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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Matthew 7

7‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

Luke 6

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;

Especially for those of us raised in a protestant tradition, it is often hard to wrap our minds around the idea that Jesus is conveying in these passages. Often we think that if we accept Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, then our sins are forgiven. And we think while we will still one day have to give an account for our lives, we will not face judgment for Jesus has already paid it. However, both Jesus and Paul paint a very different picture in regard to certain actions, mainly, judging others and not forgiving others.

Romans 2

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2You say, ‘We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.’ 3Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11For God shows no partiality.

So what is it that they are saying? First, we need to note a few things. One, is that all have sinned and have fallen under judgment. Two, all will have to give an account of their lives and deeds. Three, God through Christ has offered grace to all who will accept it and that grace is sufficient to cover all sins such that there will be no condemnation for those in Christ. This is the picture of what this looks like…

Both the believer and the unbeliever face equal judgment from sin, but the believer who accepts God’s grace does not face condemnation from his sin.

But as it so often happens, believers tend to judge others for their sin despite the fact that they accept that God is not judging them. When they judge others, they hold them to some standard in which they are higher on the moral scale than the person they judge. They in fact are claiming that even without God’s grace on their life, according to this scale they impose, they would be okay but the sinner would not. In doing so, they reject God’s grace in the area that they judge others. This is why Jesus warns against hypocrisy and Paul says that even when you judge in truth you pass judgment on yourself. To judge another is to elevate yourself, and deny the power of grace in the area you judge.

And so very literally to the level which one judges others, that one will be found accountable on the day of judgment, because he has denied grace in the areas to which he has judged others.

More troubling however is for those who do not forgive others as their Heavenly Father has forgiven them. For to withhold forgiveness to another who has wronged you is to hold your idea of legitimate forgiveness above that of God’s. When you do not forgive others you reject the legitimacy of God’s forgiveness on your own life, and that is something of which we probably don’t want to think about the consequences on judgment day.

To accept God’s grace and forgiveness truly means to accept their full implications on one’s life. When we reject grace and forgiveness on others for any reason we are also rejecting God’s grace and forgiveness in our hearts and minds for we display that we do not truly believe in them or think that we are not truly in need of these.

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Given the pull of the culture wars in Christianity over issues like abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, etc., and the division within the church over how to approach these issues (among others- like chastity), I have wrestled with the question of where a solid foundation for Christian morality comes from. I have however, come to terms with how Christians ought to engage these issues and I want to kind of walk you through my reasoning on how Christian morality ought to look.

Growing up as a Christian I was taught that right and wrong were essentially defined by the commands of God as witnessed in Scripture. This meant primarily the Old Testament law (with exceptions for those parts which were revoked or seemingly revoked in the N.T.), the commands/advice of the apostles in the epistles, and the teachings of Jesus (ironically being more vague and more demanding so usually confined within the framework of the other two sources). Other Old Testament books are also used for rules on some issues but not quite as frequently. And so, linking all these scriptural commands together formed a decently neat set of rules and guidelines for Christian ethics under most situations.

The problems with this view of ethics however, forced me to abandon it quite readily. To begin let us consider the O.T. Law. The problems for using it for ethical guidelines are as follows:

A)     It was written for a culture in a time, place, and mindset, very unlike our own. And so determining what purpose an individual law served can be difficult.

B)      The Bible places some doubt on whether the Law (parts or entirety) is truly from God (Mark 10:5, Jeremiah 7:22-23, Galatians 3:19-20)

C)      It can be demonstrated that the law does not reveal the moral will of God as revealed in His perfect revelation, Jesus Christ (Deut. 24:1-4, Mark 10:5)(Deuteronomy 19:21, Matt. 5:38-39)(Deut. 22:22, John 8:5-11)

D)     It can be argued that the primary purpose of the law was to serve Israel’s election not reveal God’s moral will (https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/jesus-as-the-final-sacrifice-animal-sacrifices-penal-substitution-and-the-truth-about-election/)

E)      Jesus’ summary of the moral point of the law and the prophets (between which exist quite a bit of tension) is that we are to love God and Love each other (Matt. 22:27, Matt. 7:12), which admittedly, is not the result or point of following merely the commandments of the law.

