Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Paul and the Greek Poets

I have been writing on the subject of how I believe that Christianity is not supposed to be like religion - that is, a system of insiders and outsiders where we are the right side and everyone else is on the wrong side.  This post will be a continuation on this theme - if you have not read my other posts in this series, I recommend you do so:
  • Part 1 explores 5 reasons I believe Christianity is not supposed to be a religion in the sense I described.
  • Part 2 explores the balance between Orthodoxy (right belief) and Orthopraxy (right action)
  • Part 3 explores how one could go about analyzing their belief structure to find out if it was poisonous
  • Part 4 explores how preaching works within the new paradigm of "religionless Christianity"
So I'd like to try to tie things up in this post.  The idea of this whole series has been about moving beyond a system of belief that divides people, and moving into a way of life that brings people together in unity.

The Evolution of "Religion"
In his 1962 book "The Meaning and End of Religion", Wilfred Cantwell Smith - a professor of comparative religion at Harvard - draws a distinction between the modern word “religion” and its Latin root, religio.  The root of this word is ligare - to connect, tie together, bind, unite.  This is the same root of "ligature": the stuff that holds a skeleton together.  We see from this history that religion is meant to be a r
econnecting - to bring together people who should have never been separated.  It is not intended to be a system that separates people into hostile tribes.

But Professor Smith demonstrates that through the centuries, the meaning of this word slowly changed:

...in pamphlet after pamphlet, treatise after treatise, decade after decade, the notion was driven home that religion is something that one believes or does not believe, something whose propositions are true or are not true, something whose locus is in the realm of the intelligible, is up for inspection before the speculative mind.
We have found in these modern times that this way of treating religion has poisoned it from within and turned it into a weapon tribes wield against each other.  So it has been my argument in this series of posts that what we need for this time is a new kind of "religionless" Christianity which is based primarily in love for our fellow man, and is more focused on uniting over the common goals of the good of society than on common "beliefs".  This new kind of religion would be based more on fellowship and experience than on assertions of truth.

This is not to say that truth is not important, but rather that I believe the nature of truth is something that binds people together and heals rather than something that should cause strife and conflict.  In "Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening", Diana Butler Bass writes:

Indeed, the word “doctrine,” a word fallen on hard times in contemporary culture, actually means a “healing teaching,” from the French word for “doctor .” The creeds, as doctrinal statements, were intended as healing instruments, life-giving words that would draw God’s people into a deeper engagement with divine things. When creeds become fences to mark the borders of heresy, they lose their spiritual energy. Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people.

I believe that it is important to realize that truth is not an exclusive thing - truth is not some physical thing that one tribe possesses to the exclusion of all others.  Rather, we are all able to perceive truth to varying degrees, and when we work together with different people groups we will have greater understandings of the truth.  In order to understand truth better and more fully, we cannot act as if our tribe has an exclusive grip on truth and all other tribes are lost in darkness, but rather we should realize that there are some truths our tribe may understand better than others, and most likely many others that other tribes understand more clearly than our own.

Paul and the Greek Poets
I believe we see this attitude at work in the way the Apostle Paul draws on the wisdom of well-known Greek poets in
A depiction of Paul preaching on Mars Hill in Acts 17
Acts chapter 17.  In verse 28, we find Paul quoting two distinct figures: the Cretan philosopher Epimenides in the first half of the verse, and the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus.


Now first of all, this provides a stark contrast with what seems to be the common attitude of much of American Christianity these days.  It seems that much of the Christian world in America has adopted an isolationist sort of attitude that encourages those within to avoid the outside world, and to see them as dangerous liars who are devoid of all truth.  And this sort of culture encourages its adherents to avoid "secular" things in favor of "Christian" things - trade "secular" music for "Christian" music, "secular" movies for "Christian" movies, "secular" books for "Christian" books, etc.  But Paul seems to draw a contrast with this attitude in Acts 17:28 by drawing on the wisdom of well-known "secular" figures in order to communicate with his audience.  Why is Paul willing to draw from the wisdom of those who are not part of his religion?

I think a major clue is found in what Paul is quoting, specifically.  In the first quote, Paul says that "in him [speaking of God] we live and move and have our being", and in the second he says that we are God's offspring - His children.  Paul makes no exceptions in these quotes - he doesn't specify that you have to be members of a particular religious "tribe" in order to be God's children.  Rather, he seems to imply that all people live, move, and have their being grounded in God and are children of God.

Over All, Through All, In All

To understand more fully how Paul understands the nature of God, I'd like to examine another statement found in Ephesians 4:4-6:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [emphasis mine]
The statement at the end of this passages lays out a profound mystery - God is over all things, working through all things, and is in all things.  There is a simple term for this view: panentheism.  Panentheism is the belief that all things rest within the being of God, God is working through all beings and all events, all beings are a part of the life of God, and yet God transcends all things, beings, and events.  In this belief, we cannot isolate God to any one place or time, but we can find God in all places and times.

This is not a belief that the Apostle Paul invented either - we find traces of panentheism in "Old Testament" passages like this one:

Psalm 139:7-10
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
The prophet Jeremiah writes:

Jeremiah 23:24
"Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?"
declares the Lord. 
"Do not I fill heaven and earth?"
declares the Lord.
The gospel of John has a brilliant explanation of panentheism in the first chapter.  The author of this gospel has a very artistic way of using words - often playing on double meanings, and layering multiple meanings over-top of each other.  In the first verse of this gospel, John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This single sentence is packed full of meaning.  The word translated as "Word" was the Greek word "logos".  This is a very interesting word, because it draws on the Greek belief that the entire cosmos was grounded in a rational system of rules.  We could call this "science" or "physics" in modern times.  But John is also drawing on the fact that to the Jews, "the Word" had a rich meaning as well.  In Genesis, God creates through his "Word".  When God speaks, things happen.  For human beings as well, a word is an interesting thing to think about: a word that we speak conveys our thoughts to another person and has an affect on them.  They perceive a piece of our nature through this word.  When a word leaves our lips, it is no longer us, and yet it has its source in us.  An instruction from one person to another might result in actions being taken.  For Jews, they believed that creation was a direct result of God's word, and thus was a way to perceive the nature of God and to perceive God's thoughts.  Additionally, the Hebrew Bible was considered to be God's "Word" - a direct revelation of God's character.  

