root by itself, therefore, is not sufficient as a foundation for human sexuality.  This root is simply not rooted enough.

The carnal root of sex is usually conceived of as the uninhibited expression of desire – or, to put it more bluntly, as lust.  This root of sex is what drives the pornography industry’s ubiquity and the hookup culture found on many college campuses.  The weaknesses in this root are manifold.  People are objectified.  Some are even raped.  And relationships rooted in carnality have literally no chance – and that is not an exaggeration – of lasting.  Such relationships are fundamentally selfish.  And selfishness is a sin that sexual commitment and wholeness cannot endure.

One of the unique gifts that Christianity brings to today’s debates over human sexuality is that while it celebrates the importance of love in sexual relationships and readily acknowledges and makes provisions for the reality that people struggle with carnal lust, it offers human sexuality another – and, I would argue, better – root.  It adds to the sentimental and to the carnal the aspirational.  This root sees human sexuality as something that reaches beyond the private love of two individuals and certainly beyond the fleshly lusts of one individual and seeks to reflect something of God’s love and His created order in its expression of human love and our relational order.  This aspirational root, rather than self-righteously condemning people who fall short of it, grieves over sexual sin and gently invites sexual sinners to turn from their sin and aim higher, just as Jesus does with the woman caught in adultery when He invites her to, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  The Christian aspirational root of sex trades the brutality of Brunei for the blessings of rightly ordered relationships and the legislative problems of Utah for the redemption won by Christ.

The best picture of aspirational sexuality can be found in Christian marriage, which is itself an aspirational picture of Christ’s love for the Church – a love so deep that it led Him to lay down His life on a cross.  On the cross, perfect righteousness and infinite forgiveness meet.  May we, as those who follow Christ, aspire to hold forth to sexual sinners what Christ first held out to us from the cross.  He is our way forward.

April 8, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Vote Splits the United Methodist Church

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In a world where views on human sexuality serve as wedges the drive deep disunity, the United Methodist Church voted last week in a special conference to retain its practice of not ordaining practicing homosexuals into ministry, according to the stance outlined in its Book of Discipline:

The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.

The UMC is almost certainly headed for a split.  The vote was close:  53 percent to 47 percent were in favor of not ordaining practicing homosexuals.  What is especially interesting is from where many of these more traditional votes came.  The New York Times reports:

While membership has steadily declined in the United States over the past 25 years – a trend that is true for most mainline Protestant denominations – it has been growing in Africa.  About 30 percent of the church’s members are now from African nations, which typically have conservative Christian views; in many of them, homosexuality is a crime.

What Methodists believe in the progressive West turns out to be very different from what Methodists believe in the African South.

In one sense, those who reject a traditional and, I would argue, orthodox view of human sexuality are stuck with a Gordian knot that is not easily cut.  On the one hand, anything less than a full endorsement of all the causes célèbres of the LGBTQ movement is anathema in many progressive circles.  On the other hand, the same progressive circles that demand an affirmation of all kinds of human sexualities also decry a Western cultural imperialism that seeks hegemony over other cultures that think and act differently.  But it is difficult to see the reactions of many progressives within the UMC as anything other than a soft form of the very imperialism these progressives claim to reject.  Take, for instance, the response of Will Willimon, a longtime prominent voice in Methodism, to the vote:

The traditionalists did a bang-up job of political organizing and counting the votes. The progressives were all busy talking about unity and community and listening and loving. The conservatives were on the floor getting the votes.

Willimon’s inference seems to be that traditionalists played politics cynically while progressives loved selflessly.  I’m not sure this accusation adequately captures the truth of this debate – or this vote.

Those who claim Christ’s name are called to love, care for, listen to, defend, and invite in those who are LGBTQ while also upholding certain guidelines and guards around human sexuality.  The only way to cut the Gordian knots of competing cultures is to look beyond these cultures to the One who loves all people from every culture.

