Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rethinking the Bible's Place (It's Just the Way It Is, Part 2)

There are some Christians who give the Bible godlike homage. It might as well have come floating down from heaven on the wings of angels. Should we ascribe to the Bible divine status?

In Nazi Germany a Jewish fugitive fleeing for his life came to a small town. He sought out the house of the Christian pastor, hoping to find refuge. He knocked on the door and when the pastor opened it, he told his story and asked if he could stay a few days until it was safe to travel again. The pastor invited him to step inside and wait. The pastor knew that if this young man was caught hiding there the whole town would be held accountable and suffer greatly. So immediately he withdrew to his prayer room and closed the door. He asked God for guidance and then opened his Bible. He happened to come upon the verse in John’s Gospel that says, “It is better for one man to die, than for the whole people to parish.” He knew he had his answer. So he sent the man away. Later that night an angel appeared and asked, “Where is the fugitive?” The pastor said, “I sent him away as the Holy Book instructed me.” The angel said, “Did you not know that he was the Christ? If you would have looked into his eyes, instead of first running to the Book, you would have known.”

Right now all across Christendom, many Christian leaders are running straight to the Book to decide on whether or not to accept same-sex marriage or to welcome and affirm LGBT persons into the life of the church. If they would first look into the eyes and hearts of their LGBT sisters and brothers and listen to their stories, then they would know what to do and how better to interpret and apply the Book.

Because the Bible was written by flawed and fallible human beings, the Bible gets the will of God wrong about as often as it gets it right. No matter what one’s theory of inspiration, nothing can compensate for the fact that limited, error-prone, biased human beings wrote the sacred documents that constitute our Bible.

I did indeed use the word “biased.” This is not a bad thing or a good thing – it’s just the way it is. No one can escape their biases. We each have biases that we are aware of and biases deeply embedded in our psyches which are often hidden from us. They can be constructive or destructive. We can be biased toward retaliation or forgiveness, retribution or redemption, exclusion or inclusion, etc. There are scriptures that are clearly regressive, that lean more toward the petty and punitive side of life, and scriptures that are clearly enlightened and enlightening - breakthroughs in spiritual consciousness. 

For Christians I don’t know anything more important than the search and struggle to discern and do God’s will. And for that very reason it is vital that we understand the Bible’s place in that process. I suggest giving the following three sources equal authority:

1. Sacred Tradition. At the heart of this stands our Christian scriptures, but included also are our   Christian traditions (interpretations, liturgies, hymns, prayers, litanies, and Christian praxis in various historical and cultural contexts). Included also to a lesser extent are the sacred texts and traditions of other religious faiths. Truth is truth wherever truth is found, and there is perennial truth that spans time, culture, and historical religious expressions and forms. However, as a Christian I believe that all sacred texts, stories, and traditions should be read and interpreted through the sacred story of Jesus. For Christ-followers all decisions about scriptural authority and how the scriptures should be applied need to be filtered through the life of Jesus and the unconditional love he taught and embodied.

2. Mystical Encounter. The heart of mystical encounter is our own personal communion and experience of the Divine (the Really Real, the Christ, Spirit, God, etc.) both individually and communally. Included also are the accounts of mystical experience we read and hear about from others. I have no doubt that Jesus’ understanding of “Abba” (his compassionate, divine father/mother/friend) was largely shaped by his own personal experience of God.  

3. Rational Experience. By rational experience I am referring to understanding, wisdom, and insight gained from science and other branches of human knowledge. Depth psychology, for example, has much to teach us about the ways we hide from our true self where God abides. By rational experience, I am also referring to wisdom and understanding gained from reason, common sense, and our best intuitive sense of what is right, good, loving, and just.

If all we do is go straight to the Book, and the Book takes priority over everything else, it’s quite probable that we will use the Book to justify our beliefs and prejudices for good or ill. We most likely will find what we want to find, even though we think we are being objective.

