Tuesday, October 21, 2014

on me not getting the Romans 1 clobber verses

Let me say it for any critics. I'm stupid. I'm blind. I am an ally of minorities, including sexual minorities. I do that poorly as well. This is one stupid, blind guy's attempt at re-reading Romans 1.

I am trying to continually learn.

Today, my reading plan took me into the beginning of Romans, St. Paul's magnum opus on grace and faith. Romans 1 is called a clobber passage because it seems to categorize all homosexuality as bad. Here is the second half of the first chapter.
Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.  
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.  
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.  
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
My mind goes a couple ways with this passage.

One direction is to a past conversation I had with at church, before I was an ally. The context was the rise of gay marriage and all the gays. Knowing this passage, I spoke like Balaam's ass and said, "maybe this is God's judgment on our country," in effect saying, our country is being punished by Jesus with an onslaught of gay people. Even as I said it, I knew how stupid it sounded. I sounded Biblical, but not Christ-like. Paul's argument seems to be, "people were wicked and idolatrous, therefore, because of this, in other words, as a consequence, God turned them gay, men and women. Before, they were hetero idol worshipers, then they became homo idol worshipers by an act of God." God makes people gay. It's not their choice or by demonic possession.

Has this ever happened in anyone's experience? that is anyone reading this blog. The testimonies of gay Christians that I know and read is orientation has been fixed from childhood, whether raised in the church or later converted to the faith. Strength of orientation is different for everyone, full on hetero, no preference, full on homo. The norm for human beings is mostly hetero. But the flipping of the switch Paul talks about does not seem to happen. Gay conversion therapy has a very poor success rate and that is a long process but people desperate for its success. I do know of people who have left straight relationships for gay ones, but they would say they are bi-sexual, or were trying to make themselves straight by marrying hetero. There are also stories of those leaving gay relationships for straight, for the same reasons. But none of these straight to gay stories include idol-worshiping. The only unnatural relationships were the mixed orientation marriages that were a mistake from their beginnings.

"Natural" and "shameful" are interesting adjectives for Paul. In his first letter to the church in Corinth he also uses these categories,
1 Cor. 11:13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
When I was a young man, who tried to follow Jesus as best I could, I had long hair. I know in some church circles I was a disgrace, because those circles were Biblical. Yet some believers in those same circles thought this assertion of Paul was not applicable to today. In their minds, Paul was speaking to a local situation in Corinth. In their minds, the "nature of things" in Corinth was not applicable to all cultures across all times, not unlike Paul's teaching on slavery.

Maybe the nature of some other things in the early Mediterranean basin church culture are also not applicable to today's culture. The rest of Romans chapter 1, after the gay clobber passage, seems familiar to our human condition across all times and cultures. Verse 31 in particular stands out to me, "they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy." Over the past 25 years, I have sought to understand my gay friends and neighbors and fellow believers. This understanding, which has taken way too long, has revealed to me my lack of love and mercy towards them, and in some cases my lack of fidelity to them when I judged them false believers. I am among the condemned in Romans 1. My gay friends, neighbors, and siblings in the family of God are not victims of God's judgment for idol worshiping. They do not need to repent of their orientation or their relationships. We need to repent of the same things, selfishness, love of self more than each other or God. Part of my repentance is becoming an LGBTQ ally.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 9 - Who would Jesus hate? WWJH

Dear Johnboy,

Forget WWJD, you need to figure out WWJH, Who Would Jesus Hate. Because there are some verses in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, that declare God's hatred for some people. In fact Jesus even commands us to hate some people.

Wait a second. God can't tell us he loves the world in one place then tell us to hate those he in fact loves, can he? Is he self-contradictory? Is one of these paths the Christian way and one not?

Some Christians, really intelligent ones even, refuse to resolve this tension and hold these opposite commands in tension. They refuse to prioritize "God is love" and believe that the God who is love hates. Here is a link to one example. Here are a couple videos (1, 2) of pastors preaching about God hating people. We all agree the Westboro Baptist Family Cult focuses on the hate verses and tries to share the bad news as often as they can.

The thing is, does hate mean what we think it means in the Bible? There is little help from the original languages. Hate means hate in Greek, as well. You have to look at context and genre to figure this all out. For example, Jesus tells us to hate in order to be true believers.
Luke 14:26 "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
I don't think even the Westboro folks take this verse literally and hate each other. Then again, hardly anyone takes the next verse literally either and lugs crosses around. How can we not take Jesus literally here? Well Jesus has a tendency to say crazy things, like this one from the Sermon on the Mount,
Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
Jesus is not speaking literally, he is speaking literarily. There is a term for this in literature, it's called hyperbole. Here is a definition from wikipedia, "the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally."

