Is Same-Sex Orientation Sinful?

San DiegoI am in San Diego at the annual meeting of the venerable Evangelical Theological Society. A hot topic this year is all matters concerning same-sex relationships as well as various gender identity issues. Next year the theme for the annual meeting will be Marriage and Family, so this is just a prelude.

I am struck by a couple things here. One is the generally hostile and condescending tone toward even the topic by most of the older ETS members (my generation). The second is the presence of younger scholars (even millennials) who are patiently asking tough questions that deserve answers.

Readers of this blog well know my general distrust of systematic theologians, especially in their handling of biblical information. Sometimes I don’t think the guild of systematicians should be allowed to use the Bible at all, but I know that is unrealistically harsh and stupid of me.

An example yesterday was a presentation that asked whether same-sex orientation in and of itself was sinful. That is, if a man has lustful thoughts about another man, is that sin? The presenter concluded that it most certainly is sin and that there are no gray areas here. His conclusion was based on the idea that Jesus condemned looking at a women “lustfully” meant that “adultery in the heart” had been committed (Matthew 5:28). I will admit that this presentation gave me pause. We have often focused on sin as action without considering the sins of our thought world, and I thank the presenter for this reminder.

However, I was troubled by the way in which the presenter applied this to the issue of same-sex orientation. To be sure there was a careful parsing of words, but his conclusion was that for a man even to be attracted to another man in any sort of sexual way was sinful. Therefore, anyone who admits to having such thoughts is admitting to sin. There is no excuse for any biological, sociological, or circumstantial factors, same-sex attraction is sin.

The presenter based this on Jesus’ words and on his belief in the “impeccability of Christ.” For those of you who have never heard of this doctrine, check out this link. This doctrine teaches that Jesus was not capable of sin. If we impose this doctrine on Jesus’ thought life, we must conclude that he never had a lustful thought. Even further, that Jesus never was sexually attracted to men (or to women) because this would have only been appropriate for his wife, and he was not married. So we get a sinless, sexless Jesus.

I don’t think this is very helpful, and is closer to the gnostic Jesus than the biblical Jesus. It reminds me of Phil Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew. This is the Jesus of the systematicians, the Jesus that we are taught in church many times. Yancey said that when he really began to read the Gospels without this filter, he found a very human Jesus, the Jesus he never knew and had never been taught.

The conclusion, then is that it is not enough to tell a person that homosexual activity is sinful. We must teach that same-sex orientation for whatever reason is sinful, and that celibacy for a person with this orientation is not sufficient.

I’m not sure this is helpful (or biblical).

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Islam as the Mother Lode of Bad Ideas

1-Maher and HarrisRecently, Fareed Zakaria invited one of the leaders of “New Atheism” for a brief debate on his Sunday morning CNN show, “GPS.” The atheist was Sam Harris, author and critic of religion. Harris had made news by his statement on Bill Maher’s HBO show to the effect that “Islam is the Mother Lode of Bad Ideas.” You can view Fareed’s 8-minute debate with Harris at this link.

While some Christians may cheer on Harris’s attack on Islam, it raises an interesting question, because we should be assured that Harris is no friend of Christianity. He is perhaps best known for his best-selling book, Letter to a Christian Nation. This confrontational book (which I have not fully read) contains challenges like, “People have been cherry-picking the Bible for millennia to justify their every impulse, moral and otherwise.”

So here is the question: Is there a point where Muslims (like Fareed) and Christians (like me) become allies as theists against the onslaught of atheists (like Harris and Maher)?

We might consider the old principle from warfare and diplomacy: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But who is the enemy here, the atheist or the Muslim?

I’m still chewing on this. If you watch the video, you will see that Fareed becomes uncharacteristically angry and defensive. He asks Harris if his conclusion to over a billion Muslims world wide is the “your religion is crap.” Yet isn’t that what Christians generally say?

Harris returns twice to the reasonablist position: words and ideas have consequences. What he means is that if jihad as holy war is found and sanctioned in the Quran, we should not be surprised that many Muslims support Sharia law and forced conversions. There is a basic reading of Muslim Scriptures that leaves no room for tolerance of other faiths. Harris’s point is that this was the Quranist reading of Osama bin Laden, and that bin Laden represented the scriptural spirit of Islam with a purity that apologists for Islam do not. It is not a philosophy of peace, but of the sword, and it has been this for over 1,000 years, according to both bin Laden and Harris.