There is a great need for many Christians to be honest about the scriptures and admit that we do not have a perfect revelation. Our sacred writings are just as broken as we are. And until we can accept the brokenness and fragmentation of the Bible, we will continue to use the Bible to justify harmful biases, and in particular it will continue to be used to spread homophobia that is deeply rooted in fear and insecurity.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr likes to say that how we deal with the Bible is how we deal with reality and how we deal with reality is how we deal with the Bible. Maybe some of us have a difficult time accepting a flawed Bible because we have a difficult time accepting our own flaws or those of our particular group. If we could just let the Bible be what it is without trying to project impossible demands and claims upon it, we would be better able to do the same with our own flaws and failures. Perhaps, then, we would be more honest and humble and confessional about our own struggles as fractured and fragmented human beings.

The purpose of scripture is to prompt the struggle, to get us asking the questions, to evoke prayer, study, self-reflection, introspection, and reliance upon Spirit. It is in the struggle that we meet God and are changed by God. 

Thomas Merton has said that unconverted persons will use scripture in unconverted ways. Unloving people will use scripture in unloving ways. Converted people whose hearts are right and in tune with God will use even the most oppressive texts in positive, transformative ways. Unconverted people whose hearts are cold, closed, unloving, self-absorbed, and egocentric will misuse even the most enlightened texts.

I have invested a large part of my life reading and studying the Bible, and trying to discern how to apply it in life-enhancing and liberating ways. I am well-aware of how I have misused it in the past to justify beliefs and biases into which I was indoctrinated and socialized. By way of personal experience I can say rather confidently that Christians will continue to propagate hurtful teachings and practices and use the Bible in detrimental ways unless they dethrone its god-like status and give the Bible its rightful place in discovering and doing God’s will. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Two Visions, One Book - that's just the way it is

Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan argues in his book, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, that in the biblical tradition, both Old and New Testaments, two incompatible and contradictory explanations of God’s final victory over the evil and injustice of the world run side by side, often in the same biblical books. One explanation is extermination. It is reflected in the Noachic solution to evil in the world, namely, the complete destruction of the wicked. Crossan writes,

"In this vision, God’s solution to the problem of human violence is the Great Final Battle in which good triumphs over evil—and triumphs, let us be clear, by divine violence. The symbolic place of that cosmic cleanup as cosmic slaughter is at Har Magiddo in Hebrew (hence our English “Armageddon”), the mountain pass where the spine of Israel’s hill country cuts westward toward the coast and skirts a great plain suitable for battle."

Examples of this approach can be found in Micah 5:15; 7:10, 16–17 and Revelation 14:20, 19:11–21.

The alternate explanation of God’s final resolution to the problem of evil is reflected in the Abrahamic solution where God calls out a people through whom he proposes to bless the world. In place of a great Final Battle to end all battles, this solution imagines a Great Final Banquet, and its symbolic place is Mount Zion. Examples of this position can be found in Micah 4:1–4, Isaiah 23:6–8, and Zechariah 8:20–23. Crossan says that these texts express the hope that “all peoples and nations will convert to the God of nonviolence in a world without weapons and to the God of justice in a world without empires.”

Two visions, one book.

Not only can these two visions be present in the same book, they can stand side-by-side in the same passage. In Matthew 22:1-10 we read:

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city [this is most likely a depiction of the destruction of Jerusalem added to the parable after 70 CE]. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet. Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Think about this for a moment. No distinction is made between the bad and the good. No moral evaluation or condemnation – just y’all come. And they did – both good and bad. It’s hard to get more inclusive than this.

