Tag Archives: LGBT

Preparing to Review “God and the Gay Christian”

“God and the Gay Christian is a game changer. Winsome, accessible, and carefully researched, every page is brought to life by the author’s clear love for Scripture and deep, persistent faith. With this book, Matthew Vines emerges as one of my generation’s most important Christian leaders, not only on matters of sexuality but also on what it means to follow Jesus with wisdom, humility, and grace. Prepare to be challenged and enlightened, provoked and inspired. Read with an open heart and mind, and you are bound to be changed.”

—Rachel Held Evans, author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Faith Unraveled”
found at Amazon.com

This isn’t the sort of book I’d normally read, and especially the sort of book I’d pay for, but I found a book review on this text, and it’s quite compelling to consider that someone would say there’s supportive data in the Bible for “loving same-sex relationships”. A surface reading of both the Old and New Testaments would seem to suggest otherwise, but the debate continues to rage regarding the accuracy (let alone “truth”) of this matter. One such debate can be found in the comments section of The Christian Post article Evangelicals Review Matthew Vines’ “God and the Gay Christian” Book, while LGBTQNation.com has a very different viewpoint.

Whenever I’m concerned that my conservative religious, social, and political bias is overwhelming my ability to fairly view an issue like this, I check in with my daughter who is supportive of marriage equality and equal rights for the LGBTQ community. Given her perspective, she continues to think that equality in secular society is one thing, but that it’s a step too far to say that the Bible actually supports and endorses homosexual behavior.

That’s been my perspective as well (for a representative but not exhaustive list of my blog posts on this matter, click on this link). I haven’t reviewed a book like Vines’ before, but I have reviewed a series of reviews of a book called Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe written by the late John Boswell. My conclusion of the author’s supposition that the Church performed same-sex marriages in antiquity and thus, the modern Church should perform same-sex marriages today, is that it was pretty much wishful thinking on Boswell’s part.

I will agree that the Bible generally does not speak of same-sex relationships in a negative light when they occur outside the community of faith. However, for those who are joined to God in a covenant relationship (i.e. the Jewish people) or those of us (i.e. Gentile Christians) who are grafted in and enjoy certain covenant blessings, the story (in my humble opinion) is different.

But I can’t get ahead of myself and I want to be fair. My concern is that this book will be reviewed almost exclusively along emotional, political, and social lines rather than based on an evaluation of the author’s research in comparison to scripture. That is, if you are a liberal Christian or Jew, you’ll love the book. If you’re a conservative Christian or Jew, you’ll hate it. It’s a knee-jerk response from either side of the aisle. You almost don’t even have to read the book in order to render a strongly held opinion.

I’d like the opportunity to look at Vines’ work while minimizing my “visceral response”. I should say that a lot of how one reviews such a book depends a great deal on the interpretative matrix used to understand the Bible. Evangelical Christians will use proof texts from the Old and New Testaments to speak against homosexuality while simultaneously saying the Old Testament laws (which by definition should include those laws that address homosexuality) are dead (for details about a Jewish viewpoint on homosexuality, read Homosexuality and Halakhah).

Liberal Christians and Jews won’t necessarily speak against the literal words of the Bible, but they will reinterpret them in ways that some of us might consider “creative” in order to say that the plain meaning of the text isn’t the true meaning of the text.

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 18:22

If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

Leviticus 20:13

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

Strictly speaking, the New Testament doesn’t address homosexuality or homosexual behavior. It does address sexual immorality in a number of verses (Matthew 15:19, Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Revelation 21:8, for example), but it’s a matter of opinion if the intent of the New Testament authors included “homosexuality” as a sexually immoral behavior, although according to this article:

Nearly every major Greek lexicon includes “fornication” as at least an aspect of the meaning of porneia. In addition to premarital sex, this term would also include such things as homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, et al The first definition given above sums it up well as “every kind of extramarital, unlawful, unnatural sexual intercourse.” We would also do well to remember Christ’s words from Matthew 15 which state that it is not only the actual intercourse that is prohibited, but also the sinful affection which lies behind the action (relate to Matthew 5:27-30). (emph. mine)

No doubt, the reviews of Vines’ book, pro and con, are going to be surging forth in the blogosphere, at least in the short run (public opinion is fickle and attention spans are limited), but I feel compelled to add my voice to the din because (hopefully) I can attempt to view what Vines wrote while restricting my reflexive response. If he can make his case based on scripture while avoiding an emphasis on emotional appeal, he should be heard out.

I just ordered the book. It will take some time to get here (five to fourteen business days), but I feel honor-bound to actually read Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships before reacting to it in any definitive sense.

Did Ancient Christianity Perform Same-Sex Marriages?

SameSexNot since Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1981) have Christians of all creeds confronted a work that makes them look so closely at their notions of the relationship between the church and its gay and lesbian believers. Diligently researched and documented, this immensely scholarly work covers everything from the “paired” saints of Perpetua and Felicitas and Serge and Bacchus to lesbian transvestites in Albania. Examining evidence that the early church celebrated a same-sex nuptial liturgy, Boswell compares both Christian same-sex unions to Christian heterosexual unions and non-Christian same-sex unions to non-Christian heterosexual unions. Appendixes contain, among other things, translations and transcriptions of cited documents. Whether or not minds are changed on the matter will probably fall along sectarian lines, according to current attitudes on homosexuality. However, the work will provoke dialog. A groundbreaking book for academic, public, and theological libraries.

-Lee Arnold, Historical Society of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia
as quoted on Amazon.com’s description of John Boswell’s book
Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Recently on Facebook, someone referred to Boswell’s 1995 book and posted a link to a recent article commenting on this work called Gay marriage in the year 100 AD. I had no idea there was such a book in existence or that anyone had done any serious investigation on the status of same-sex marriages in different, ancient cultures. As a Christian who takes a more or less conservative interpretation on the Bible, I tend to believe that both the Old and New Testaments take a dim view of homosexual activities, at least between males (Lev. 18:22, Lev. 20:13, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:8-11, Rev. 22:15-21). However, as I said in DOMA, Prop 8, and a Guy Named Moshe, Christians (I can’t speak from the Jewish standpoint) can only hold accountable other Christians, that is, those people who have voluntarily entered into a covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, to any prohibitions regarding homosexual activity.