Some things to think about.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Elections and Shame

VoteTomorrow is election day in my state. I vote in every election and consider this a civic duty. When I first began voting 40 years ago, it was exciting for me. I studied the ballots, paid attention to the issues, and attempted to use my vote wisely.

In recent years, my enthusiasm has waned. I have been trying to pinpoint the reason for this in my own soul, and last week I had an epiphany that helps me understand why I lack any passion for the elections and the electoral process. The reason is that I am ashamed. Let me explain in three ways.

1. The ads I see on television are hugely negative. There is little attempt to tout the credentials, agenda, or abilities of a candidate and massive attempts to discredit the candidate’s opponent. Both parties are guilty of this, although in my congressional district, one party in particular has no shame in what it will say. I am ashamed of candidates who would condone or endorse these adds. I know that the worst ones are paid for by third-party PACS, but the candidates are silent regarding the distortions and outright untruths of these third party ads. We should all be ashamed of this situation.

2. If both candidates are complicit in these shameful tactics, I am forced to vote for someone for whom I am ashamed. This means that no matter who wins the election to be my Congressman, I will be ashamed of that person. Should I forget this and move on after the election? Sorry, I can’t turn that feeling of shame on/off so easily. This, I think, contributes to the historic low opinion the American people have of their elected Congress. The approval rating for Congress is 14%.

3. It has been years since I read Niccolò Machiavelli, the 16th century Florentine politician and philosopher, but I do remember that he taught that the art of governing consists of two things:

  1. Gaining power
  2. Retaining power

In the end, gaining and retaining power is all that matters. In Macchiavellian terms, anything is justified in an election for me to be elected. Once I am elected, anything is justified to keep me in office or allow me to advance to a higher office. There are no absolute ethics or morals.

Contrast this with the last words of David: “He who ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” (2 Sam 23:3). God’s king knew he was answerable to God himself and I don’t think he wanted to be ashamed of his performance.

So yes, I will vote tomorrow, and I hope you do, too. I will cast my ballot with sadness and with shame in some cases. Then I will go to Starbucks and have a latte to cheer myself up.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Transgender Issues and Ministry

450_lgbtMany of you have read the recent blog about a church leader who is revealing that he is transgender. If not, this is the link: paulstonewilliams.com. In this blog, a highly successful, talented, and respected author and minister in the Christian Churches discusses the issues of transgender (dysphoria) and his lifetime of dealing with this situation. Briefly, transgender is when a person with a male body identifies as a female (or vice versa). It is not the same as homosexuality, although it has been associated with gay identity in the now common designation LGBT. All of these, Lesbian, Gay (men), Bisexual, and Transgender claim to be “sexual minorities” that are fighting for recognition and rights in both mainstream society and the political/legal arena. As many of you know, this has been divisive in many churches and families.

The author of this blog is a person I have known for a long time. I don’t want to overstate the depth of our relationship, not because I am afraid to do so but out of honesty. He is a person whom I have worked with on writing assignments for Christian Standard, and he was a guest lecturer at my college last year.

My friends and colleagues have been discussing this blog since it came out last week. I have shared my initial reaction several times:

I don’t know what to think.

I have not moved very far from this. However, I would like to share a couple of observations.

1. Paul is correct in stating that the Bible does not address his situation directly. It neither condemns nor commends transgender orientation. Yet I’m not sure this means that the Bible has nothing to say about this. I will have to think more about this, but biblical silence is a hermeneutical issue that has been misused in the past, so I don’t want to eliminate biblical teaching from this discussion.

2. Although Paul does not push this angle, I have been told before that as a straight man, “You can’t possibly know how I feel.” That may be true, but it deserves a little push back. If a person has felt wrongly gendered when it comes to body for all of his or her conscious life, then that person cannot possibly know how I feel either. It goes both ways, and judgmentalism can be a two way street.

3. I see this blog as a type of “confession” in the sense that confession means acknowledgement. We have long been told that confession is good for the soul, and I believe that. However, I wonder about the very public nature of confession by blogging. For whom is this good? I think that question is legitimate and needs to be asked. I can’t help but think there is more to come here.