Is this too good to be true? Perhaps for some it is not good at all. Grace looks and sounds great, except when it is extended to those we think should be excluded. Were some members of Matthew’s community not happy with this all-inclusive vision of the kingdom? No worry, Matthew offers an alternative vision in the very next paragraph in 22:11-14:

“But when the king came to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The harsh, severe, vindictive language in the passage above is typical of Matthew. The “weeping and gnashing of teeth” used above is found also in Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 24:51; 25:30 (outside of Matthew only in Luke at 13:28), and the phrase “outer darkness” is found in Matt. 8:12. Also, Matthew speaks of “everlasting fire,” (Matt. 5:22; 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8; 25:41-46) and “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:30) to describe God’s judgment. In addition, Matthew makes reference to hell (gehenna) seven times, whereas the word appears only once in Mark and Luke.   

Anyone familiar with Matthew’s Gospel should be able to observe how these images of divine vengeance stand in contradiction to Matthew’s own portrait of Jesus. It is hard to imagine that the Jesus who shares table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners, who speaks of God as Abba, who teaches and embodies unlimited forgiveness, who teaches his followers to pray for their enemies, who brings healing and wholeness to the diseased and demonized, and who condemns condemnation would so mercilessly dismiss, condemn and punish the unrighteous. Theologian Walter Wink has pointed out,

“Matthew’s use of the judgment theme is particularly vindictive . . . The unconditional loving Abba of the Sermon on the Mount (5:45) now wants to settle some scores.  Matthew’s heart will not be happy until ‘all evildoers’ have been thrown ‘into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew, it would appear, has an axe to grind. Two visions – side by side – in the same passage, reflecting two competing visions within Matthew’s church. It’s just the way it is.        

This tends to drive modern people like us crazy, but the early Messianic communities which were modeled after the Jewish synagogue apparently had little problem with it. Jewish teachers loved to debate and argue various positions and interpretations.

The Bible is obviously not a window into a perfectly clear revelation of God. Rather, the Bible is more like a mirror that reflects the human struggle to hear, know, and do God’s will, which we get wrong a lot of the time. Because we are flawed, fragmented, and fractured, our sacred texts are also flawed, fragmented, and fractured. Sometimes a Bible text will take us three steps forward; sometime two steps back. It’s just the way it is.

So here in a single passage, two competing visions. One inclusive, the other exclusive. The inclusive vision was apparently too good to be true for some in the community, so – if you want in you better have the proper attire. And what is the proper attire? That depends on who you ask.

In the church of my upbringing one had to walk to the front of the church at the conclusion of the worship service when an invitation was extended and confess Jesus to the preacher. That was the way in. One had to say, “I want to trust Jesus” or “I want to be saved” or something similar. There was some flexibility on the particular formula, but the confession to the preacher was essential. That’s what sealed it. Every group has their own style of wedding robe – confessions, creeds, rituals, belief systems, etc.

The inclusive vision of the bad and the good together was just too much inclusiveness for some folks in Matthew’s church to accept, and after two thousand years of church history, we can say that for the most part this had been true for most of Christendom. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cutting Through the Snow on the LGBT Question

As a result of the Supreme Court’s refusal to take up cases seeking to overturn decisions that struck down bans on gay marriage, same-sex marriage is now legal in 24 states. And that number is likely to expand in the near future. To celebrate this progress I pulled out my Bob Dylan CD to hear Dylan wail, “The Times They are A Changin.’” The moral arc of history just bent a little more toward justice.  I believe MLK would say, “Amen.”  

The church should be setting the pace. All the wrangling we do over a handful of biblical texts (Lev. 18:22/20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9; Rom. 1:26-27; and 1 Tim. 1:10) that condemn some form of same-sex relations is such a waste of time. In terms of the Christian’s practical discipleship to Jesus, all that matters is how well we love one another.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the handful of texts above which condemn some deviant form of same-sex behavior (like pederasty, master-slave sex, temple prostitution, or sexual excess) actually condemn ALL same-sex behavior. Would these texts then negate Jesus’ call to love our neighbor as ourselves? Would they override God’s mandate to emulate Jesus’ inclusive love and compassion? Would they diminish Jesus’ inclusive vision of the kingdom of God? Absolutely not.