As a Christian, I uphold a traditional – and, I would argue, biblical – sexual ethic because I have this hunch that the culture and the age in which I live does not always know what’s best for it.  There are truths that are bigger than what we can see or know right now that stretch across space and through time.  The Christian sexual ethic extends beyond my zip code, my state, and my nation.  It also extends beyond my time.  It was around before me.  And it will continue on after me.  Thus, I am called by Scripture to humbly submit myself to this ethic while also loving those who vehemently disagree with this ethic.  After all, love is a really important Christian ethic, too.

So, instead of choosing the ethic of sexual restraint or the ethic of reckless love, I think I’ll keep both.  For the Church needs both as it lives under the name of the One who displayed both.

March 4, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Case of Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett

Credit: Wikipedia

An affirmation of the inherent dignity of humanity is a bedrock in any functioning society.  This is why our nation’s founders unapologetically argued, “All men are created equal.”  This is why Scripture – from front to back, from creation to restoration – celebrates and upholds the value of every life.  People are created, Scripture says, “in God’s image” (Genesis 1:27) and are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  The dignity of humanity is part of the reasoning behind Jesus’ golden rule: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).  Just as we expect to be treated with respect and esteem by virtue of our humanity, we ought to treat others likewise.

Sadly, the same human dignity the Bible upholds has been the dignity we, as humans, have violated.  Racism in the forms of sketchy shootings and startling yearbook photos has violated human dignity.  So has homophobia in the forms of bullying and lynching.  We have plenty of work to do when it comes to loving each other better.

There is a difference, however, between uncovering evidence of racist and homophobic problems and creating evidence of these problems.  This is what Jussie Smollett, an actor in the hit show “Empire,” is accused of doing.  Mr. Smollett initially claimed that, while walking home one night in Chicago, two men attacked him by wrapping a rope around his neck and pouring bleach on his face, all while shouting racist and homophobic slurs.  The story, on its face, was shocking and deeply disturbing.  No one should ever be attacked because of their race or sexual orientation.  But it didn’t take long for Mr. Smollett’s story to begin to unravel.  Prosecutors now say that Mr. Smollett staged the attack, paying these two men to jump him, and even sent himself a threatening letter laced with slurs beforehand, all in an attempt to boost his acting career and command a higher salary.  This, of course, presents us with a whole new set of problems.

In the twentieth century, there lived a self-styled archaeologist named Ron Wyatt.  Mr. Wyatt claimed to have found everything from the Ark or the Covenant to chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea, which he dated from the time of the Pharaoh during the Israelite exodus.  These would have been spectacular finds – if they were real.  But they weren’t.  To this day, people debate whether Mr. Wyatt was sincere and incompetent or a charlatan and malicious.  Either way, his fake archaeological finds, even if his intent was to bring attention to the truthfulness of Scripture, did not bolster Scripture’s credibility.  They only provided fodder for those who doubted Scripture’s accuracy.

What is true of fake archaeological finds that supposedly support the Bible is also true of staged racist and homophobic attacks.  A manufactured instance of racism and homophobia does not help the case for the reality of a broader racism and homophobia.

People often have very deep feelings, on all sides, on the current state of race relations and the treatment of those who identify as LBGTQ.  It is incumbent upon Christians to seek to understand people’s feelings and positions and to engage in sensitive, non-combative conversation, drenched in love, for the sake of mutual understanding and societal reconciliation.  But it is also okay, as a part of these conversations, to study and analyze facts around evils like racism and homophobia, as best as we can know them.  Facts are our friends.  And facts do not need our help.  Our job is not to create facts, as Mr. Smollett has done.  Our job is listen to them and learn from them.  For when we understand reality better, we can love each other deeper – both by empathizing with each other’s pain and by speaking to each other the truth, even when that truth is difficult, in the name of the One who is the truth (John 14:6).

Both our charity and our honesty are needed if we hope to move toward a better society.