I could elaborate on these points but I want to simply demonstrate an overview of why I think looking for ethical guidance in the Old Testament Law is not a useful endeavor.

As for the advice given by the apostles, I do believe it has some use in determining Christian morality, but that use is still somewhat limited. Here we have advice (and I stress advice and not moral command because Paul himself stresses such) given to specific Christians concerning specific problems within specific contexts. And so to draw general statements of proper conduct from them is difficult at best because we need to understand the problems the writer is trying to address but also because at the end of the day this is still just advice and not moral law.

Turning to Jesus’ teaching we finally have some solid ground. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And all authority under heaven has been given to Him. The Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Christ ought to take precedence over any moral teaching elsewhere in the Bible and be used to interpret them, not be interpreted by them. The problem with emphasizing a Christ centered morality however, is that Christ does not give very specific commands. If we wanted to look for what Jesus taught on homosexuality, or chastity for example, we might be hard pressed to find something tangible. And this is where conservative churches tend to criticize liberal churches. A liberal church might put the “Golden Rule” as the highest moral command, but the application of very general statements like “Love your Neighbor” can be difficult.

All of this considered, my original approach to addressing this issue was with focus on virtue, using the fruits of the Spirit as moral guidelines.

Galatians 5:22-23

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Given that there are no laws against these things one need only define these virtues to evaluate moral actions. Love for instance is defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Armed with this approach, Christian morality seemed less conflicted and more manageable and adaptable to varying circumstances. Furthermore, it avoided Pharisee-like discrimination, elitism, and cruelty. However, even with this approach I find myself conflicted on certain issues in that defining these virtues and setting them pro and con against each other and against vices is also sometimes extremely difficult.

Then I encountered a verse that changed my whole perspective.

Jeremiah 31
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

This verse refers to the new covenant in Christ in which the law of God is in the hearts of believers and no more do we have to teach one another or command each other to “Know the Lord” for we shall know Him. What this means is that for true believers the answer to our moral questions is in our hearts where God resides. We don’t need to look to the Bible to evaluate our decisions because it is not in the Bible but in

“Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3)

And this is where the more pressing problem occurs. If we teach that when you are struggling to decide what to do you should go to God and not the Bible how can we ensure that people won’t just all believe different things are right and wrong and the Christian body will be terribly un-unified? I concede that this is a possibility, but if a Christian has real faith, we must discount that possibility. What we are truly teaching is faith. To believe what is simply in the Bible is what George MacDonald called a “weak faith” and if only that, a contemptible one. If we cannot trust God to give us the answers (especially since the Bible says He is the only one who has them) then what faith do we have? Not faith in God for sure, and not really even faith in the Bible since it tells us to put our faith in Him and not itself. And if God truly answers the faithful seeker I do not think we will find ourselves all in disagreement.

Some might object however, that God will only tell us to do things that are also revealed in the Bible, and definitely not things contrary to the Bible (which I think is how they filter their own relations with God). But this is demonstrably not true.

John 16

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Jesus in whom God has hidden all knowledge and Wisdom has more to say than what has been said and the Holy Spirit dwells in us to help communicate those things to us. And if we look simply at the things the Spirit had to say to the apostles, it was overturning things they thought were scriptural left and right.

George MacDonald excerpts from “A Higher Faith”

“Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time–that is, when we are in need of them? Is not their hiding in him the mediatorial step towards their unfolding in us? Is he not the Truth?–the Truth to men? Is he not the High Priest of his brethren, to answer all the troubled questionings that arise in their dim humanity?”

“Do you count it a great faith to believe what God has said? It seems to me, I repeat, a little faith, and, if alone, worthy of reproach. To believe what he has not said is faith indeed, and blessed. For that comes of believing in HIM. Can you not believe in God himself? Or, confess,–do you not find it so hard to believe what he has said, that even that is almost more than you can do? If I ask you why, will not the true answer be–”Because we are not quite sure that he did say it”? If you believed in God you would find it easy to believe the word. You would not even need to inquire whether he had said it: you would know that he meant it.”

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Culture War

The funny thing about the “Culture War” is that the Bible does teach that it is the kingdom of God vs. world. However, the problem is that in most cases the Christian fervor toward war with society is not only a power play for control of the world’s corruptive authority, but is a war against groups of people and not “the world” as Paul says the kingdom of God stands against.