Paul didn’t attempt to lead a social revolution in the ancient Roman empire, demanding that laws be changed for the general population in the diaspora nations ruled by Rome to become more consistent with the teachings of Christ. He was only concerned with taking the good news of Messiah to the Jews and Gentiles and then guiding the religious communities (churches) he founded into correct behavior based on the standards of God. That means, I’m not going to go off on some big harangue against “marriage equality” in the 21st century.

I don’t have a massive agenda about the LGBT community or same-sex marriage, but I do have an interest in any historical and cross-cultural data that could possibly establish that same-sex relationships might have been “normalized” among different people groups in the past. I can’t ignore the vast amount of (admittedly anecdotal) information regarding how gays describe their experience, nor the desire of same-sex couples to enter into legal relationships that reflect their emotional commitment. Although this is in contradiction to the tenets of my faith (as I understand them), I want to be fair and to listen to voices that aren’t always in accord with mine.

There’s a tremendous surge of support in the modern, western world to equalize homosexual relationships with heterosexual relationships and liberal and progressive political, social, and media venues don’t seem to bat an eye. And yet, if gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals are “born that way” and have always comprised a certain minority percentage of the general population world-wide, then you’d expect to see some sort of historical record of same-sex relationships, not as a social aberration, but as a recognized and accepted practice.

Supposedly, Boswell’s book establishes this record. If that were the end of it, I probably wouldn’t comment, since societies “normalize” all manner of behaviors and lifestyles that are contrary to the standards of God we see in the Bible, but Boswell takes it one step further (and it’s an important step). He believes that same-sex marriages were officially sanctioned and accepted in the Christian church as early as 100 CE and up through about 1000 CE.

That’s a pretty astonishing claim.

As you can imagine, when this information hit Facebook, it acted as a bold declaration that modern Christianity must now accept same-sex marriages because there was historic validation, and the ancient conditions that spawned these unions in past times were automatically and anachronistically accepted by the social media audience and applied to modern social imperatives.

Again, if this were just a matter of secular commentaries taking this stand, it would be one thing, but liberal religious people, including congregational leaders (not sure of the original Facebook poster’s exact clerical status), supporting Boswell’s book as an endorsement of “marriage equality” in the community of believers in Jesus is something else altogether.

I was curious just how “iron clad” Boswell’s research was and why it’s becoming such a big deal now (the book was published almost twenty years ago). Of course, in 1995, the idea of same-sex marriage was nowhere near being achieved as a social reality as it is in 2013, so that’s one reason and probably the biggest one. Even if one by one, the various States in our union make legal the marriage bond between same-sex partners, it’s seems important for liberal Christianity to also make it acceptable in the wider church body across the board.

But does Boswell’s research hold water?

Roman Archaeologist here, but this area isn’t my specific field. From my very limited knowledge (ie. a single book [:P]), homosexual relations between two male Roman citizens was frowned upon. It’s kind of interesting, actually.

This is because it was alright if a male Roman was the one doing the ‘penetration’, but it was illegal for a male citizen to be ‘penetrated’. So homosexual relations were fine only if the citizen was the ‘dominant’ one, and a non-citizen was on the ‘receiving-end’ so to speak. Homosexuality between citizens was essentially illegal and frowned upon. It seems to be more of a power/dominance thing, than a revulsion towards sodomy in all it’s forms. I’m not sure about gay-marriage in ancient Rome though – as far as I’m aware, Roman marriage was about producing children. Again, not my field so I can’t state it with certainty.

Abrahamic revulsion towards sodomy and homosexuality to me looks like it springs from a different source than Roman traditions. Greek homosexuality is also different from the Roman tradition – as much as we like lumping the two together, the Greeks considered the Romans to be barbarians. They were two different worlds really.

Edit: Ooops, that didn’t answer your question at all [:P] Just a hopefully interesting side blurb! I thought Abrahamic anti-gay sentiment came from the Old Testament though? As far as I’m aware, Christianity was just one of the many eastern cult religions swirling around at the time of the empire. I’ve always seen it as a fad religion that stuck and went mainstream in a major way. The Paleochristian period isn’t my field either though!

-ABF’s comment, Monday 3:58pm
io9.com

boswellOK, ABF is only one person but he/she is at least familiar with the topic from the point of view of a Roman Archaeologist, so he/she has more information about this than almost every one else. I’m looking for one or more responses to Boswell’s position to either support it or refute it in as scientific and neutral manner as possible (good luck, right?) Almost everyone weighing in on this matter has strong personal feelings for or against “marriage equality,” so I’m forced to set aside 95% or more of the responses being provided in the various online venues commenting on the Boswell book.

I suppose I could just buy and read the book (used copies are cheap), but if Boswell has done bad research, how would I know? It’s not my area of expertise. But in the eighteen years since this book has been published, someone who knows what they’re talking about must have written something about it.

But this is not really a book of history, the author’s protestations to the contrary. Boswell insists that his purpose in writing the book is only “to reflect accurately” on what has happened in the past, but it is clear that the book has a contemporary social agenda. “Recognizing that many- -probably most–earlier Western societies institutionalized some form of romantic same-sex union gives us a much more accurate view of the immense variety of human romantic relationships and social responses to them than does the prudish pretense that such ‘unmentionable’ things never happened.” By claiming to discover a historical basis for “same-sex unions” within Christian tradition, Boswell wishes to legitimate the introduction of “gay-marriage” ceremonies in the contemporary Christian church. This gives the historical and philological discussions an immediacy, but also a poignancy. Underneath the argument there is a quiet plea for acceptance.

But the price Boswell exacts from sympathetic readers is high. To make his case he must impose on the texts meanings they cannot bear and wrench them out of their context in medieval Christian society. Only if one loads words and terms–for example, marriage, love– with overtones that are alien (and derived from contemporary Western speech), can one begin to envision what Boswell imagines. No doubt this is why there is so much throat clearing and redefinition in an introductory chapter titled “What’s in a Name?: The Vocabulary of Love and Marriage.”

-Robert L. Wilken
“Procrustean marriage beds”.., Vol. 121, Commonweal, 09-09-1994, pp 24.
quoted at fordham.edu

Robert L. Wilken is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the History of Christianity, University of Virginia, and the author, most recently (at the time his review was written), of The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History (Yale).