February 25, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Supreme Court Takes the Cake

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Credit: Ted Eytan

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court rendered a verdict on a case that pitted a cake shop owner against a same-sex couple.  Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado declined to bake a cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins when, in 2012, they married in Massachusetts and asked Mr. Phillips to craft a cake to celebrate their union.  Mr. Phillips cited his Christian commitments concerning marriage as the reason he could not, in good conscience, provide a custom cake for this particular celebration.  The case went to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled in favor of Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins.  The verdict was subsequently appealed and finally found its way to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found in favor of Mr. Phillips, but also took great pains to offer an extremely narrow ruling.  Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy reasoned:

The case presents difficult questions as to the proper reconciliation of at least two principles.  The first is the authority of a State and its governmental entities to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services.  The second is the right of all persons to exercise fundamental freedoms under the First Amendment …

Whatever the confluence of speech and free exercise principles might be in some cases, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality … When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.

Justice Kennedy cited an example of the State’s lack of “religious neutrality” by quoting one of the persons on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission who first heard this case:

Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be – I mean, we – we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination.  And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to – to use their religion to hurt others.

Justice Kennedy responded to this characterization of Mr. Phillips’ faith with a stinging decrial:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical –something insubstantial and even insincere.  The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.  This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law – a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

This case is yet another example of the tension between Christians’ desires to live and operate, both at home and in the workplace, in ways that respect historic Christian norms concerning human sexuality and same-sex couples’ desires to freely practice their views concerning human sexuality, which includes the ability to ask a business to create a product that accords with their views and serves their needs.  This ruling does not resolve this tension.  Instead, it leaves the tension squarely intact while siding with Mr. Phillips in this instance seemingly simply because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission denigrated Mr. Phillips’ faith in an egregious and offensive way.

Christians will most certainly continue to be faced with these kinds of cases, questions, and tensions.  How we respond is critical – both for the sake of our faithfulness and for the sake of our witness.  Here, then, are two things to keep in mind when these cases, questions, and tensions arise.

First, we must remember to respect everyone simply because they are someone. Regardless of how a Christian may feel about same-sex intimate relationships theologically and personally, respecting others with whom a Christian may disagree is not only generally kind, but explicitly commanded in Scripture: “Show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17).  A Christian’s basic respect for others and gregarious treatment of others should not be fundamentally contingent upon others’ belief systems or moral commitments.  Instead, it should be first based on their foundational statuses as creatures crafted in God’s image.  As the philosopher Charles Taylor puts it in his book, Sources of the Self:

The original Christian notion of agape is of a love that God has for humans which is connected with their goodness as creatures … There is a divine affirmation of the creature, which is captured in the repeated phrase in Genesis 1 about each stage of creation, “and God saw that it was good.”

The simple fact that God has made someone should be enough to command a certain amount of respect, for everyone is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Second, we must remember to be empathetic to those with whom we disagree.  I have had many conversations with Christians who are scared that those in LGBTQ communities are out to trample their rights and destroy their faith.  This leads them to sometimes marginalize and demonize these communities.  I also know many in LGBTQ communities who worry that some Christians are out to destroy their communities and condemn them to hell.  They do not see Christianity’s objection to same-sex practices as part of a broad ethical stance on human sexuality generally, but as an attack on the very core of their identity specifically.

What would happen if we entered into each other’s fears?  Might it change our fears?  Might it move us beyond myopic court battles over whether it is legally necessary to bake cakes for each other?  I have no doubt that some Christians are out to get LGBTQ people and that some in LGBTQ communities are out to get Christians.  For the rest of us, however, a little empathy can go a long way.  Christians can advocate for a certain set of sexual ethics while still comforting those who feel threatened or marginalized.  Those in LGBTQ communities can continue to advocate for fair and respectful treatment for themselves without attacking the sincerity of Christians who have questions and concerns about the helpfulness and morality of the sexual revolution.

Christians must continue to tell the truth and live according to the truth in a world that is full of confusion.  The truth is that human sexuality is not indefinitely malleable.  It is a gift from God that is to be celebrated guardedly and gladly in the context of a commitment in marriage between a man and a woman.  But at the same time Christians must care about this truth, we also must care for people.  This means sharing God’s truth, modeling God’s truth in our actions and decisions, listening to others’ fears and, yes, even objections to this truth, and loving them – not because they always do the right thing, but because love is the right thing to do.

June 18, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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