Ephesians 6.10-12
Finally, my brothers and sisters, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Whenever, any Christian group targets flesh and blood especially through being the principalities and the powers of this world, They have missed God’s calling entirely.

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Given intensifying heat over the issue of homosexuality and marriage in Christian circles I have decided to put forth where I stand on the issue. In consideration of whether homosexual marriage is “wrong” or sinful I am going to park the discussion at Galatians 5. In Galatians, Paul has up to this point been arguing that one must accept the law in total or not at all, and that because of Christ, we cannot accept the law as a whole and therefore we must not accept it at all. Having said this Paul realizes that freedom from the law might make people believe that therefore they can do whatever they want, and so comes Galatians 5, Paul’s discussion of ethics.

Galatians 5

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

 You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offence of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

In Galatians 5 Paul moves beyond what in philosophy would be considered a direct form of Divine Command Theory, that is, the notion that right and wrong are defined by statutes and laws given from God, toward something called Virtue Ethics. He says even more succinctly in

1 Corinthians 10:23 ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up.

For Paul the question for us as a Christian is not, does some action violate the commands of God, but does this action build up the Character (or Spirit) of the person committing it and those it affects. So Paul in Galatians 5 sets out to categorize the “Works of the Flesh” and the “Fruit of the Spirit”. These virtues and vices are what Paul sets out as the basis for moral decision making.

First the Works of the Flesh, in Paul’s writing he uses the “flesh” (in greek ‘sarx’) as the antonym of both the Spirit and of the eternal/immortal. So when he says the works of the flesh, he means selfishness and rebellion against the spirit of God (hedonism), but also mortality instincts of survival (acts for stability and self preservation). He then lists of what in his culture were representative of these vices, namely:

fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”

What is important to note is that Paul is not creating a new list of things we shouldn’t do to be righteous. The phrase “and things like these” indicates that Paul is looking at actions that share a common viceful mindset/lifestyle.

Paul then moves to contrast these with the virtues that are representative of the Spirit of God

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

And like with the other list implies the non-totality of this list, but says there is no law against such things. So for Paul, to act righteously means simply to propagate these virtues both in the self and in others.

So where does this leave us in regards to homosexuality? According to Paul’s explanation of morality, it is very plain that homosexuality is not wrong because it is in violation of the Law, for this is no longer a substantial reason in and of itself for something to be considered immoral, and that if it is in fact wrong, it would only be considered so if it can be shown to be representative of vice rather than the Spirit of God.

So turning to marriage: Paul does not see marriage as a vice, but he does seem to view it as detrimental to ones ultimate propagation of virtue as he says,

1 Corinthians 7

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.

 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

 

Paul in other sections further explains why he wishes that all were unmarried; the reason being that they are free to pursue Gods ministry without concern for a spouse. But in Ephesisans, he lays out how marriage can be representative of virtue and not vice and therefore why sexuality is good within the construct of marriage.

Ephesians 5

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

Paul lays out marriage as two equals giving all of themselves to the other, and so it becomes a symbol of ultimate love and self sacrifice like Christ to the Church, and the Church to Christ.

Turning back to the question at hand, how then can we say that homosexual marriage cannot satisfy the governing metaphor of love between Christ and the Church? Can they not submit themselves and love each other fully? And herein lies what I find to be the very Pharisee-like persecution of homosexuality. The Christians that persecute homosexuality do so with nothing other than what they want to call the ‘letter’ of the Bible, but they ignore the calling of the Spirit.

Given further consideration, an argument is produced that homosexuality is counter to God’s intention for marriage as witnessed by Genesis and repeated by Christ. This too I find rather unconvincing.

Mark 10

He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’

Upon face value we might be tempted to see this as a knock down for homosexuality, in that Jesus says from the beginning God made them male and female… However, a little context shows this to be not quite the knockdown we might assume. The Pharisees come to Jesus asking him if divorce is permissible. And this is the first key thing to note, the primary focus of the text is divorce not homosexuality. Jesus responds to them with what seems to be an attack on the law (Moses wrote you this law because your hearts were hard) but is really an attack on the beliefs spawning the inquiry to begin with. Jesus says the problem is not the law, but that they are too hardened to understand marriage. He then turns to Genesis to provide the answer to what they are misunderstanding; that the purpose of marriage is for two individuals to complete one another, to become “one flesh”.Whereas in contrast, the Pharisees they think only in terms of social and political marriage. For homosexuals, this purpose (the ” For this Reason” ) can still be achieved.  To deny this is to say that God is only interested in the means and not the ends (which given our discussion of virtue v. law, we know to already be false).