The Logos of the Universe

But John is saying that the Word is more than the matter of creation, or even ancient scriptures.  The Word is a person.  But this person has existed from the beginning, was with God, and was God.  More than this, all things were created through the Logos (see verse 3), all life comes through this Logos (see verse 4), and all knowledge comes from this Logos (see verses 4 and 9). 

Perhaps even more interesting is that a parallel can be made between John's writing on the Logos and the way the writer of the Proverbs talks about wisdom.  In the Proverbs, wisdom is repeatedly personified as a woman.  Actually, the Greek word for "wisdom" is also a female name: Sophia.  So often, you will hear scholars talking about "the Sophia of God" in their writings.  And a striking parallel can be made with the way John talks about Logos and the way the Proverbs speak of Sophia in Proverbs 3:19-20, and in Proverbs 8:22-31.  In the first passage, we see that God created through Sophia, just as creation was through the Logos in John 1:3.  Just as Logos was with God in the beginning in John 1:2, in Proverbs 8:22-31, Sophia was the first of God's works, given birth before all else and present when all other things were created.

I think that this parallel with Sophia in Proverbs helps to flesh out the meaning of the "Logos made flesh" that is spoken of in John 1:14.  When we understand that the Logos parallels the personification of God's wisdom, we can see how Jesus embodied the Way of Life that was from God.  Jesus embodied the Truth through the way he lived - he didn't just teach with words, but he acted out everything he taught.  And in so doing, he incarnated the Sophia of God - Wisdom from Love.  The Way that Jesus taught - self-sacrificing life of servant-hood grounded in unconditional love - is the incarnation of God's wisdom.  And in John 17:11 and 17, Jesus prayed that we would have this same One-ness with God that he enjoyed - that we would also be able to experience the Unity he experienced through living a life that incarnates Sophia.

Making Sense of Panentheism

These are bold claims, and very difficult to understand.  It would be easy to dismiss this as nonsense if one had no desire to understand.  But I think there is a fundamental truth to this idea.

Think of it this way: all existence is grounded in relationship.  I would not exist were it not for the relationship my parents had, and I would not have continued to have life after I began to exist if it were not for relationships, nor would I have known anything I claim to know if it were not for relationships.  In the classic Christmas movie "It's A Wonderful Life", George Bailey learns that he has touched many lives in a profound way.  He sees that if his own life had been removed from the tapestry of history, many other lives would experience loss.  We are all the same way - our lives are dependent on the lives of others for their ground of being.  Without the many lives whose paths we had crossed, we would be very different people, and if you removed enough threads from the tapestry of life, we would cease to exist.  Every being exists within a web of relationships through which that being's character is shaped.

What panentheism teaches us is that all beings are interrelated.  When you eat a piece of bread, you are not just eating bread.  The grain from which this bread was made was nourished by sunlight, it grew using the nutrients from the earth, the water from the clouds, and the air.  So when you eat this bread, you are eating sunlight, earth, clouds, and air.  And you are benefiting from the work of the people who tilled the fields this grain grew in, and the work of the baker.  So you are experiencing interrelatedness with each bite of bread.

In the Bible, when the Holy Spirit is talked about, the word that is used for "Spirit" is "pneuma".  Like many Greek words, this word has another meaning as well: breath.  In Genesis, after God created man, he breathed life into him.  We are dependent on air to live - without breath, we die.  But when we breathe, we are experiencing interrelatedness, because the air we breathe has been breathed and expelled by thousands of people before us, as well as animals and plants.  This air has been circulated countless times through the lungs of countless creatures.

I believe that it is impossible to understand the doctrine of the Trinity outside of panentheism.  The idea of the trinity is that God exists as "three in one" - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But this idea also holds that God is no more three than He is one, and no more one than He is three.  That one is a head-scratcher.  But if you understand that God is the very ground of being, you can start to understand the trinity.  The Father is the unknowable and unfathomable source of all life, the Son is the knowable manifestation of God, and the Holy Spirit is the interrelatedness of all things. 

Imagine it this way - you are standing at the bottom of a waterfall.  The top of the waterfall is unknown to you, and is the source - the Father, for the sake of this analogy.  The water spilling over your face is the manifestation of the waterfall through which you experience and understand the waterfall - the Son.  The water spilling out below you and touching other life-forms is the Holy Spirit.  You experience the waterfall through individual drops of water, but these drops are part of a much greater whole.  If you think deeply about this concept, you realize that the water evaporates in the sunlight, rises to form clouds, and then rains back down to the earth to become part of the waterfall again.  Additionally, creatures drink from the water of this waterfall and this water passes through them back into the ground to become part of streams, to evaporate and become clouds, and to precipitate again down to the earth.  In this way, all creatures have a relationship to this waterfall, and in a way have a relationship with each other through the waterfall.

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17 that we will be One, as he and the Father are one (verse 11), "as you [the Father] are in me and I am in you."  (verse 21)  This is the force of perfect love - relationship so close that the members of the relationship, in their continual self-sacrifice for one another, cooperate in such a close relationship that they become "One".  Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:4-5:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We are supposed to belong to each other, as cells in a body belong to each other.  The cells of a body serve the body, and in serving the body they are nourished and upheld by the body.  When a group of cells stops serving the body, and the cells seek to serve themselves, this is competition/separation/non-love and in the human body we call that cancer.  