If I thought the biblical writers were condemning all forms of same-sex relations, then I would have to argue that the biblical writers were wrong - just as they were wrong about God sanctioning violence and ordering the annihilation of entire civilizations. I would argue that the biblical writers were wrong the same way they were wrong about the validity of patriarchy, the moral inferiority of women, or their support of slavery. I would say: Follow Jesus, strive to love as he loved, and forget about those scriptures.  

In reality, it is virtually impossible to know with any degree of certainty what the biblical authors of these disputed texts actually had in mind. Trying to recover authorial intention is a nearly impossible task, and it is very easy to manipulate the evidence and read into the authors meaning what we want them to say.

What should be clear to everyone is: Committed, faithful, monogamous, same-sex relations are very, VERY different than same-sex relations that are rooted in self-indulgence, manipulation, and exploitation. And, of course, the very same thing can be said of heterosexual relations as well.

Many times I have heard Christians who are against same-sex marriage and the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the church say, “We take this position out of love. We are simply being true to scripture.” I don’t buy it. We can read the disputed texts in a variety of different ways, either as a way of excluding LGBT persons or as having no bearing on the issue at all.

So why do so many Christians read them in a condemnatory and exclusionary way? I think there is still a lot of disguised and concealed homophobia in the church. Yale University Professor Dale Martin contended in his book “Sex and the Single Savior” that a lot of scholarly interpretation of these disputed texts is homophobic. He wrote, 

“I am not claiming that these particular men are themselves homophobic. Rather, I would argue that their writings about homosexuality participate in a cultural homophobia, an irrational fear and loathing of homosexuality . . . that pervades much of Western culture and expresses itself in discourses about sexuality, institutionalized marginalization of gay and lesbian people, and social structures that discriminate against them.”

Clearly since Martin made that statement in 2006 the tide has shifted. However, this “irrational fear and loathing of homosexuality” is still quite prevalent in Western culture and in the church in particular. Some Christian groups seem to be entrenched in homophobia.

Until Christians can come to a place of acceptance of same-sex marriage and full inclusion (acceptance and affirmation) of our LGBT sisters and brothers in our churches, then we will continue to fail miserably at fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to love God and neighbor and at being the body of Christ in the world. I honestly admit my personal daily failure to love my neighbor as myself and to incarnate the love of Christ; I would never point to my own life as an example of what this should look like. However, I also would not appeal to scripture to justify my failure to love as I believe opponents of same-sex marriage and full inclusion do.

Paul got it right when he said: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

If the church cannot change and become welcoming and affirming of our LGBT sisters and brothers, then I’m afraid the church will be reduced to a noisy gong and clanging symbol, rather than what I believe God intends for it to be – an outpost for God’s kingdom of love and justice in the world.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Toward a Modern Day Jesus-Inspired Sexual Ethic (Three articles as they appeared in the Frankfort State Journal - Aug.; Sept.; Oct.)

Part 1 (Aug., State Journal)

Today and in my next two articles I will be exploring the question: What should a modern day, Jesus inspired sexual ethic look like for Christians who aspire to follow Jesus? Jesus, of course, does not address this subject directly in the Gospels. But he does speak to it indirectly.

By way of introduction we should first ask: Does the Bible as a whole teach a clear sexual ethic? It does not. The sexual mores condoned and practiced in the Old Testament Scriptures almost always favor patriarchal preferences and prejudices. Consider the following examples:

(1) Polygamy (having many wives) and concubinage (a woman living with a man to whom she is not married) were regularly practiced and accepted as normative in the Old Testament without a single word of condemnation by a biblical writer.
(2) Prostitution was considered quite natural and necessary in patriarchal biblical times as a safeguard for the virginity of brides and property rights of husbands (Gen. 38:12-19; Josh. 2:1-7)
(3) In the Old Testament a man could not commit adultery against his own wife (because she belonged to him); he could only commit adultery against another man by sexually using the other’s wife. And a bride who was found not to be a virgin was to be stoned to death (Deut. 22:13-21).
(4) And nowhere in the Old Testament are sexual relations between consenting unmarried heterosexual adults prohibited.