I realize this pits one “expert” against another and you just have to decide which one to believe, but it prevents Boswell’s book from scoring a “home run” on the field of marriage equality and the church. According to Wilken, Boswell’s entire argument hinges on the following:

The term “same-sex union” used in the title of this book is a translation of a Greek phrase (adelphopoiia) which if translated literally would be rendered “making into a brother” or “adopting as a brother.” The term is used in medieval Christian manuscripts written in Greek and Slavonic to identify an ecclesiastical rite.

Can we take “making into a brother” or “adopting as a brother” as equivalent to “marriage” between two men? That’s how Boswell is interpreting “adelphopoiia” but his interpretation isn’t the only one possible. Rather than copy and paste large sections of the Wilken article into this blog post, you can click the link I provided and read the review for yourself. In short though, Wilken states that Boswell’s interpretation is far from likely and reasonable.

I also found a much more recent commentary on Boswell’s book at the Roads From Emmaus blog. While the blogger doesn’t seem to have any special qualifications as a historian or linguist, he has done his research and provided links to a number of other criticisms of Boswell’s work that are available for your consideration.

I can’t say that the conclusions presented in Boswell’s book are invalid but I can say that there is enough of a reason based on some scholarly response to not accept said-conclusions out of hand, and such reflexive (knee-jerk) acceptance of the Boswell conclusions is exactly what is happening in online social networking (and this is worrisome since it substitutes fulfilling popular social agendas and emotion, for reason and scientific inquiry).

I present this not because I’m “homophobic,” but rather as a cautionary tale. As the saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Just because one historian wrote a book that arrived at conclusions seemly fitting into modern social/sexual imperatives in our world does not necessarily make said-conclusions automatically accurate, correct, unquestionable, or “bulletproof.”

I don’t doubt Boswell was sincere (he passed away in 1994, prior to the publication of the book in question) although not unbiased (but as I’ve said, it would be difficult to find an unbiased opinion regarding “marriage equality”), but that doesn’t mean we should accept his position regarding the first thousand years of church history relative to homosexual marriage rites. Those unions, as Boswell’s critics state, are just as likely or more than likely describing a financial or other (non-sexual/non-marital) legal relationship between two men.

I can’t say unequivocally that Boswell’s conclusions are wrong, but there seems to be enough disagreement from credible sources to indicate that he may not have been right. In other words, barring further research, the jury is still out on whether or not we have a record of the ancient Christian church performing (romantic, love, sexual) marriage ceremonies between two men.

two-spirit-dualitySo far, Boswell is just about the only source for this type of information about the ancient church, so my hopes at finding a strongly substantiated history of the normalization of homosexuality cross-history and cross-cultural are fading. The only other book I was able to find was edited by Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang called Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. It’s also not a “slam dunk” since the book is a series of scholarly essays describing the occurrence of “sexually ambiguous” members of native American peoples who held unique roles within their people groups, perhaps as shaman or other religious or mystic leaders. This was actually something suggested by sociobiologist E.O. Wilson back in the 1970s (I wrote a paper on some of his research when I was an undergrad). However, the phenomenon of “two-spirit people” is non-conclusive and in any case, has no bearing on the matter of marriage equality, especially within the Christian church.

I can only imagine the criticism I’m going to receive as a result of writing this and the various labels and names I’ll be called. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not trying to hurt anyone and in fact, quite the opposite. As I said, as far as the secular world is concerned, Christianity and individual Christians (including me) don’t have the right to impose our covenant standards on the societies in which we live. However, I have to draw the line with people who call themselves believers and disciples in Messiah (Christ) and who choose to accept a single publication as rock-solid evidence that Christianity has accepted and endorsed same-sex marriage in the past and thus must be compelled to do so now.

The work of a single individual without corroborating scientific investigation and peer review is does not provide sufficient and compelling reasons for Christianity as an institution to change its current interpretation of the Biblical prohibitions regarding homosexual behavior, let alone to begin officiating over same-sex marriages across the board.

Addendum: After I wrote this blog, I came across an article at the Washington Post called Trading yarmulke for blond wig, Israeli Orthodox gay Jew becomes drag queen. I know it doesn’t have a direct application to the specifics of my missive, but it’s related enough that I thought it was important to share.

DOMA, Prop 8, and a Guy Named Moshe

gay_marriage_scotusGrowing up in an ultra-Orthodox family in Brooklyn in the 1970s, Moshe struggled with his homosexuality. “I went to yeshiva and there were no gay characters on television,” said Moshe, who asked that we not use his real name. There was no discussion of gay issues at the yeshiva, either, he remembers: Everyone was implicitly taught that the only way to channel their sexuality was to get married—to women, of course. At 22, Moshe did just that, hoping he could “marry the gay away.” “We dated for 12 days,” he recalled. That was in 1994, before the popular advent of the Internet. At the time, Moshe didn’t realize there were other Orthodox men grappling with their sexuality, too.

-Michael Orbach
“For LGBT Orthodox Jews, Growth of Social Media Creates a Safe Space Online”
Tablet Magazine

I would be remiss if I ignored the historic happenings of today. That is, that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down both Prop 8 and a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This is huge. Finally, the “land of the free” is beginning to honestly recognize a neglected portion of its population. We are at a time when 12 states within the nation allow for same sex marriage and more are following suit. (Except for my state, Indiana, with its regressive HJR-6.) The ruling that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional is a step in the right direction for everyone. Hello, 21st century! While the whole thing needs to be scrapped, at least it allows all citizens who are legally married to be recognized at the federal level.

One big reason I left Christianity was its position on LGBT rights. I plan to write more about this in my post about my spiritual journey to Judaism, however I am going to bring it up here because, well, it is a big deal for me.

-Lynn
“Historic Day for America”
FollowingRuth.com

I’ve been debating on whether or not to even speak to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that relate to the LGBT community and what has been called “marriage equality.” This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged on the intersection (or collision) between faith and homosexuality but I seem to do so sparingly (which I’m sure is a good thing).

I actually started to blog on the Supreme Court’s decision and it’s impact last week, but finally decided against publishing my comments and, uncharacteristically for me, deleted the entire blog post. However, I subsequently read Michael Orbach’s missive at Tablet and it took the hoopla, liberal marketing spin, and mainstream news media hype out of the equation and presented instead a human face full of human pain.