In "Christ In Evolution", Ilia Delio writes:

To live in the experience of Christ is to live in the experience of relatedness, to be a member of the cosmic family, because Christ is the Word of God through whom all things are related.
The early Christians understood Jesus as a revelation of God's character - they saw a man whose entire life was marked by radical love, and whose life caused a ripple effect throughout an entire empire.  Because of the effects of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul believed that it is through the universal relationship of divine love that all things are created and sustained, as he writes in Colossians 1:15-20:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

We find through this passage that universal love is not only the goal of creation, but also the means of creation.  When I combine this idea with John 12:32 - where Jesus says that through the act of the cross he will draw all men to himself - I am reminded of the science of a black hole.  Science teaches us that it is because of gravity that all bodies in the cosmos are formed, and at the center of each galaxy is a black hole.  The galaxies themselves owe their very existence to the incredible gravity of these black holes, which are continually drawing all members of the galaxy inward towards them.  I believe that God's love is a bit like this - drawing all men in to relationship and forming the fabric of being through this love. 

Because of the proclamation of universal reconciliation in Col. 1:20, we are freed from the fear of the world, our fellow man, "demons", and even God, and empowered to reach out with bold acts of love and join in with God's creative work.  This doctrine helps us to understand that being made “in the image of God” means that at a very deep level - in the core of our being - we are marked by the radical potential to receive the mystery of divine love, and as a result to pour out God’s presence in the world.  And through accepting and extending this love, we enter into partnership with God to become agents of creation through His love.

This idea gives us a whole new understanding of "salvation" - salvation is not being saved from God, but being saved in, to, and through God.  For many Christians, the word "salvation" brings an understanding of being saved from "hell" (for more on this subject, see my series "Checkmate For Hell"), but the word's Latin roots mean "whole", "sound", "healed", "safe", "well", or "unharmed".  Often people will talk about "finding love", and will talk about this love making us whole or healing us.  But panentheism teaches us that love was always inside of us - we just needed to give it away.  

When we understand that the goal for creation is interrelatedness, we can understand more fully the meaning of Jesus' words in Matthew 16:25:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

When we seek to live our life at the cost of others and independent of them, we will lose our life.  But when we draw in to the fellowship of the unity of all things (see Eph. 1:9-10), we will find a well of Eternal Life that will flow out from us into the world (see John 4:10-14).  

The understanding of the full integration with love helps us to understand many other facets of faith.  For example, we understand through this framework that our relationship with creation should be - it is not a relationship of domination and forced control, but rather a relationship of harmony.  We can also understand that the true nature of sin/evil is a resistance to unity that causes division and chaos, but we also understand that this cannot last forever but will be conquered by love in the end.

But perhaps the greatest lesson panentheism teaches us is the true nature of love: that in order to experience love, we must love others, and in doing so we will find that we have always been loved and lovable ourselves.  Love does not act in a way that causes harm to a single living being, but seeks to integrate all life - Ilia Delio sums up this idea in "Christ In Evolution":

Christ, the fully integrated person, is not a person but the Person, the integration of all human persons fully united in the one Spirit of love and thus fully integrated in relation to God.  The resurrected Christ is the prolepsis of what is intended for the whole cosmos — union and transformation in God.
In the community of God, we will find true peace.  The loneliness caused by isolation will end, as well as all acts of violence and injustice.  The mutual destruction caused by the selfish struggles of rampant individuality will be replaced by a community of peace built on self-giving mutual servant-hood in which all created beings are there for one another, with one another and in one another, and through the interchange of their energies keep one another in life, for one another and together.  And in this community we will truly experience the presence of God, and the power of death will be overcome.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Preaching the Gospel in the Paradigm of Religionless Christianity

I have been writing on the subject of how I believe that Christianity is not supposed to be like religion - that is, a system of insiders and outsiders where we are the right side and everyone else is on the wrong side.  This post will be a continuation on this theme - if you have not read my other posts in this series, I recommend you do so:
  • Part 1 explores 5 reasons I believe Christianity is not supposed to be a religion in the sense I described.
  • Part 2 explores the balance between Orthodoxy (right belief) and Orthopraxy (right action)
  • Part 3 explores how one could go about analyzing their belief structure to find out if it was poisonous
The theme of this post is how "preaching" or "evangelism" works within the paradigm of a "religionless Christianity".  But before I get into that, I think I should explore some concepts a bit more first.  Up to this point, I have been exploring this idea of "religionless Christianity" - that is, what Christianity is not supposed to be.  But is there a word for what it should be?

Religion Vs. Spirituality
I've been reading Diana Butler Bass's book, "Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening" - a book I probably should have read before beginning this series.  This book, in my opinion, should be required reading for every faith leader out there - Bass puts together a remarkable amount of data from numerous studies and questionnaires, as well as history and personal stories, all having to do with the changing face of religion in America.  And she is able to put all of this together into a coherent narrative - a bird's eye view of what is happening, why, and where we are headed.

In one section of the book, Dr. Bass talks about an exercise she would do as she went from church to church and from denominational meeting to denominational meeting to present her material.  She would ask the people at these events to do a word association exercise where they would list all the words that they associate with religion versus the words they associate with spirituality.  No matter where she was - regardless of denomination - she found surprisingly similar results.   

Religion was always associated with words like "structure", "rules", "building", "order", and "authority".  These words are rigid, unmoving, strong, but lifeless words.

Spirituality, meanwhile, brought to mind words like experience, connection, transcendence, and energy.  These words have a sense of life to them, of being open to change and able to roll with the punches.

Dr. Bass writes that some congregations were skeptical of the word “spirituality”, and would describe it with a few more negative terms.  But even so, she remarks:
..."religion" got the worst of it: "cold," "outdated," "rigid," "hurtful," "narrow," "controlling," "embarrassing," and "mean.” And those words came from people who were church members!  No matter the region or denomination, all of the groups associated spirituality with experience and religion with institutions.
So it seems that "spirituality" is more apt to capture the sense of "Christianity" that I am going for - a paradigm that transcends boundaries, and is willing to cast off structure if it presents an obstacle between oneself and a neighbor.  Spirituality, in this sense, is about inter-connectedness and relationship.