I could go on (the above examples are not exhaustive), but the point should be obvious: The sexual mores accepted and practiced in the patriarchal culture of the biblical world favored male power and interests. If anyone tells you that the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics is clear, they either do not know any better (they are simply passing on what they had been taught), or they are being intentionally dishonest. 

As I said, Jesus does not approach this subject directly, though he does teach some things that are certainly related to sexual mores and practices. So where do we begin? We must begin with that which constituted the critical core of all Jesus’ teaching.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment in the law, he responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).

And lest we look for some wiggle room in the way we define “neighbor” Jesus closed that door by teaching that the neighbor even includes the “enemy” who wants to do us harm (Matt. 5:43-48).

For Christians, this love ethic as taught and embodied by Jesus provides a guiding beacon, a compass that can be used to chart the course of God’s will for human beings.

I believe that everything Jesus did and said ultimately relates to this essential demand: Love God with the totality of your being and love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Value the well-being of the other as much as you value your own well-being.

In light of the importance of this foundational teaching, I believe that any contemporary Jesus inspired sexual ethic must be filtered through this love ethic that was central to Jesus’ life and message.

In my next two articles I will apply Jesus’ love ethic to three specific sayings (Matthew 5:27-30, Mark 7:21-23, and Matt. 19:1-12) that relate to this subject. Watch this space (Sept. 7; Oct. 5). 

Part 2 (Sept., State Journal) 

What should a modern-day, Jesus-inspired sexual ethic look like? In my first article (Aug. 3) I pointed out two things: (1) In the Bible sexual mores were quite diverse, but generally they reflected patriarchal practices that favored male prejudices and preferences. (2) Any Christian sexual ethic must be guided by the love ethic (Matt. 22:37-40) that was foundational to Jesus’ life and teaching. Here I want to explore how Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Matt. 19:3-9) relates to this.

Jesus argued against divorce, but I do not believe he considered divorce a greater sin or evil than any other betrayal or failure that divides people and harms relationships. In Matthew 19 Jesus is not the one who brings up the subject. I am convinced that why Jesus said what he did is even more important than what Jesus actually said. Let me explain:

In the patriarchal culture of Palestinian Judaism in Jesus’ world only men exercised the right to divorce and they could do so on any grounds. Deuteronomy 24:1 (“Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce . . .”) was commonly understood by many Jewish leaders to mean that a man could divorce his wife on the slightest whim. 

This was simply disastrous for women who were then considered damaged goods and had few options. Some without family to take them in were forced into lives of prostitution simply to survive.

When Jesus was asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause, he objected by appealing to Genesis 2:24: “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘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.”

(Sometimes opponents of same-sex marriage argue that Jesus was here affirming heterosexual marriage over/against same-sex marriage. Clearly, Jesus’ appeal to Gen. 2:24 was for the express purpose of arguing against divorce. And clearly, the affirmation of heterosexual marriage does not in any way imply the condemnation of same-sex marriage, which Jesus says nothing about, and would have made no sense in a culture that knew nothing about same-sex orientation.)

Jesus’ critics raised an objection: “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” In response Jesus said: “It was because you were so hardhearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8).

The Bible doesn’t actually say that Moses allowed for divorce because of the hardheartedness of the people. This was Jesus’ interpretation—his critical/spiritual reading—of the passage in Deuteronomy 24:1 (quoted above).

Jesus interpreted Deut. 24:1 with a bias toward love—toward the good and well-being of the women who suffered from divorce. By arguing against divorce, Jesus was providing some leverage for women who were generally devastated by divorce. He was trying to level the playing field.

Undoubtedly, Jesus’ love ethic provided the context for his argument from Scripture against divorce. Why did he do this? Because what he cared most about was trying to make the situation livable for women trapped in a patriarchal system that often treated them as commodities to be disposed of at will by men who considered themselves naturally superior.