At least as far as the Torah goes, homosexual acts between two men in the covenant are prohibited (the section I emphasized is important) while Torah seems to be silent on sexual acts between two women (Torah has more to say about prohibiting sex between a man and an animal or between various relatives).

The New Testament relates prohibitions against sexual immorality, but some say it’s up to interpretation to determine if this includes sexual acts between two men or not (but they may not have read 1 Corinthians 6:9 along with other such verses). Given that what we call “morality” in the Bible tends to survive intact between the testaments, I’m willing to accept that if the prohibition of sexual contact between two men under covenant is valid in the Old Testament, it’s valid in the New.

I know what you’re going to say. Eating pork and shellfish is prohibited in the Old Testament of the Children of Israel, but it presents no problem at all for Christians. In addition, more liberal elements of both Christianity and Judaism have chosen to reinterpret and reapply older sections of the Bible to mean now what they didn’t seem to mean previously.

But I always get a creepy feeling when churches and synagogues do this, as if those communities are made up of people who don’t really want to give up “religion” but don’t want to appear contrary to the social imperatives of the 21st century either. The “safe” bet is to turn down the Biblical rhetoric and to rev up political correctness. Then everybody’s happy, right?

I’ve spoken before on the question of just how far we can stretch hermeneutics to accommodate human needs and frankly, human wants and emotions. Any Biblical purest would rein in such hermeneutics considerably, but while I’m conservative, I’m not entirely rigid.

lgbt-safe-zone-jewishIf we must maintain a prohibition against same-sex sex within Christianity and Judaism, let us admit that it is within Christianity and Judaism. We can’t hang our morals around the necks of those people who choose not to join those religious traditions, and having said that, we don’t generally complain about men and women living together and having children without the parents being married, Christians don’t complain about unbelievers who choose to mow their lawns and go shopping on Sunday (although many Christians choose to mow their lawns and go shopping on Sunday as well), and observant Jews don’t complain if the goyim choose to enjoy a big, hot, steaming plate of scrimp scampi or devour a (pork) pepperoni, (pork) sausage, and cheese pizza (mixing meat and dairy along the way).

But Christianity and Judaism tend to go out of their way to hold homosexual acts as a special sin that somehow is more “icky” than opposite sex unmarried sex or just about any other sin we can think of.

But what about “Moshe” (not his real name) who is an Orthodox Jew and who has struggled with his homosexuality most of his life?

The Episcopalian church and the Reform synagogue would have no problem with a gay person being in their midst, being openly gay, being in a relationship with another gay person, and worshiping within their communities. Moshe would find a home within Reform Judaism, but Moshe is Orthodox. His life would be a lot easier if he chose a different religious path (or no religious path at all), but as far as I can tell from the article, that is not who he is.

Gays may be celebrating in San Francisco and in Hollywood, but not in Crown Heights (Brooklyn). The Tablet article states that the Internet has provided a semi-safe haven for Orthodox Jews to discuss their homosexuality, but for Moshe, that wasn’t enough.

Surprisingly, the outing wasn’t as bad as Moshe feared. While there was a backlash, it was nowhere near what he had expected. He doesn’t physically live in that community anymore, but he still considers himself Orthodox. When he returns to visit, Moshe said, he’s greeted with kindness and respect. “What ended up happening is I broke the stereotype,” he said. “People started seeing me as Moshe who happens to be gay, not as the homosexuality defining me. … I feel honest. I feel whole. I feel like I’m done hiding who I am.”

I suppose that’s why I’m writing this now. Moshe (who happens to be gay) has a human face. He’s not a monster. He’s not evil (depending on your point of view, I suppose). He’s a person, just like you and I are people.

And Moshe isn’t an anomaly in his environment.

At last count, there are several Orthodox LGBT support groups with an online presence, in addition to Keshet, including Eshel, which was started by a collaborative effort that included Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi; the Dina Listserv for Orthodox and formerly Orthodox transsexuals; Tirzah: a community of Frum Queer Women; and Temicha, an online support group for Orthodox Jewish parents of gay children. There are countless blogs, from teens writing about their experiences being openly gay inside a Modern Orthodox environment, and a blog from an openly gay Orthodox man living in the Syrian Jewish community, the melancholy It’s Like Disapproving of Rain blog, to an Orthodox teenager writing about her life with gay parents. A quick search on Facebook with the words “Jewish” and “gay” will lead to several pages, from a gay pride minyan on the Upper West Side to small group called Orthodox Jews Against Homophobia.

frum_lgbt_internetUm…wow.

One of my sons has two close friends who he’s known from childhood who are gay. I’ve had next door neighbors in my suburban community in southwestern Idaho who are gay. People of faith, like it or not, encounter gay men and women, perhaps every day. We can’t keep treating them as if they are walking, talking sin. We can’t keep treating them as if they are not human beings. We can’t keep treating them as if they weren’t created in the image of God.

We live in a nation of laws. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted a portion of the constitution to mean that within particular contexts, men married to men and women married to women have certain rights. The State of California is very likely to join twelve other states in our union in offering same-sex couples the opportunity to marry under state law. But while gay couples in California start making wedding plans and while the married spouse of a same-sex partner who works for the Federal government is arranging to be put on his or her spouse’s medical insurance plan, what are we planning to do in the church…if anything?

Or should we be planning to do anything at all?

The apostle Paul spent a great deal of his time crisscrossing various portions of the Roman empire, which was a legal structure that permitted or commanded a wide variety of activities that violated his personal and corporate ethical and moral code. Did Paul arrange protests in Rome to demand that the empire change their laws? Did he make homosexual activities between non-believing Romans and Greeks the main focus of his letters or his preaching?

We don’t see any of this. It is true that he focused much of his time on what he saw as immoral actions within the community of faith. I think that’s as far as we get to go as religious people, but having said that, it would mean the Orthodox Jewish community does have rights to hold members of that community to certain behavioral standards, just the same as the church, and just the same a Paul held his churches to the standards he considered right and proper as a disciple of Jesus.