But this may bring about a perplexing question - what does it mean to "preach" to others who do not adhere to this form of Christianity?  How does one "evangelize" from within this paradigm?

First, let's examine the way evangelism all too often works in the religious paradigm.

Marketing 101
In the paradigm of religion, evangelism ends up looking a lot like the sale of a product.  There are 5 basic steps to marketing - you can notice this in every single commercial and sales pitch.  They are:
  1. Demonstrate a need
  2. Demonstrate the consequences of failing to meet this need 
  3. Show how your product meets this need
  4. Define the price, but do so in a way that makes it look comparatively thrifty
  5. Create urgency
You can look at any effective commercial or sales pitch and find these elements - maybe not in the same order, but they are there.  And the weird thing is, this is how evangelism seems to be taught inside the religious paradigm of Christianity.  Take a look:

Step 1: Demonstrate a Need
I can remember being taught basic evangelism techniques in Sunday school when I was in High School.  The first step was always to demonstrate to people that they were full of this thing called sin.  Sin was very bad, and there was nothing you could do to get rid of it.  And this was a problem because when God looked at you, all He could see (according to the marketing plan) was this sin!  There were two basic techniques for this step - one was to ask the question: 
If you were to die tonight, and God asked you "why should I let you into my heaven?"  How would you answer?
We were taught that if people started to talk about how they had been basically good people, we were to use the "three egg omelet" analogy.  The analogy works like this: imagine you're making a three egg omelet for someone.  But when you crack the third egg, you smell something rotten - this egg is bad.  But hey, the other two are good, so I'm sure your friend won't notice, right?  And then what you do is to describe how we're all like that omelet, and we all have sin, like the third egg that is rotten.  

So there's nothing you can do about your sin, right?  We're all disgusting omelets made with a rotten egg!  


Ah, now you're ready for step 2!

Step 2: Demonstrate the Consequences of Failing to Meet This Need
Ok, so we're disgusting omelets and we can't do anything about it.  Why should I care?  Why don't I just try to be happy anyways?

Hell!  Oh yeah, buddy.  Hell is really scary, man!  Worst consequences you could ever possibly imagine!  Whatever torment you can concoct in your mind?  It's going to be worse, and it's going to last for ever, MUAH HA HA HA!  

(Note: I have written a lengthy defense on why this idea is not Biblical and it starts here.)

So what can we do about this problem? 

Step 3: Show How Your Product Meets This Need
So then, the evangelist in the religious paradigm presents the product: Jesus!  That's right!  Jesus will solve your problems!  You just need Jesus and your sin problem goes away!  And Jesus can get you into Heaven, man!  Heaven is like the opposite of Hell - we're going to live forever, and we'll sit around on clouds all day and sing hymns to God! 

"Um, I don't really like hymns - an eternity of singing them sounds kind of like Hell to me...."

You need to repent, sinner!  You don't want to end up in the eternal lake of fire, do you? 

"Well...no, that sounds pretty crappy.  So...what do I do?"

Ah, now we're ready for the next step. 

Step 4: Define the Price
So guess what!  All you gotta do is say a magical incantation...er, I mean a prayer...and invite Jesus to come into your heart! 

"Um, how can a person fit inside my vascular organ?"

Heretic!  Repent and believe!!!  You don't want Hell, do you? 


Ok, so it's settled.  You need Jesus.

Jesus doesn't seem much like a person any more....
 Now we're ready for the final step!

Step 5: Create Urgency
So you might notice that a lot of commercials and sales pitches have this thing called a "limited time offer", right?  They put an expiration date on this awesome, thrifty sale.  The whole idea is that you want the customer to buy now.  Because marketing experts know that the minute the salesman walks out the door, the chances of making a sale go down drastically.  So what do you do?  You say "hey, this price is great, right?  It's not going to last forever, so you should buy now while the offer lasts!"  Here's the weird thing:

The religious paradigm of evangelism works the same way.

They have their own limited time offer going on and it actually comes in two forms.  The first form is this: you die, the deal is off.  Simple as that.  And that's a great way to create urgency, right?  Because dude, you never know when it's gonna happen!  You might be crossing a parking lot and BAM!  You get hit by a car, you know?

The second form of the limited time offer is THE END OF THE WORLD, MUAH HA HA HA!  Yeah, apparently when Jesus comes back we find out that he's bipolar and went from being meek and mild to a kick-ass Rambo type of guy who is going to destroy everything.

I'm your worst nightmare....
The fact that religious evangelism often ends up looking like the sale of a product is pointed out by Diana Butler Bass in another section in "Christianity After Religion":
Other than the fact that denominations offered religion as the product, they differed little from other corporations that dominated America in the last century. As a Presbyterian elder once sighed to me, “Our church is like GM, only we sell faith.” And if the Presbyterian Church - or any denomination, for that matter - is like GM, that is not a good thing.

Now, besides the fact that the marketing 101 strategy of evangelism turns Jesus into a ticket that you put in your pocket so you can bring it out and show the train conductor in the sky after you die and gain admittance into a place that honestly doesn't sound all that fun in the first place, there's a major problem with this way of doing evangelism: Jesus never did it like this.

Peter's Three Confessional Moments
I think that the best model for the evangelism of Jesus comes in the form of the Apostle Peter.  We see a very different model when we follow Peter's story - basically a three step model, which I will refer to as Peter's three confessional moments.

The first confessional moment came when Jesus introduced himself to Peter.  We see this story in Mark 1:16-18 and in Matthew 4:18-20, and you might notice something interesting about these stories: there's never any discussion of religious doctrine.  Jesus doesn't go to the brothers Simon (who was later given the name Peter) and Andrew and discuss 5 tenets of his new religion, or tell them "dudes, I'm God!  And if you accept that, you can go to Heaven!  Otherwise - Hell, bro!  You don't want that!"