4. I believe that God is gracious and loving, but right now, I am in no position to know or understand what God thinks about this. I do believe that God knows all the secrets of my heart, and some of them are not pretty. He knows them and still loves me. I just don’t want to put myself in the position of seeming to speak for God in this.

That’s about all the further I have come on thinking this through. I know that LGBT realities will have a great impact on the church and its leaders in the coming years, and that we cannot ignore these issues.

Mark Krause

Walking the Line: Biblical vs. Legalistic

cslewishumilityIn the Christian Churches (Restoration Movement) we have long prided ourselves on our biblical stances. We are People of the Book who seek authority and guidance from the pages of Scripture. We, above all others, are quick to cite a verse to answer a question or prove a point. This is the church I grew up in, and it is where I still live. I am a person of the Book, and I believe in the authority of the Bible for guidance in my life and in my church.

Yet, many times I have seen this biblical stance slip into an intolerant legalism. (A better term for this might be “legalistic orthodoxy.”) After all, if I believe I am right and have Scripture on my side, why should I be tolerant of dissenting viewpoints? BTW, this is not a fight with non-Christians. Our polemical use of Scripture is almost always aimed at other Christians.

My teacher, Grant Osborne, taught us that a bedrock principle of biblical interpretation must be what he called a “hermeneutics of humility.” We seek to understand the Bible as fallible humans, people locked in our own culture and biases. Can we ever be sure we are not scouring Scripture to find the answers we want to find? Don’t we read with our opinions already formed, often just looking for reinforcement? I know I do this. Sometimes I run into a Scripture passage that doesn’t fit my theological grid or agenda, and I am stumped. If I am wise, these are the times I hear Dr. Osborne’s voice reminding us to slow down and not be overconfident. I must lay down my theological swords, holster my doctrinal guns, and unplug my stubborn ears. Even at my age, Scripture still has a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.

The worst thing I can do, I think, is to hop from one legalism to another legalism. I trade one set of proof texts for another. I move from one dogmatic universe to a parallel but equally dogmatic universe. I want to be a person of the Book, but even more than this I want to be a man of God who listens and follows rather than judges and condemns. May God help us shed unhelpful and hurtful legalism. It divides Christ’s church and breaks God’s heart.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Culture of Mistruth

truth-liesThe twentieth century gave rise to techniques in propaganda that were well defined and almost scientifically applied. One of these was the BIG LIE, a term apparently coined by Adolf Hitler in his autobiographical Mein Kampf (My Struggle) in the 1920s. The Big Lie is a false narrative or fact that is so outrageous, people believe it must be true. When encountered, the average person will think, “That can’t be a lie. It is too stupendous. It must be true.” The Big Lie is then repeated by its originators until it is picked up and repeated by others. Eventually it is accepted as truth.

This technique is not new, however. One of the historical backdrops of the New Testament is the propaganda machine of the Romans. In a remarkably few decades, the Romans had created the imperial cult that projected godlike wisdom and power upon its emperors. Myths were created to give their families backgrounds that included children of the gods. In some parts of the empire (like Ephesus), government sanctioned temples were deployed for the worship of the Roman emperor.

This was the Big Lie in action. Historians today are hard pressed to find a single first-century emperor after Augustus who was really a wise and capable government head (with the possible exceptions of Vespasian and Titus, in my opinion). Tiberius was disengaged and inattentive to ruling. Caligula was delusional about his greatness and absolute in his moral corruption. Nero made so many bad decisions it is amazing the empire survived his reign (and it almost didn’t).

I hesitate to label anything we hear today as a Big Lie because of its association with Hitler, but I think there are many things like this in American culture and politics. They are not confined to a single political party or ideology. You can make your own list, but my poster child is the claim that cutting taxes for rich people will increase government revenues.

I’m thinking about this especially because of a recent Time magazine exposĂ© on the fallacies of the “low fat” diet. Time‘s researchers found holes in this theory that large dairy trucks could easily navigate. Yet a few powerful advocates in the 1960s and 1970s won the day by repetition of their claim that any fat in foods was harmful and that a low fat diet was the simplistic solution to losing weight and maintaining this loss. One of the examples given is that butter was demonized and butter substitutes were promoted as being more healthy. Research now shows that these butter substitutes may have been far more unhealthy. Low fat claims, in the end, are not science but propaganda.