But to the degree that Paul didn’t try to lead a revolution to change the laws of Rome relative to homosexual behavior or anything else, what should we religious people do once the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution to say that the laws of our nation cannot interfere with what are considered rights between two same-sex individuals who want to be legally married?

jewish-traditionMoshe seems to have found a space that he can live inside of and still be an Orthodox Jew. Whether you or I agree with that doesn’t really matter because we aren’t Orthodox Jews (well, I’m not, anyway) and we aren’t in charge of Moshe’s life. If he’s accountable to God, then it is God who will judge, just as God will judge you and me. If being gay is a sin, then God will judge that sin just like the sins of sex between opposite sex couples outside of marriage, theft, murder, tax evasion (another form of theft), cursing at the person who cut us off in traffic last week, and all of the other sinful things that religious and non-religious people do on a more or less daily basis.

I’m not willing to get all worked up because something happened in the U.S. government that I may not personally agree with. If I did, I’d constantly be upset about something (and I know people who are constantly upset and just for that reason). As my wife recently reminded me, I’m pretty good are reading about religion and writing about religion, but truth be told, I could be better at doing religion.

Blogging is like complaining about gay people: it’s easier and safer to do than to actually live a life that is consistent with our high-flying morals. I…all of us, can either curse sinners or live righteously. Which one do you think will matter more to the people around you and to God?

However, I have a few parting thoughts. Although you may think what I am about to say is not specifically related to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, the shifting of laws and perceptions as related to the LGBT community in our nation and around the world are sending now and in the future, wide reaching ripples that we should not ignore

I am deeply concerned (if it is true) about the relationship between adult clergy at the Vatican and underage boys. This is an unsubstantiated allegation, but regardless of what the LGBT community may perceive as its “rights,” one of those rights is not to impose its political, social, or sexual imperatives on children. One of its rights is not to compel underage children to have sexual contact with adults, regardless of “orientation.”

coy-mathis-story-transsexualSpeaking of children, while the LGBT community may be celebrating a victory in terms of six-year old Coy Mathis, a child born as a boy but who now lives as a girl (Coy’s parents sued their school district and Coy is now allowed to use the girls restroom at school), I can’t imagine how any sane and responsible licensed clinical psychologist can determine that a child, at age four years (which is when Coy’s parents took Coy to the psychologist), is “transsexual.” I would definitely like to see the clinical research studies and the battery of testing involved that even makes this diagnosis possible.

I am deeply concerned that the adults involved in Coy’s life, that is Coy’s parents and the aforementioned psychologist, are imposing their own personal, social, and political agendas on a child who can not possibly understand the implications of such a decision. I know that adults impose decisions on children all the time “for their own good,” and most of the time, those decisions are necessary for the child’s well-being, but I do not understand how supporting this sort of identity shift on one so young is at all reasonable, responsible, and healthy.

I’m willing to exceed my own stated limits and the limits of the Bible in defense of children. The rights of adults relative to sexuality, lifestyle, and the legal and social bonds of marriage are one thing, but projecting such profound needs, wants, and desires on vulnerable and easily influenced children is quite another story.

And I wish they’d just leave Bert and Ernie out of it.

Love, God, the World, and Everything

“Just as the bride circles around the groom as an expression of yearning and love, so do we circle Jerusalem’s gates as we express our yearning to see it rebuilt, our yearning for the days when we will all be able to go up to the Temple Mount and to the [rebuilt] Temple, and not just walk on the perimeter road that surrounds the walls”, said Nadia Matar.

The18th Annual Walk Around The Walls – Jerusalem
By Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar
As quoted from Magic City Morning Star

The Jerusalem Talmud makes an astounding statement: “The generation in which the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple, is not rebuilt is to be regarded as though the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed in that generation.” The explanation is simple. When we mourn for the Beit Hamikdash, we are not mourning for a building that was destroyed 2,000 years ago. Our mourning must be directed to the realization that each generation is obligated to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash and that our failure to do so has little to do with politics, the debate over who has control over the Temple Mount, or the threat of the Arab nations to go to war if we disturb the mosques that sit atop the Temple Mount. The Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt when a sufficient number of Jews make a commitment to change their lives. When will the Messiah come? As the Torah says, “Today, if you hearken to My voice.”

-Rabbi Pinchas Stolper
“Why Do We Still Mourn”
Excerpted from Living Beyond Time: The Mystery and Meaning of the Jewish Festivals
quoted from Aish.com

I really thought I was done blogging about Tisha B’Av and the Temple and was planning on continuing to write about how we in the community of faith can love, but Rabbi Stolper’s article was recommended to me by a friend on Facebook (one who I’ve met in real life…thanks, Michele), so I thought I should read it.

And I couldn’t stop reading it, and thinking, and then writing.

When writing about Tisha B’Av, I naturally tend to focus on grief and loss. It never occurred to me to see the annual event of marching around Jerusalem as an act of love. In retrospect, it should have been obvious to me. Now it always will be.

But as I mentioned yesterday, how we love and even why we love can be terribly misunderstood. When a Christian says that he or she loves all people made in the image of God, including gay people, the LGBT community and the atheist world tends to doubt that Christian’s sincerity, at least unless the Christian follows up by saying they wholeheartedly support “marriage equality.” I mean, how can you love gay people if you don’t support their desire to marry? But then, how can you love God, love the teachings of Christ, believe his definition that marriage occurs exclusively between a man and a woman (see Matthew 19:4-6 as it references Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24) and still be expected to love a gay person only by supporting “marriage equality?”

The answer is that Christians will express their love in many and varied forms as God defines love, but not as absolute agreement and approval of all progressive social and political expectations.

But when you love Jerusalem:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy! –Psalm 137:5-6 (ESV)

But there’s a problem here:

Palestinians accused U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday of undermining peace prospects by calling Jerusalem “the capital of Israel”, ignoring their own claims to the city and most world opinion.

Romney used the term on Sunday to sustained applause from his Israeli audience in the Holy City, during a trip to present himself as Israel’s closest ally ahead of the November 6 election contest with President Barack Obama.

“We condemn his statements. Those who speak about the two-state solution should know that there can be no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters on Monday.

by Jihan Abdalla
for Reuters
as quoted from news.yahoo.com

The Jewish people and Israel aren’t the only ones to have an interest in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Does loving Jerusalem, desiring that the Temple be rebuilt, and longing for the coming of the Messiah mean that the Jews fail at loving the Arab people? Do they even have an obligation to love and respect them? For that matter, since we Christians have a vested interest in seeing the Temple rebuilt (since prophecy states the Messiah; Jesus will be the one to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem), do we have an obligation to love the Arab people who oppose this prophecy?