The Bible is chock full of hyperbole. In fact some evangelicals appeal to this literary device in regards to Joshua's genocidal conquest of the promised land. In brief, the detailed command to kill every living thing was hyperbolic and not literal and the history recorded after the command agrees that plenty of enemy nations that were supposedly destroyed were living and breathing quite well. For more on this, check out my book report here. When the Psalmist says in 5:5 that God hates all sinners, he certainly cannot believe himself sinless. The fundagelical work-around is to insert a silent prefix, God hates all (unrepentant) sinners.

The reason this is done, is because no one takes this literally. Instead of inserting silent adjectives, the simplest solution is to understand hatred is a de-prioritization. Jesus's challenge in Luke's gospel, the first verse above, is not to let our love of family exceed our love of Jesus.

We know God loves the world. We know Jesus wants us to love our enemies. We know Jesus wants us to turn the other cheek when we are struck. We know when we see Jesus, we see God clearer than anywhere else in the Bible. We see Jesus asking God to forgive his killers. Killing Jesus couldn't be an easier way to get God to hate you, but Jesus, is not hating but still loving.

Who does Jesus hate? No one. What would Jesus do? Tell people God loves them. Tell people stop eating the apple of temptation and turning towards death and darkness. Tell people to put the apple down, and turn towards life, light, and healing. God does not send sunshine and happy days only on the good people. According to Jesus, he sends sun and rain on those whose posture is closed to him as well as those who are open to him. Jesus says,
Matthew 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  
Perfection is found in the way of love. God keeps pouring out his love. He does not have hate to pour out. Can salt water come from a fresh water spring? Likewise, can hate come from love? How the love is received though depends on our posture towards God. When we receive his love we feel blessed, when we reject his love, we feel oppressed. St. Paul wrote
Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
What does God's wrath and vengeance look like? Just like his love. It all depends on if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and open arms to receive. Eastern Orthodoxy thinks hell is the afterlife condition of those who refuse to see or hear or receive God's love. God who is love keeps emitting love, a blessing to those who receive it and oppression to those who reject it. What is light and life and goodness to those who believe and receive is darkness, heat, and misery to those who refuse God's kindness.

Westboro Baptist, among others, believe in a false Jesus, the "asshole Jesus" (who happens to have his own twitter account). You have friends who have rejected a Christianity based on asshole Jesus, the one who hates. You have embraced asshole Jesus, and have taught about him. He's easier to see in the Bible because that is the Jesus more like you. The God of love is so foreign to you, that you stick with what is safer and easier and more popular. But the God who is love is so much better. You need to find Jesus who is God who is love. Not everything biblical is Christian.

Series review----------------------
This is part nine of the series, Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the  Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery. Part eight, showed how one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

When Jesus was unclean

This topic is an addendum to my last post in the series, Not everything Biblical is Christian, Part 8 - Jesus and nocturnal emission laws. I concluded that post by saying, "I still don't know where Jesus is in this passage, Deuteronomy 23:10"
If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that chanceth him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp: 11 But it shall be, when evening cometh on, he shall wash himself with water: and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again. 
The King James version is more of the Hebrew to English word for word translation. The modern versions are more explicit about what the Hebrew alludes to "in happenings of the night."
10 "If any man among you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp. He shall not come inside the camp, 11 but when evening comes, he shall bathe himself in water, and as the sun sets, he may come inside the camp. ESV
Since I raised the question last week, I've been mulling it over, what does this have to do with Jesus? The question before this question is why does this have to do with Jesus?

There are two things Jesus said that make me ask why. In John's gospel when he is disputing with the Jewish religious leaders he says, 5:39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me... And in his Sermon on the Mount he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them." Matthew 5:17. These assertions by Jesus are why I look for him in the Old Testament. But not everything is a picture, type, metaphor or allegory of Jesus. Whatever is not Jesus concealed provides a setting for him and his life in 1st century Israel.

This rule in Deuteronomy 23:10, which is also in Leviticus 15:16 and (maybe) Numbers 5:2*, is context for Jesus' life. Jesus lived a normal human life, without sin as he is fully God, yet he is fully human as well. Human males, as they enter puberty, start to produce gametes in their gonads that are typically emitted nocturnally. In the vernacular, teenage boys have wet dreams. According to the Jewish law, this made them unclean. Since Jesus was normal, he must have experienced normal adolescent boy ceremonial uncleanliness.

A Jesus without sin is hard to fully identify with. But a Jesus who experienced uncleanliness, (and later rejected such laws and rules) is one who I know has felt another dimension of our souls. Because of this realization, that only comes from pondering some obscure rules in the Mosaic laws, I have a fresh encounter with my savior. These weird laws, for me, make Jesus more immanent. I wish I could have heard these verses taught this way when I was 12 years old.

* For some additional thoughts on the weirdness in Numbers 5, see my blog post from April 2014.