Whenever the Pharisees criticized Jesus for hanging out with/ socializing/ breaking down barriers between sinners and the righteous, He repeated a single very important phrase. “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. The lesson He wanted them to learn was that the pursuit of righteousness and purity (the self-sacrifice by which the Pharisees defined themselves) was less important than mercy. He made this point as clear as possible, as He specifically stated He desired “mercy, NOT sacrifice” whereas He did not say that mercy AND sacrifice are both equally important. This is a lesson the Christian community ought to learn before actively institutionalizing an intentional persecution/ostracization of a group of people, for a reason that does not affect thier own civic contract, based solely on their belief to create righteous order.

 

 

I am more than happy to further explain any point in more detail in the comments section, since I wanted to be a simple and succinct as possible I did not address the full complexity of all of the above. But I think I made my point that unless it is shown that homosexual marriage is indeed representative of vice (an evil within the character of the practitioners) I think we as Christians have no right to deny them it.

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The struggle between Christian pacifism and “Just War” Theory in Christianity is an old one. Many sects of Christianity and many great Christians have been pacifists, and there are many who have not. I have struggled myself to decide which view better represents Christianity but recently I have really nailed down what it is I believe. So I want to walk you through my thoughts on the issue and maybe (hopefully) a lot of this will resonate with any of you who have thought about this issue before.

The draw of Christian pacifism I think is that as Christians our worldview is shaped by empathy for any victim. This makes sense because empathy for the poor, downtrodden, abused, etc. is a very central feature to the gospels. Jesus comes to save the oppressed, the ostracized, the sinners, the victims. And Jesus does this by becoming a victim himself. Christian pacifists emphasize the idea that in war, all become victims and thus, by joining in a war you create more problems than you solve.

But “Just War” thinkers are drawn by the same thing. They see that there are victims and argue that we cannot stand idly by, and that peaceful means are simply not enough to satisfy the Christian desire to set right injustice and stand by the victims. And personally I think we can all agree with this sentiment. When we see videos of soldiers dying for and defending victims of evil and oppression there is a certain moral appeal, an aesthetic and soul searching pull on us that compels us to honor those who do this. The drawback of course is that this picture of defending the victims soon fades from war. In order to win a war, the objective changes from protection of the victims, to defeating the enemy (so that we might protect the victims). When this objective changes, we become much like the evil we oppose. And while we might intend to be nobler and more just in the course of a war, Christian pacifists believe, and I agree, that we cannot help but resort to repaying evil with evil rather than good. We become like those we oppose.

So how are we to reconcile these views? I think the conflict is really that both views contain elements of what we know is right, but we lack the courage of faith to put the right parts together. God, in His plan to reconcile the world and end sin, did not come here and battle and destroy the oppressors through force. But neither did He sit back and attempt peaceful means of ending hostilities. God, who was not a victim of evil, chose to become a victim. He chose to join the oppressed so that He might reveal the emptiness of the ideologies and views fueling the injustice. And so I think the heart of Christian pacifism is about joining the victims. Helping them, healing them, teaching them, and suffering with them. And to show this is not just some empty platitude, consider the case that all pacifist debates ultimately come around to; World War II.