I can’t speak for the Jewish people, but as I said yesterday, as Christians we are obligated to love, even our “enemy.” Remember though, this isn’t “enemy” as in an enemy in war, but someone we encounter, someone in our environment, someone who needs God’s love as we can express it though acts of compassion and charity. Who’s to say who is our “enemy” or a “neighbor?”

Which doesn’t mean we have to agree with their politics or even their religion.

I can’t answer the question of how the Temple will be rebuilt and what happens to El Aqsa mosque, which is currently located on the Temple Mount. I leave that up to God. However, some Jewish people have a more definite solution as we see in Katsover’s and Matar’s news story:

Later in his (MK Prof. Aryeh Eldad, co-leader of the Erets Israel Knesset Lobby) speech he referred to the future of the El Aqsa mosque, located on the Temple Mount, as he sees it, and said that we can learn one thing from Beit El’s Ulpana Hill deal, and that is the idea of sawing. “There is one thing we can all learn from one of the most questionable deals we have made lately, and that is what happened at the Ulpana Hill, where they decided to dismantle and relocate the houses, rather than destroy them. At least, when the time comes to reconstruct the Temple, and that time is coming, we will dismantle and relocate the “house” that is currently there. We will cut it up and they can relocate it wherever they want, because that’s where the Third Temple belongs”, called out Eldad over the applause of the crowd.

I can’t imagine many Palestinian Arabs “feeling the love” for Prof. Eldad as he compares disassembling and moving the El Aqsa mosque to the way Jewish homes have been taken apart and removed from so-called “occupied” land, and reassembled in those parts of Israel the Palestinians formally recognize as Israel (at least for the time being). I can imagine that they’d experience Prof. Eldad’s words as about as loving as those of Mr. Romney when he declared that all of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

In other words, Palestinian Arabs would not hear any love at all.

It seems as if, at least from a Christian point of view, we have a conflict between our religious and theological priorities and the command to love other human beings. If we, for example, insist that “marriage equality” is in direct opposition to the definition of marriage that Jesus gave us, then we are perceived as not loving gay people. Or if we, using another example, believe that Jesus will return and construct a third, physical temple on the Temple Mount in Holy Jerusalem and re-establish Israel as not only a Jewish nation, but the head of all the nations of the earth, the Arab world will certainly not experience us as loving them, either.

So is this an either/or situation? Do we either stick to our theological guns, or toss the Bible, God, and faith out the window in order to blend in and disappear into the progressive social and political masses?

Or is it an either/or situation?

We are often told by atheists, progressives, and politically liberal religious people that Jesus loved unconditionally. But did he?

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:34-46 (ESV)

I have to believe that Jesus loves unconditionally as God the Father loves humanity unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean we are all free to do as we please with no consequences, just because of that love. Apparently, Jesus has standards and expectations. Not everyone will be acceptable to him in the final judgment. There will be distinctions between people depending on how or if they expressed love in terms of feeding and clothing the needy and visiting the hospitalized and imprisoned, to take the examples presented in the verses above.

Jesus didn’t say that we had to love other people by agreeing with everyone’s social, political, religious, and national priorities. Loving others, as we see here, doesn’t obligate us to adopt everyone else’s behavioral and social desires, just as God’s unconditional love for us doesn’t absolve us from the consequences of our disobedience to Him.

I was recently reminded that the New Testament uses 1 Corinthians 13 as the “crystalization” of Christian love. Love is considered the greatest expression of faith and indeed, is greater than both faith and hope.

But love is not blind and it is not ignorant, nor should it be swayed by whatever issue is considered important or critical in this week’s mainstream news stories. But love is patient and love is kind and love perseveres, so when we struggle with the world around us, when we are condemned and called names because our love does not precisely match up with another person’s wants and desires, our response is not to attack those who are attacking us. To do so, makes our words nothing more than a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

We must remember that God has been infinitely patient with us. It’s not that he has approved of all of our foolishness, our mistakes, our willful disobedience. But we know that He is slow to anger and abundant in mercy and kindness. If we’ve learned anything at all as disciples of the Master, it’s that we need to be patient, too. We must have patience with our critics and patience with ourselves when we want to respond with anything less than grace.

And we must remember that the source of our love doesn’t flow from today’s headline story on MSNBC, or what happens to be trending on twitter or Facebook. The source of our love surges like waves directly from the heart of God.

Trust is the child of love, for where love showers down, trust will grow.

And since it is a child, the reciprocal is also true: As the child’s call awakens a parent from deep sleep, so trust awakens the love that gave birth to it.

Provide love, trust will be born from it.
Demonstrate your trust, and it will awaken love.

So it is with a child and a parent. So it is with two good friends. So it is with any marriage. Your love may hibernate in deep sleep, but you have trust that the other holds love inside, and in that trust, love awakens once more.

So it is with the love affair between your soul and her Beloved above. Trust that He is in love with you, and your love will awaken.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Love and Trust”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Balak: The Good, The Bad, and The Gay

In some years, Parshas Balak is read together with Parshas Chukas. For it is the selfless commitment implied by the name Chukas which makes possible the transformation of evil into good. When a person fans the spark of G-dliness in his soul and expresses it through unbounded devotion to the Torah, he influences his environment, negating undesirable influences and transforming them into good.

And as this pattern spreads throughout the world, we draw closer to the fulfillment of the prophecies mentioned in this week’s Torah reading: (Numbers 24:17, cited by Rashi, Rambam, and others as a reference to Mashiach.) “A star shall emerge from Yaakov, and a staff shall arise in Israel, crushing all of Moab’s princes, and dominating all of Seth’s descendants.”

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Remembering What Should Be Forgotten”
In the Garden of the Torah series
Commentary on Torah Portion Balak
Chabad.org

Just to let you know, I’m probably going to break every rule that was ever made about writing a commentary on a Torah Portion. In fact, it will probably seem like I’m stretching credibility beyond all reasonable limits. So if you want to take exception for the content of today’s “morning meditation,” you’ll have to look elsewhere. Oh, and today’s “meditation” is really long. Sorry. Just worked out like that. Remember, you have been warned.

In reading Rabbi Touger’s statements which I quoted above, I was captured by phrase, “negating undesirable influences and transforming them into good.” On the surface, they sound a lot like something many Christians would be familiar with.