Jesus did not argue against divorce because he was inflexibly committed to some divine law or ideal plan that was encapsulated in Genesis 2:24 or because divorce is a greater sin than other sins involving a breach of trust or act of betrayal. I am convinced that he argued against divorce because he first and foremost cared about the plight of Jewish women entrapped in a patriarchal culture that oppressed them. Luke 4:18 emphasizes Jesus’ mission as one of freeing the captives and releasing the oppressed.

What can we appropriate from this in our contemporary setting? By following the trajectory of Jesus’ teaching we can conclude that a Jesus-inspired sexual ethic for both heterosexual and same-sex couples will always be characterized by mutuality, equality, and what is genuinely good for and in the best interest of both partners in the relationship.

Part 3 (Oct., State Journal)

This is part three of: What should a modern day Jesus-inspired sexual ethic look like? In part one I argued that any Jesus-inspired sexual ethic must be grounded in Jesus’ love ethic that was central to his life and teaching (Matt. 22:37-40). In part two I concluded from Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Matt. 19:3-12) that all sexual relations (heterosexual or same-sex) worthy of Jesus will be marked by mutuality, equality, and what is genuinely good for both partners in the relationship. Here in part three I want to look at what Jesus says about sexual excess and exploitation. .

In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

In the interests of love Jesus sometimes intensified the Jewish law, other times he abolished it. Here he intensified or radicalized it.

What did Jesus mean by looking at a woman lustfully? Was Jesus condemning sexual desire? Of course not. The Greek text behind the translation suggests that the looking is for the purpose of using the woman sexually. What Jesus was denouncing was sexual desire that objectified a woman as a man’s personal object for sexual gratification. 

As in the passage on divorce, Jesus spoke directly to men, because in his culture it was patriarchal men who sexually exploited women. And once again, Jesus does what he can to safeguard women against sexual oppression and exploitation.

What follows next is a warning by Jesus to the men who sexually exploited women that is the most vivid, intense, and severe of any warning Jesus ever uttered: 
“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. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut if 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” (Matt. 5:29-30).

Jesus was certainly employing hyperbole (it would be absurd to interpret such a text literally), but he fully intended to shock his hearers. Jesus wanted to derail sexual exploitation at its origin—in the heart.

Jesus made this point in Mark 7:21-23 where he traced sexual exploitation along with a host of other harmful and evil attitudes and behaviors to their source: “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The word translated “fornication” is a very general term that is often simply translated “sexual immorality.” Immoral sex is sex that objectifies and exploits the other, sex that is non-mutual, manipulative, and self-absorbed.

Authentic transformation involves a transformation of the heart. This is why the Hebrew prophets envision the future day of the world’s redemption as a time when the will of God is written on the minds and hearts of God’s children (see Jer. 31:31-34). When the royal law of love fills hearts and minds, then holiness codes and legal stipulations become obsolete. 

So what happens when we apply Jesus’ love ethic to sexual desire and the sexual mores of our culture? Sexual desire will not be denied, denigrated, ignored, or abhorred. It will be welcomed as a gift, an inseparable part of our humanity that God calls “very good.” The external shape of a Jesus-inspired sexual relationship may take different forms in our culture, but without question this relationship (heterosexual or same-sex) will be characterized by mutuality, equality, fidelity, humility, honesty, compassion, and a magnanimous love that truly pursues the good and well-being of one’s partner.

On Tuesday, Nov. 11 from 6:00 to 7:30 pm in the Community Room of the Paul Sawyier Library I will be leading a workshop on “Why Jesus Would Say ‘Yes’ to Same-Sex Marriage.” This is a workshop on why the church should be welcoming and affirming (committed to full inclusion) of our LGBT sisters and brothers. It is free to the public. One can access all three parts of this series at my website: http://www.afreshperpective-chuck.blogspot.com. It’s titled: Toward a Jesus-Inspired Sexual Ethic.