No, he says something very simple: "Follow me."  That's it.

And this comes with a promise: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!"

There's something interesting about this metaphor - Jesus is giving Simon (Peter) and Andrew a new purpose.  This purpose uses their talents in a new way that is enticing to them.  One of the popular terms for describing this is "calling" - people use this term to describe all kinds of things these days.  When you notice that someone is really good at making things look good, you might say they have a "calling" in the world of art or design.  By promising a future of being "fishers of men", Jesus is appealing to a sense of a greater future ahead.  Jesus is saying: "we have common goals to make this a better place - let's work on that together!"  He's promising that they can be part of a plan to do great things - and this is enough for the two disciples to drop what they were doing and follow Jesus right then and there!

This is a remarkable contrast to the Marketing 101 strategy of evangelism, because rather than appealing to fear in order to manipulate people into accepting him, Jesus instead appeals to an innate desire to be part of something grand.  This is the complete opposite strategy!

A Question
So Jesus takes Peter along with him, and Peter witnesses Jesus healing people, feeding the hungry, being a friend to outcasts, and challenging prejudices.  And after a period of time where Peter repeatedly witnesses Jesus doing these incredible things, there is a second confessional moment.  

We see this moment paralleled in Matthew 16:13-20 and in Mark 8:27-30.  Jesus asks his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?"  And Peter declares his belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

Now there's two ways in which this contrasts with the Marketing 101 strategy of evangelism.  The first way is in the timing.  In Marketing 101, you push people to declare their belief in some tremendous claims about Jesus right off the bat.  But this isn't how Jesus works - this confessional moment of Peter occurs after he has already had time to see who Jesus is.

And the second way this contrasts Marketing 101 is that Jesus is asking a question, not making a declaration.  He opens up the discussion - he says "who am I to you?  What do I mean to you?"  He doesn't insist that there is only one meaning and everyone should accept it - he allows his disciples to form their own interpretive views on his meaning and then poses the question after they've witnessed how his actions have played out in the world.  This is a very different model from the manipulative insistence of Marketing 101.  Rather than declaring who he is and then invalidating anyone who doesn't agree, Jesus leaves the question up to his disciples!  And Peter makes quite a bold claim about Jesus as a result of being given the freedom to think for himself!

So that's it, right?  Evangelism is over now.  We've gotten someone to "believe" and now we are done with them, right?

No.  After this event, we continue to observe Jesus being a good friend to Peter, and we see that Peter is still a work in progress.  Declaring Jesus to be messiah doesn't solve all of Peter's problems like some kind of magical incantation - it's only through relationship that he begins to grow into the great man Jesus always knew he could be.  And this is where we find the third confessional moment.

Forgiveness and Reaffirming the Calling
Peter's third confessional moment comes after he faced his own weakness and came to grips with his own limitations.  You see, Peter had always been a little headstrong and rash.  He always seems to be telling Jesus how things could be done better, too.  And before Jesus' death, Peter declares that even if everyone else deserts Jesus, Peter never will.  (See Mark 14:29 and Matthew 26:33)  

But rather than standing up for Jesus, Peter ends up denying that he ever knew Jesus in order to protect himself - not once, but three times.

So after Jesus' resurrection, we find Peter facing up to this failing in a remarkable scene in John 21:15-19.  In this scene, Jesus asks Peter three times: "do you love me?"  And each time, Peter says "you know that I love you", and then Jesus says "feed my lambs."  There's a lot going on in this scene that you might miss if you're not observant.

The first thing that is all too often missed has to do with the original language this passage is written in.  The Greek language had more than one word for the concept of love.  And in the original language, when Jesus asks Peter the question the first two times, he uses the word agape.  Agape is perfect, unconditional love.  But when Peter answers, he uses the word phileo, which has a sense of affection and is often thought of as "brotherly love."  

So Jesus asks: "do you agape me?"  And in his response, Peter is showing that he is now more aware of his limitations, and his response communicates: "Jesus, you know that I don't agape you, but I do phileo you."  

So Jesus says "feed my lambs."  

Then Jesus repeats the question: "do you agape me?"  Peter is probably a little confused, and maybe a little upset at this point.  The repeated question is probably making him uncomfortable.  But the last time Peter rashly insisted on his own virtue, he ended up failing Jesus, and he can't risk doing that again.  So once again, Peter responds "you know that I phileo you."

Jesus says "take care of my sheep."

Once again Jesus asks Peter a question, and the moment he begins the question, I imagine Peter's heart is breaking - it's like he is reliving the moment of his denial all over again, and facing his betrayal.  But Jesus does something remarkable this time - he asks: "Peter, do you...phileo me?"

In the English translation, we miss what's going on here.  By changing his wording from agape to phileo, Jesus is showing his acceptance of Peter's limitations.  He's meeting Peter where he is.  Rather than demanding what Peter does not feel able to give, Jesus is saying "I'll take what you offer."

But I think there's something else going on here.  Because once again, Jesus repeats the command: "feed my sheep."

I think that this is a map for Peter.  Peter was a fisherman, and when he was called, Jesus said he would make him a fisher of men.  But Jesus often used the analogy of a shepherd to describe himself.  So when Jesus tells Peter to take care of his sheep, I think that he was saying: "you want to know how to get from phileo to agape?  Follow in my footsteps."

And then Jesus repeats the very first thing he said to Peter in verse 19: "follow me."  Jesus is reaffirming Peter's calling here.  He's communicating to Peter that just because there was a failure does not mean he's out of the game.  Jesus doesn't bench Peter because he messed up: he says "get back out there."  The relationship Jesus offers is a radically persistent one that does not fray at the first sign of trouble, but continues to endure after failure on Peter's part.

And that's the model of evangelism that I believe the spiritual paradigm should follow - the model of building enduring relationships.

