This is somewhat of an aside, but it just so happens that as I am reflecting on purity, the unhappy relationship between Church and homosexuality is in the news again: see here; and here, here, and here for other reflections.
One of the most heated debates within the western Church at present concerns homosexuality: should it be affirmed, or condemned, as orientation or as active lifestyle? It is a debate in which convictions run deep, and certain voices are vociferous; and I would suggest that I observe a lack of purity at both ends of the spectrum. These are, however, my own views; and in what I write here I do not claim to be speaking on behalf of my community.
There are those who maintain that the existence of a homosexual orientation is evidence that God has created individuals with this orientation, and that therefore it is good – and to be affirmed as such. The problem with this view is that it is poor theology: it recognises a theology of creation, but not a theology of brokenness within creation – and therefore a theology of a need for redemption. And it is hard to conceive how theology can remain Christian without these elements. Leaving aside the question of whether or not homosexuality is a form of brokenness, it is the refusal to accept that it might be a form of brokenness that evidences a lack of purity, because it creates a part of my identity that I will not allow to be challenged. Of those vocal in the cause of homosexuality within the Church, I have never heard any advocate admit to this as even a theoretical possibility (and the argument has become so entrenched that it would be almost impossible to do so). But if (homo)sexuality is out-of-bounds to the brokenness question, how might we determine what is and what is not out-of-bounds? For example, must we affirm the sexual orientation of paedophilia (and I’m speaking of the orientation here, so the question of consent in regards to the act is a distraction) as part of God’s diversity, or could it be evidence of creation broken? For example, is physical disability (not an orientation, but a fundamental part of some people’s composition) part of God’s diversity, or could it be evidence of creation broken? We could go on, asking other questions relating to the physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or any other aspect of our nature. Of course, such questions get heated, because they concern real people, who have – but are not necessarily afforded – genuine worth; and it is easy, but mistaken, to confuse questioning a person’s fundamental makeup with calling into question their worth.
On the other hand, there are those who maintain that a homosexual lifestyle is an offence, unacceptable to God. Many who take this position will claim to “hate the sin, love the sinner.” In practice, my observation is of a profound lack of love for those considered sinners, which evidences a lack of purity. Whenever we oppose the extension of rights to homosexuals, giving them equality in law to heterosexuals, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we express our fear that the extension of such rights equates to an erosion of our rights as heterosexuals (and in particular, married heterosexuals), we demonstrate our lack of love (perfect love drives out fear). Whenever we speak ill of homosexual celebrities, or lament their profile, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we talk against “the way in which the nation is going” in the privacy of our own homes, or harangue our politicians and wave placards in public, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we remain silent in response to hearing homosexuality spoken of in derogatory terms, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we hold a double standard between the interpretation and enforcement of biblical texts that concern homosexuality and those that concern anything else; and whenever we consider homosexuality to be more serious than any of the sins we are willing to admit to being present in our own lives, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we think, say, or do anything that fosters an ‘us-and-them’ divide, we demonstrate our lack of love. And if we do not love, how can we claim to know God?
One of the things that most interests and convicts me about Jesus is how he relates to those whose lifestyle he does not condone. I don’t believe that Jesus approved of Zacchaeus’ financial extortion; but he first offends the crowd by choosing to stay at his house; and then rebukes the crowd for their attitude towards this excluded member of the community, and towards Jesus for his choice to identify with him. Jesus’ purity is not only not compromised by going out of his way to eat with “sinners” (that is, symbolically acting out a reversal of their exclusion from, into their inclusion within, God’s family), it is actually expressed in this way. And it would appear that Jesus’ acceptance evokes repentance, a commitment to change, in those who already know that some aspect of their lifestyle is wrong in the eyes of God. But to the self-righteous, Jesus’ approach is always fairly blunt, if not down right rude.
Homosexual and heterosexual alike are in need of repentance, and equally prone to self-righteousness; and God knows better than I do the ways in which I, or anyone else, needs to change. The current debate on human sexuality will be with us within the Church for some time. I hope and pray that, wherever we stand now and in whatever direction we might move, we might be more like Jesus in how we relate to those whose position we are unable to condone; and more open to having our own position called into question.
human sexuality , church , purity