The Just War thinker feels that we cannot stand idly by while the Nazis conquer, kill, and oppress millions, and perhaps they feel that what I have said above is ridiculous. That simply going over to Europe and helping them without fighting back just means more cannon fodder for the Nazis. I agree, at least initially that is what would occur. But really think about what might happen if Christians from all over the world had gone to Europe and without fighting back, attempted to aid the rest of Europe and chose to go there and die with them. Could Nazi ideology actually stand up to that? Could Germans continue shooting people who simply chose to come to Europe and die with their enemies? These people are not their enemy, and yet oppose their objective. The fact is that evil ideologies have justifications for their oppression, for the Pharisees it was failure to obey the law. They ostracized and persecuted people because they did stand up to those standards. Jesus empties this ideology by living sinless but embracing the sinners. He shows their justification to be empty and self-serving. Likewise, Nazism had very specific justifications for why normal German citizens ought to kill and take over other countries and races. But could that ideology hold against constant influx of non-hostile, non-European, non-Jewish casualties? I think the answer is no, and I believe it must be no since God believes that this plan will rescue all of His creation. Furthermore, this kind of opposition stands opposed in every way to what the oppressor believes. This is why we idolize Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi; they had the courage to stand against every part of the evil against them even if it meant suffering and death. The only difference for Christian pacifism is that even when we don’t have a stake in the conflict (aren’t the victims as King and Gandhi were) we ought to seek out and join the victims where they are. I think when wars are stopped in this manner, healing is far easier and the propensity for war to arise again is far diminished, because the war is stopped by a change of heart and character of the oppressor and not a change in the means of the oppressor.

Some of you may be thinking, “I thought the title of this post was Why I am not a Christian Pacifist”, and that is my final point. I think the reason so many Christians struggle with choosing between these doctrines is that both reflect a failure to live up to the calling we know we ought to. Really this debate is between Just War theory and Pacifism, both of which contain elements of true Christian pacifism. I titled this post this way because I have not the courage for Christian pacifism, but only pacifism. And I would consider those willing to participate in what they believe to be a Just War, far better people than I.

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In the Aftermath of 9/11: Spiritually Transmitted Diseases

 

We all know about sexually transmitted diseases. Too few of us are aware of spiritually transmitted diseases. Like their physical counterparts, these metaphysical maladies spread through passionate, intimate contact—but the engagement is hostile rather than erotic. They spread through the mutual embrace of rivalry, the intercourse of argument, the emotional clutch of conflict.

Simply put, whenever we engage opponents in conflict, we can unwittingly catch what they have.

If they insult us, we will be tempted to insult them back. If they use religious language to demonize us, we will be tempted to respond in kind. If they exaggerate or caricature or misrepresent us, if they bomb us or torture us or take hostages from among us, before we know it, we can become a mirror of that which we once found abhorrent and alien.

After a decade of engagement with violent forces in the aftermath of the attacks of 2001, we in the U.S. should not be so proud or naïve as to think a spiritually transmitted disease could never infect us—or that it hasn’t already done so.

What characteristics would describe us over the last decade? Resilience, determination, vigilance, to be sure . . . but also militarization, willingness to engage in torture, demonization of enemies, use of religious identity to justify violent behavior, secret detention in secret prisons, us-them thinking. Are these not characteristic of those who attacked us?

Yet even the act of diagnosing this infection is fraught with danger. Diagnosis can quickly lead to blame—President Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, President Obama, fundamentalist Muslims, fundamentalist Christians, whomever. And in being quick to blame, we practice the same facile vilification that characterizes our attackers. We sink deeper into a syndrome of anger and hostility, and so the disease rages on.

So at this decadal anniversary of the terrorist attacks, I propose that we acknowledge not only our enemies on the other side of the world but also the enemy that can so easily infect our own body politic, our own national soul. The evil we have identified in “them” and “over there,” it turns out, is highly infectious.

With the virulence of spiritually transmitted diseases in mind, I see some of the core teachings of Jesus in a new light. I’m aware that those teachings are seen even by many Christians as impractical and irrelevant in the context of international conflict. Turn the other cheek? Ridiculous. Do good to those who harm you? Suicidal. Love your enemies? Cute and laughable and immature.

But the danger of spiritually transmitted diseases reminds us that our enemy is not our only enemy. In responding to our enemy imitatively, in catching our enemy’s hostile spirit, we can become an even worse enemy to ourselves. We can do ourselves more damage than the enemy ever could. In that light, suddenly Jesus’ teachings seem strikingly realistic, and ignoring them seems to betray a far costlier idealism: that violence can defeat violence.

Consider the oft-misunderstood “other cheek” teaching. If you are struck, you have three obvious options: fight back, run away and hide, or submit and surrender. Assuming you can’t run away and won’t surrender, in fighting back, you increase the likelihood that you become more like your opponents. Even as you defeat them, they have in a sense converted you to become more like them, which is a kind of victory in itself.