I think the world renowned scholar Marcus J. Borg summarized what I'm getting at best in "Jesus: A New Vision":
Images of Jesus give content to what loyalty to him means. The popular picture of Jesus as one whose purpose was to proclaim truths about himself most often construes loyalty to him as insistence on the truth of those claims. Loyalty becomes belief in the historical truthfulness of all the statements in the gospels. Discipleship is then easily confused with dogmatism or doctrinal orthodoxy.

The absence of an image - the most common fruit of biblical scholarship in this century - leaves us with no clear notion of what it means to take Jesus seriously, no notion of what loyalty might entail, no direction for the life of discipleship. But the vision of Jesus as a person of Spirit, deeply involved in the historical crisis of his own time, can shape the church’s discipleship today. For us, as for the world in which he lived, he can be the light in our darkness.

In an earlier section of the same book, Borg had written of Jesus:
As an epiphany of God, Jesus discloses that at the center of everything is a reality that is in love with us and wills our well-being, both as individuals and as individuals within society. As an image of God, Jesus challenges the most widespread image of reality in both the ancient and modern world, countering conventional wisdom’s understanding of God as one with demands that must be met by the anxious self in search of its own security. In its place is an image of God as the compassionate one who invites people into a relationship which is the source of transformation of human life in both its individual and social aspects.

Next: Paul and the Greek Poets

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Argument for Equality (A Personal, Biblical and Logical Perspective)

***Disclaimer: this is going to be a long one***
I somewhat recently “came out” in full support for Equality (do not misunderstand this phrasing – I am very much in love with my wife…who is female) - this has been a long time coming, and I quietly supported marriage equality for a while before I “came out” publicly in support of it.  I haven’t had too much questioning about this, which is somewhat of a surprise to me, and I have found some support in this that I didn’t expect.  And ever since I "came out", I wondered if I should write something about why I support equality, but felt that there is plenty of material out there I could point people to, and so I didn't feel like I could add much to the discussion to be honest.

However, there are recent events going on that make me feel like I need to be part of this discussion in a direct, personal way.  And I have talked to a few people who are close to me, and this made me feel that perhaps my position is not clearly understood.  So all of this has motivated me to try to compile my own thoughts on the subject.  So I have taken the time to try to compose a full argument for why I have taken this position, so that in the future I can use my own arguments when faced with this ongoing debate.

First off, I must stress that I did not always hold this position.  I need you to understand that I came from a conservative background, and considered homosexuality to be a sin.  And I also need you to understand that I am a very stubborn and proud man, who trusts in his own intellect and intelligence maybe a little too much.  I tell you this because you must understand that arriving at the position I am now in did not come lightly or easily, but was a long battle – a wrestling match between me and the Lord.  And I need you to understand how this process started.

Love Is Where It Starts
It started with compassion.  It started with empathy.  I was friends with a couple of individuals who convinced me for the first time that being gay was not a choice - you see, much of the logic behind opposing acceptance of homosexuality and marriage equality hinges on this idea that homosexuality is a conscious choice of rebellion against God, much like deciding to forsake propriety and participating in druken revelry at college would be a choice.  But when you actually put faces to this supposed sin of choice, you might come to a different conclusion, as I did.  

The first individual that caused me to question this idea that homosexuality is a choice was a man we will call T.  T was a fellow student at my alma mater, and he had decided to leave the Presbyterian Church and join the Catholic Church.  I asked him about this one time, and he basically told me he thought the Presbyterian Church had sucked all the mystery out of the Christian faith, and he was attracted to the mysticism of the Catholic Church that put the wonder back into his faith.  I was intrigued by this.  But later on I found out something else about T.  I found out T was gay.  It’s funny, because someone had asked me about this, and I insisted it was not true.  Well, it couldn’t be, right?  Because all gays have an agenda to undermine Christianity, right?  They hate Christianity, right?  They’re in direct rebellion against God and are refusing to repent of their sin, right?  So why would someone who was gay come to a Christian college?  And why would they choose to be part of a church (any church)?  Then I later found out through another friend that T was, in fact, gay, and was planning on being a priest.  He was planning to be celibate.  This was even more curious to me – being gay was a choice, right?  So, if he was struggling with this, why would he choose to be celibate rather than just…choosing to be straight?  If he chose to be straight he wouldn’t have to deny himself the pleasure of a committed relationship, right?  Meeting, and knowing T, presented logical conundrums that flew in the face of my old belief system about what being gay was, and who gay people were.

But this was not the only event that caused conundrums for me, because later on I met another individual who caused cognitive dissonance for me.  And I think that God allowed me to discover this person’s situation at a very opportune time when my heart would be softened.  You see, during college I was going through a time where I was experiencing a lot of heartbreak, and I was experiencing doubt.  And after college, I continued to feel these doubts, and eventually I left the church behind.  I told myself this was for good – I was so frustrated that I didn’t want anything to do with the church at all.  But secretly, in my deep subconscious, I wanted people to try to bring me back.  I wanted people to reach out to me.  And God sent someone I didn’t expect.  He actually answered my unspoken prayer, but I didn’t understand it until later.  Immediately after the first Sunday I skipped church after making this decision, an individual we’ll call D asked me where I had been that Sunday.  When I told him what was going on, he immediately wanted to meet.  I knew he was going to try to bring me back “into the fold”, and I girded myself up for this.  But I was not prepared for how he was going to do this.  D came out of the closet to me, and told me some of his story.  He was a minister’s son, and had fought these “sinful urges”, but eventually told his father about them.  And this had caused much damage in their relationship.  D had gone back and forth all his life between trying to “pray away the gay” and giving in to his “sinful urges”.  As he told me about his sexuality I realized that I should’ve known all along.  I realized what I had been watching since I knew him was a man trying very, very hard to look…well not just to look, but to BE a straight man.  But that’s not who he was.  And while he tried to be straight, all he was doing was putting a mask on and playing a part.  I believe God brought D into my life at precisely this point because he knew I would be fully prepared to throw out the false teaching that being gay is a choice.  D wanted me to come back to church because he needed a friend who knew what he was struggling with and was willing to accept him anyways and bear the burden with him.  Unfortunately, I was not in a good position to accept God for who He was, and I did not embrace my friendship with D as I should have.  I didn’t reject him or send him packing, but I felt so hurt by the church at this point that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it, and so my friendship with D simply faded away slowly.  We saw each other a few times after this, but other than that, it just faded away.  This is something I deeply regret now.