How many such things do we have floating around in our churches today, things that are repeated until believed, yet have no basis in fact and no place in the church? Here are a few I have heard:

  • Godly lifestyle is not important and talking about it is harmful and alienating to non-believers.
  • The church has no responsibility to teach people about the Bible because they have lots of resources on the internet. Plus, the value of biblical literacy is overstated.
  • The translators of the NIV2011 are liberals and not true evangelicals.
  • The American President is a Muslim and intends to make the United States into an Islamic caliphate.
  • The world financial system will collapse and we should all buy gold. (After all, gold is eternal and will never deteriorate or be stolen. We should lay up our treasure in gold.)

The internet world and social media community has made it much more difficult to find truth. Postmodernity, with its denial of absolutes, led many to believe they could create their own truth and believe whatever they chose to believe without consequences. This is the core of the culture of mistruth.

In conclusion, here are a couple of truths that have guided my life, and repetition of them is helpful because they are true:

  1. The Creator God is a personal God who loves his creation, loves us, and desires to have a relationship with us.
  2. The only hope for salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen Son of God.
  3. The Bible is God’s word and a trustworthy guide to our lives.
  4. The correct interpretation of the Bible is hard work, and teaching it should be a priority in our churches.
  5. The church is truly the hope of the world, and its decline or demise is a victory for the Evil One.

So may we not yield to this culture of mistruth or to the despair it can generate. Let us be people of the truth and never settle for less.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

 

Christian Unity 2014: Disciples in the Same Boat

MysticalChurch

Disciples in the Boat Together

Why does the church, the body of Christ, remain so divided? Is there an essential unity in the worldwide church we just don’t see?

When I look back on the last fifty years, I see many things that seemingly contributed to the unity of the church. Here is my list of some of them with my analysis:

1. The Ecumenical Movement. This probably reached a peak in the 1960s in the wake of Vatican II. There was a hope that the initial moves of the Roman Catholic leadership to modernize its church and give some recognition to non-Catholic Christians might progress to something big. It didn’t really happen. The big ecumenical organizations like the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches are barely surviving and don’t wield much influence today. Why? I’m not sure, but here are a couple of suggestions. First, the funders and influencers in these groups were white European/American church professionals. The ecumenical movement was always top down and never had a grassroots swell of support. Second, the denominations most involved in the ecumenical movement are generally in decline now. Third, as Christianity wanes in Europe and North America, it thrives in South America, Africa, and parts of Asia. These newer communities never were a part of the WCC style ecumenical vision, seeing it as a type of continued foreign domination of their national churches. They wanted to stand on their own.

2. The commercialization of evangelical Christianity. Money has always fueled a great deal of what looks like cross-church cooperation, but this reached almost absurd heights in the 1990s and continues today. Yet Christian media (especially TV) has little appeal to Generation X and even less to the Millennials. It is seen by many as overly political and aligned exclusively with one political party and one foreign policy viewpoint. Another aspect of this is the prominence in Christian television of the prosperity gospel preachers who appeal to a narrow group of Christians and are near pariahs to others. The commercialization of Christian music and worship has had some unifying effect, but this has also caused a doctrinal leveling and blandness that robs the Christian message of some of its vitality and counter-culturalism.

3. The rise of mega churches. This may be the most hopeful development in the realm of Christian unity, because there is an interconnection between large churches and their pastors that has broken down many long-standing barriers in the Christian world. I mistakenly thought that the mega church was dead in the 1990s, a victim of pastoral hubris and immorality combined with staggering debt loads, but there has been a rebirth and renewal of this type of Christianity. The inability for observers to pigeonhole many mega churches in a denomination way is, I think, also a good thing. I’m not sure where this is going, but the new trend to multi-site churches has some appearance of the renewal of denominationalism with a different face. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

4. The opening up of Christian institutions of higher education to all comers. The huge capital investment to build colleges, universities, and seminaries by churches of the past was unsustainable unless these institutions broadened themselves in whom they admitted as students, in whom they allowed to be teachers, and in what programs they offered. There is no single model in this, so it is difficult to generalize, but this sort of scenario wold not be uncommon: a young man who grew up in a Baptist church attended trained for ministry in an Evangelical Free seminary and ended up as a pastor in a Christian Missionary Alliance church. The hyper-sectarian schools of previous generations have either broadened or are dying. Yet I also see the rise of new sectarian schools of a different stripe, some being generated from mega churches. I also don’t know where this is going.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College