But Jesus suggests a different way. In standing up courageously—and in refusing flight, submission, and retaliation—you become less like your opponent. Previously unimagined creative responses become possible. You don’t submit to the game in order to win it: you change the game entirely.

Similarly, in doing good to the one who harms you, you seize the moral high ground and you thus break out of the cycle of reactivity—a cycle in which your opponent determines the terms of engagement, and thus has the upper hand.

In loving your enemies, you seek to understand them and you don’t freeze them in their current aggressive identity.

Ten years ago, such responses would have been labeled silly if not unpatriotic. We weren’t ready as a nation to even consider them. But perhaps, after ten years, we have moments of fatigue with the grim cycles of imitative violence. Perhaps we’re sick of spiritually transmitted disease.

If that’s the case, we are a little more ready to imagine a healthier agenda for the next ten years.

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren’s more prominent writings are A New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), and A New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers “simple, doable, and durable” practices to help people deepen their life with God.McLaren’s column, “Naked Theology,” is published every Tuesday on the Progressive Christian portal. Subscribe via email or RSS

http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Aftermath-of-911-Spiritually-Transmitted-Diseases-Brian-McLaren-09-06-2011.html

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Christianity and Homosexuality, some personal musings

 

There is considerable debate on the issue of homosexuality within Christianity regarding whether it is sinful. If it is sinful, how then should we approach homosexuals? And so I thought I should give my two cents on the issue since I have recently done quite a bit of research on the New Testament and sexuality. Mind you this is more an overview of my thoughts and not an attempt to sway anyone’s opinion, but perhaps some people will find something intellectually stimulating about it.

First I want to clear up a red herring in the issue and that is whether people are born homosexual or choose to be. To me this question seems rather irrelevant because people are born sinful and do not choose to be. That is, it seems rather erroneous to presume that just because we are wired some way makes whatever that is permissible. Perhaps some people are born with a homosexual orientation that they cannot ever overcome in this life, it does not seem to me that that gives them free license anymore than saying I was born sinful and can never attain perfection in this life, allows me free license to sin.

That being said I want to look at some of the issues being raised. The first is that God designed men and women to complete each other and that homosexuality is a perversion of this purpose. It seems to me, (and you can call me too humanistic if you like) that as I argued in my post “The human relationship part 1” (https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/the-human-relationship-part-1/), God’s intention is that people be complete/fulfilled. While the joining of a man and a woman (and for the majority of the population) is one of the ways this can be achieved, it seems ludicrous to me that God is so hung up on this method of attaining it that the goal is less important.

The second issue is the Old Testament Law forbidding homosexuality. I do not have a high opinion of any ethical argument premised on Old Testament Law as I argued in one of my first posts on this blog (https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/christian-ethics-and-the-old-testament-law/). And so I think this line of reasoning is not very convincing, and beyond that it makes the Christians who use it cherry pick the law to suit their own ends.

As for the New Testament I think it is safe to say that the authors, as Jews, likely believed homosexuality to be wrong. However, what they taught is a different matter. Homosexuality is only condemned in the New Testament alongside things like fornication, drunkenness, idolatry, etc. And this is very important because these lists are not about listing off actions that are intrinsically sinful (Paul believes Christians need to get beyond that, and learn a virtue oriented ethic) but they are about condemning the Greek and Roman hedonistic culture that is a reflection of “the flesh” and not the spirit. It is a way of life being criticized, a way of life that is not like the kind of homosexuality (that of committed relationships) that is being discussed today.

So in this sense I think the case against homosexuality is rather weak. And that often Christian persecution of it is really the sin. I am not saying that there are no biblical arguments to be made against homosexuality, but I think they are sufficiently weak and that it is worth the pause to consider whether God is truly being glorified in homosexuality’s condemnation. What do we really want to say about God in our actions toward homosexuals? And what do we want to say to those who struggle with it within Christianity who think it is sinful? I think that we owe it to them to be honest about the struggle that is engaging their lives and in many cases inhibiting them from a very basic form of human relationship. Like the New Testament authors and Jesus, perhaps we should be more concerned with how to love others and sow the fruits of the spirit, and be less concerned with keeping to the letter of some perceived moral law.

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