Now you have to understand that because I had left the church in the way I had, originally my encounters with homosexuality became fuel for the fire that was my anger against God.  Originally I thought to myself things like “look at how this God predestines some people to be unable to follow His law, and then condemns them for not following it!  Yeah, that’s a loving, just God!  Why would ANYONE want to follow this God?!  Well, they want the door prize – they want to escape Hell and go to His special place for self-righteous bigots in the sky!  But I want no part of it!  I can’t worship a God with a warped sense of justice like that!”  Obviously, this was a misunderstanding of God’s character.  But I didn’t realize how warped this understanding was until later.  

Looking At The Arguments Against Equality
Ok, before I make Biblical arguments, I’d like to try something.  This will be hard for some of you, but I’d like to turn off your religious way of thinking for a bit here.  Let’s stick to just logic.  I know that some of my readers might balk at this – ask yourself: is God reasonable?  Did He create an orderly universe?  Does He want us to be reasonable?  Does He want us to argue logically, or just use idealism?  If you think God wants us to turn off our brains, you may as well stop reading here, because it’s useless for us to continue.

Actually, the Bible supports the idea of looking at others’ arguments.  I Thessalonians 5:19-22 says “do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”  Unfortunately, this teaching has too often been ignored by modern Christians, and as a result Christianity has become awfully cultish.  You might think that sounds harsh, but you should ask: what’s the difference between a cult and a religion?  A cult says “don’t get your truth anywhere else – get your truth here and here only.”  And we’ve become cultish in that listening to people outside our “circle of truth” is all too often discouraged, unless you are very well indoctrinated into the ideas of your circle, and then the only reason to listen is so that you can prove others wrong.  And that’s not the purpose of listening either – we need to humble ourselves and truly test all prophecies for truth.

I, personally, find the situation with the debate over a Biblical attitude towards homosexuality to be similar in ways to the debate on slavery.  Because you have to remember that at the time of the Civil War, both sides absolutely thought God was on their side.  Both sides pointed to passages in scripture to support their views on slavery.  Today, you'd be hard pressed to find a Bible believing Christian who would support slavery (at least in America), but we have to remember that a majority of Christians thought it was actually anti-Biblical to not be supportive of slavery for a very long time.  So the question is - how can we be sure we don't have similar problems today, where we're using the Bible to support reprehensible practices?  I think the answer is that we need to listen to various perspectives, and to take a good hard look at the historical cultural context of the scriptures in order to understand what was going on and what the message was, as well as to take a good look into the language and translational issues.

Ok, so let’s look at some of the arguments that opponents have used in the courts against equality, shall we?  One of the common arguments is that if we legalize gay marriage, it will harm straight marriages.  But this should immediately set off alarm bells in your logical brains.  First off, do you even know who lives in the house at the end of your street?  In today’s day and age, I’d guess that most of my readers do not.  I don’t really know anyone on our street, though I have met some of them and talked to some of them.  But we don’t have that community life that America once had (at least, I heard it used to be like that).  So how on earth does it make a difference if Jim and Fred at the end of your street, whom you haven’t even met, got married?  How does that harm your heterosexual marriage?  Second of all – there are homosexual people in other countries, even other states in our country, who are getting married: how is that harming your marriage to your heterosexual partner?  This argument simply does not hold water!  If homosexual marriage is legalized, this simply will not affect existing marriages nor will it affect future marriages – there simply is not a case to be made otherwise.  Until someone can make a compelling argument as to how Jim and Fred’s marriage will harm someone other than Jim and Fred, the government has no business saying they should not be allowed to marry.

Then there is the whole argument that follows this one: if homosexual marriage is legalized, religious leaders who are against it will be forced to marry homosexuals.  Um…can’t they just say no?  Legalizing something is not the same as saying people must do it.

Ah, but what about the children, you say.  Ok, good question.  Opponents of equality have long argued that having two same-sex parents would be psychologically harmful to the children.  But here’s the problem with that – say there is a heterosexual marriage with children, and one of the parents died.  Should we take away the kids and put them under the care of the state?  No?  Well…then how is that single parent situation better than two parents who are the same sex?  Also, you might want to read this article which describes why the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared their support for same sex marriage.  It seems to me that before engaging in claims based on nothing but hubris, we ought to study what psychological experts are actually saying, and we ought to watch how their opinions are changing and taking new shape throughout the years that homosexuality is becoming a more visible and prominent issue in society.

Now, debunking these arguments alone makes a compelling case for why the government has no business restricting same sex marriage, as long as we’re leaving religious reasons out of the case.  But let’s examine some more of the arguments that have been made against it.  Another common argument against it that was rehashed in the Supreme Court hearings recently is that marriage should be for the express purpose of procreation.  Ok…so if you’re over…say…50…the state should not allow you to marry anyone?  What if you get married, and then discover that you’re physically unable to have children – should the government step in and declare your marriage null and void?  That one has no logic behind it.

Recently, a politician made the point that if same sex marriage is legalized, two heterosexual partners will get married just so they can take advantage of the benefits.  Oh…my…God…really?  Well, in that case, we should abolish heterosexual marriage too, because gay people might marry straight people just so they can take advantage of the benefits….  What a scary world some people live in, where danger lurks around every corner - I’m so glad I don’t live in that world.