What Satan intended for evil, God intended for good.

This isn’t in the Bible exactly, and it’s actually adapted from something Joseph said to his brothers (the ones who tried to kill him) after Joseph revealed his true identity to them (along with the fact that he was still alive).

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. –Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

You can probably point to events in your life when something happened that looked like it was going to be trouble or something actually caused trouble, but it eventually worked out to be some sort of advantage or had a good outcome.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. I just wanted to get that particularly viewpoint out of the way.

The evil “wizard” Balaam was hired by Balak, a King, to use his abilities to curse the Children of Israel. If you have even a tenuous familiarity with this week’s Torah Portion, you know about this. You should also know that God told Balaam that he was forbidden to perform the curses and, as it turns out, every time Balaam tried to curse the Israelites at Balak’s behest, he uttered blessings instead.

What was intended to be evil actually turned out to be a good thing.

However, we could spin this idea in another direction. We could say that something that was once considered evil (or undesirable, or unacceptable, or intolerable) has turned out to be good.

Such as being gay and even gay sex.

I separate the two because being gay isn’t really an issue in the Bible since God doesn’t forbid a person from being attracted to the same-sex. He simply forbids the Israelite men from having sex with other men.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. –Leviticus 18:22 (ESV)

In virtually the same breath, God also forbids an Israelite man from having sex with a woman during her menstrual period, having sex with his neighbor’s wife, and having sex with an animal. Most of these “thou shalt nots” make sense to Christians and they are all part of the list of unlawful sexual relations we find in Leviticus 18 (which a friend of mine calls, “the icky chapter” of Leviticus).

Progressive liberal thought has, for decades, supported the right of people to behave freely in accordance with their sexual orientation, be that straight, gay, bi, or transsexual, but in recent months, it’s almost become “popular” to be gay or to be straight and to support gay causes. We see this in everything from President Obama’s public statements supporting gay marriage to how gay relationships are being depicted in comic books.

Politics and children’s entertainment make strange bedfellows.

But it brings up the question that if mainstream politics, entertainment, social discourse, and even comic books are progressing beyond mere tolerance of the LGBT community into active support and promotion of what is being called “marriage equality,” then what impact will this have on the world of religion?

Greenberg-weddingAfter all, atheists and progressives have traditionally portrayed religious people in general and Christians in particular as being backward, superstitious, intolerant, and even bigoted. With the continued dynamic shift in attitudes toward supporting LGBT in the larger culture, what increased social pressure will be applied to people of faith who have long been considered (and in most cases, rightly so) anti-gay? Has acceptance or rejection of LGBT and specifically marriage equality become the litmus test of the progressive left as applied to religion?

It would seem so. But contrary to how Christianity has been painted with the same, broad brush by the media, how the church (I use that term in the most generic sense) responds to homosexuality including homosexual acts, is split along political lines (and Jesus is once again being dragged into the political arena, whether he wants to be or not).

It’s in these contentious times that I do what culturally-concerned Christians should do — turn to Will Ferrell for insight. And insight he brings us…

Yes, it’s the legendary “dear Lord Baby Jesus” scene (from the 2006 film Talladega Nights), where Ricky Bobby prays to the Jesus he likes best, which of course triggers an intensely thought-provoking discussion:

Kyle Naughton, Jr: “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt because it says, like, I wanna be formal, but I’m here to party too. I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.”

Walker (or is it Texas Ranger?): “I like to picture Jesus as a ninja, fighting off evil samurai.”

The whole scene is basically a three minute summary of much of what passes for contemporary Christian theology. We invent the Jesus we like best, name that version the God we serve (or partner with), and then find the church (or friend group) that aligns with our vision and — voila! — we’ve got our faith. To be clear, our version of Jesus typically corresponds with some of his attributes, but the picture is always so woefully incomplete.

Gay Rights Jesus is about sex, love, acceptance, and — above all — no judgment (except of course, you can judge someone else’s alleged intolerance). Gay Rights Jesus isn’t bound by your antiquated notions of sexual morality anymore than he’s bound by antiquated dietary rules that maybe involve shellfish . . . or something.

-from “Homosexuality, Morality, and Talladega Nights Theology”
Patheos.com

Irreverent though the quote may be, it tells a certain amount of truth about how we treat religion, adapting it (and Jesus) to fit the moral, ethical, and popular agendas of our society and ourselves.

But it prompts the nasty question of whether or not “commandments” can be adapted, or were intended to be adapted based on the needs of each generation? A blatant example from Judaism are things like cars and microwave ovens that didn’t exist when the Torah was given at Sinai, and they still didn’t exist during the time of Jesus or the later Talmudic period. Once they were invented, someone asked a Rabbi if they could be used on Shabbat, and Rabbinic authority had to consider the Torah and the relevant halakah and render a decision. The commandments regarding Shabbat had to be adapted to fit the needs of the current generation.

But homosexuality wasn’t “invented” recently since the Bible records the prohibition of an Israelite man having sex with another man back in the Torah.

If I were to stop with Judaism, I suppose I could say that the prohibition should remain intact unless some significant evidence is brought forth stating that the Leviticus 18 portion of the Torah was only intended for the ancient Israelites but not modern generations of Jews (but then you have to start asking questions about all of the other forbidden sexual relationships listed in Leviticus 18).

But how many of the Torah prohibitions regarding sex trickle down to Christianity?

In response, it is not enough to point out that Jesus never said anything explicitly about homosexuality or homosexuals. Since he was Jewish, silence cannot easily be filled with a viewpoint that was not common in Judaism in the first century – however much one might go on to insist that Jesus’ views did not always mirror what most people thought.

Jesus taught us to allow love for neighbor and concern for human beings to trump other concerns – even if it leads to healing on the Sabbath or eating sacred bread. Even if it means to breaking other laws, laws which according to the Bible were laid down by God himself.

Dr. James F. McGrath, June 29, 2012
“The Well-Thought-Out Christian Rationale Behind Christian Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians”
Patheos.com

ShabbatDr. McGrath makes the classic Christian assumption that Jesus broke (and therefore invalidated) the commandments regarding the Sabbath (which is highly debatable) and thus, Jesus could have and probably did break other commandments in Judaism including, in this case, those prohibiting homosexual behavior among the Jews.

If we follow Dr. McGrath’s line of thinking and assume it is all correct (and since he’s the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis, he’s got a lot of “cred” behind him), then we might make a “quick and dirty” conclusion that Jesus not only didn’t have a thing against homosexual behavior among the Jews (and by extension, the later Christians), but he was all for it (Keep in mind that Rabbi David Hartman says, “The Sabbath, therefore, does not force us to choose between a theocentric focus on the world and the dignity and significance of human existence,” so healing on the Shabbat does not particularly constitute breaking the Shabbat).

Actually, I’m not sure I can take Dr. McGrath’s commentary that far (since he doesn’t), but he does say this:

Ancient Israel’s marriage laws reflected those of the time, and the workings of the marriage institution as an element of patriarchal society allowing men to treat women as property so as to ensure that their other property passed to their legitimate heirs. Times have changed, marriage has changed, and none of the conservative Christians I know who are married are involved in anything that mirrors “Biblical marriage” in all its features.

And so of course our thinking about marriage reflects the wider perspective of our time and place. Thinking about marriage among the people of God always has. And as with so many issues, such as women’s equality and slavery, we sometimes advocating the setting aside of practices that can be justified by careful exegesis of certain Biblical passages, on the basis of more fundamental Biblical principles. We pick and choose from both the Bible and our culture based on overarching principles and convictions about the centrality of love, the importance of justice, concern for the poor, and so on.

I’m fully willing to admit that there are a lot of things in Paul’s letters that I can accept as situational and that were intended to apply only to the specific group Paul was addressing in a certain place at a certain time. But how far can we “relativize” the Bible and the teachings of Jesus before we become guilty of the following?

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight! –Isaiah 5:20-21 (ESV)

How about this one?

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. –2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)

Even if I were to take a conservative Christian approach regarding homosexuality and homosexual acts, I’d have to admit that the commandments can only apply to religious Jews and to Christians. You have to be a member of the covenant before you come under the commandments (OK, Christians believe in a final judgment of all humanity by God, but that’s up to Him, not us). A conservative Christian is able to apply the Bible commandment prohibiting homosexual acts to someone performing such acts as a practicing Christian. However, he couldn’t do so regarding two men who are atheists, gay, and having sex anymore than he could against a man and woman who are atheists, living together as an unmarried couple and having sex (you don’t see a lot of Christian groups protesting against the latter these days).

As far as I can tell, the church has every right to police itself (and given the abuses in the church that occasionally come to light in the public media, perhaps they should) but they cannot apply their (our) own commandments and prohibitions onto the larger culture and attempt (and this is an extreme example) to legislate the Bible into local, state, or national law (even though significant portions of our laws are based on the Bible).

I know that’s what some Christians don’t want to hear.

Getting back to earlier portions of this blog post, are liberal Christians guilty of choosing “baby Jesus” or “Ninja Jesus” or “Gay Rights Jesus” over the closest approximation of “real Jesus” we can gather from the actual New Testament texts to satisfy modern cultural imperatives, or are, as Dr. McGrath suggests, we allowed to adapt the teachings of Jesus to be more appropriate with the needs of the current generations and even to override certain commandments for the sake of loving our neighbor unconditionally and without reservation under all circumstances, no matter what?

There’s no denying that there is an enormously complex set of variables in operation here. For many Christians, just policing their own backyard relative to homosexuality isn’t enough and they want to make the larger culture more “comfortable” for them/us. However, for the past 2,000 years, Jews have constantly lived as a subset of a larger culture that absolutely wasn’t comfortable to them and that existed in complete opposition to all of the commandments held more dear in religious Judaism.

And they managed to get by.

Why does Christianity expect anything different to happen to them?

Last November, I blogged on similar issues in a missive called At the Intersection of Intolerance and Humanity. I don’t believe that the church as the right to commit wholesale condemnation of all LGBT people everywhere as people because of the moral and religious commitments we’ve made as Christians. Perhaps we have the right to do so in our own churches, but this becomes problematic if your church accepts heterosexual couples living together as “OK” but not gay couples living together.

Whether you approve or disapprove of homosexual behavior based on your personal feelings and/or your understanding of the Bible doesn’t mean you have the right to disregard someone as a human being. Jesus expected us to, among other things, visit people in prison, meaning he wanted us to extend compassion to people who are convicted of crimes (and probably guilty of sins) and to treat them with respect. Why is being gay so much worse than being a bank robber, or someone who beat his wife, or even a murderer?

I’m not a big fan of having the larger, popular culture shove their values and ideals down my throat just because there are more of them than there are of me and they have the support of MSNBC and CNN. On the other hand, they do force the body of faith to confront moral issues that we’d just as soon avoid or even condemn, without actually examining what the Bible seems to be telling us, and especially without examining our own thoughts and feelings.

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak offered Balaam a small fortune if Balaam would consent to curse the Children of Israel, and given the fact that the evil Balaam could even speak with God, we have every reason to believe such a curse would have worked to the detriment of the Israelites. But what Balak intended for evil, God chose to make good. Are we to go so far as to say that what God considered evil in Leviticus, He chose to make good in the 21st century?

I don’t know if I can go that far. The popular media outlets are choosing to depict the LGBT community as “especially good” these days. We believers aren’t supposed to decide which people we love and which we hate. (Matthew 5:46). Although we are held to a higher moral standard (atheists and progressives would debate this) than the world around us, that isn’t a mandate to circle our wagons and to restrict love only to our own groups. If God so loved the world, the entire world, and everyone in it (John 3:16) while we were all still enemies of Christ (Romans 5:10), who are we to do any less?

Don’t turn good into evil and evil into good, but do good in order to overcome evil (Romans 12:21). I think rewriting the Bible to fit a modern moral agenda is going too far. But instead of overcoming what we believe is evil by force, we can do what Paul suggested in Romans 12:20 whilst quoting Proverbs 25:21-22

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Doing good doesn’t mean surrendering to evil. It means surrendering to God.

Good Shabbos.

Addendum: For more on loving your enemies, you might want to consider New Testament Scholar Larry Hurtado’s recent (and short) essay, Hermeneutics of ‘Agape’. Also, Dr. Stuart Dauermann presents a somewhat related blog post (not incredibly related but when you read it, you’ll see why I’m including it here) called Re-masculinizing the Church and Synagogue – Toward Addressing the Problem. Food for thought.