Then there is the ever popular “slippery slope” argument.  It basically goes like this: if we allow homosexual marriage, people will then want to marry goats.  Yeah…so we shouldn’t allow people to eat chicken or eventually we’ll have cannibalism, right?  Oh…wait…we already allow people to eat chicken…at establishments owned by CEO’s who are against homosexual marriage, no less.  One of the big problems with making a slippery slope argument is that it requires one to assume that it’s impossible that they’re already on a slippery slope.  What if we’re all on a slippery slope, struggling to make it to the top?

Before I move on from examining the arguments against same sex marriage, I’d like to point out something interesting: you might notice most of the arguments against it have something in common.  All of them, except for the procreation argument, are fear-based.  Each one has some fear behind it – if we legalize same sex marriage, bad things will happen.  Bad things will happen to the institution of marriage, heterosexual marriages will be weakened, religious leaders will be persecuted, kids will have psychological problems, people will take advantage of marriage, the slippery slope, etc.  This is interesting, because Jesus tells us that we can know false prophets by their fruits (Matthew 7:16), and I John 4:18 tells us that there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  So…why are all the opponents of gay marriage false prophets?  I think it’s time we examine the Biblical arguments against gay marriage.  But first, I’d like to talk about the “sin argument”.

The Problem With The “Sin Argument”
So let’s just say, just for the sake of argument, that being gay is a sin (and let’s just be clear that I do not think it is).  James 2:10 says, in the NIV, that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  Now, this sets up a problem for people who want to use Old Testament passages to clobber gays, because there are some really weird rules in the Old Testament that ban diet, lifestyle, clothing, and more:

Wow, that only scratches the surface…but it looks like I’ve disobeyed a lot of commandments from the Old Testament.  But that’s not all.  See, a lot of anti-equality representatives who claim to be Christian like to tell us that it is because of homosexuality that a lot of bad things are happening to America.  Well, there’s a problem with that argument:
  • The rate of homosexuals in the Unites States is between 2 and 4% of the total population.
  • The rate of obesity in the United States is 35.7% of the total population.
  • Gluttony is, according to the Bible, not only clearly a sin, but one of the seven deadly sins.

Ok, so if these so-called-Christian leaders are right, and all of the horrible things happening to us are the consequences of sin in our nation, don’t you think it’s more likely that it’s because of gluttony than because of homosexuality?  Alright, well, let’s just say, just for the sake of argument, that not one single pound on these obese people is a result of overeating.  Ok, well let’s look at some other sins, then.

Why don't we start with those who commit adultery, perhaps? Those rates are between 25 and 30% of the total population (depending on which study you go with) and are actually higher in the evangelical population just as are divorce rates (now isn’t that interesting?).

What about lust?  Sex surrounds us in our culture – sex sells.  We’re virtually bombarded with lust.  What percentage of Americans do you think have never, ever looked at someone other than their spouse and had a lustful thought about them?  Is there a single heteroxexual male on the face of this planet who has never, ever looked at a pretty woman and thought “DANG!” in response to her short skirt, or low cut blouse, or tight shorts?

How about lying?  In the TV show “House”, Dr. House likes to say “everybody lies”, and this has been studied and found to hold up to scientific evidence.  Again, the sin of lying has actually been named as one of the seven deadly sins God hates in Proverbs 6:16-19. To quote: "There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers."  I don’t know about you, but I don’t see homosexuality anywhere in that list.  I wonder why not….  You know, if bad things are happening to America because we’ve angered God, I doubt that it’s homosexuality that is the main cause of His anger.

Approaching The Law In Love
So I’ve outlined a problem with approaching the Law with a legalistic, letter of the law approach.  So how should we approach it instead?  Well, in Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus tells us that all the Law can be summed up in two commands: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And this concept is repeated in multiple places in the New Testament, such as in Galatians 5:14 where Paul tells us that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  And John tells us in I John 4:8 that God is love, and then repeats this statement in verse 16 to make sure we were paying attention and give the statement emphasis.  So when I approach the law, I think that every law God gives us comes from and leads to love.  For example – God doesn’t tell us not to commit adultery because he’s a killjoy and he doesn’t want us to have fun.  He tells us this because He loves us, because He wants the best for us, because He knows adultery hurts people, and because He knows monogamous relationships are healthy for us.  Now, with this concept in mind, let’s examine the passages people use to argue against gay marriage.

The Biblical Arguments
First off, we have to commit to using the Bible logically.  I have seen people make the “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” argument.  Now, first of all, I think that this is a lazy argument.  But let’s think about it for a minute.  Basically, this argument could be renamed the “natural argument” - the same basic argument is often made without an appeal to scripture by claiming that homosexuality is not natural.  But there are some interesting things out there in nature:
  • There are a number of species - such as clownfish, shrimp, and African reed frogs - which can change sex when there is not enough of a balance between males and females.
  • For seahorses, it is the males that carry the young and give birth.
  • Autoeroticism has been observed in dogs, male deer, and male monkeys.
  • Aphids are born pregnant.  Babies giving birth to babies?  Talk about unnatural…
  • Birds, beetles, sheep, fruit bats, dolphins, orangutans, and other species have been observed engaging in homosexual activity (one species of interest: Bonobos are considered to be bisexual).
  • Male bottlenose dolphins have been observed ganging up and cornering a female and taking turns mating with her.
  • A number of insects, arachnids, and amphipods practice sexual cannibalism.
  • This is one of my personal favorites: flatworms have both male and female sex organs, and so the mating practice includes what is referred to as penis fencing - the loser of the duel is inseminated and impregnated.
  • And another favorite: ever heard of parthenogenesis?  It is the ability of a creature to give birth asexually - without any male involvement.  For example, in the whipped-tail lizard species, if there are no males around, two females will get together and engage in a form of mimicry, with the one on top using her tail to simulate sex.  The one on the bottom will become pregnant during this, and will, of course, give birth to clones.

Now, this list is not to suggest that everything within would be a moral practice by humans, but I would suggest that before appealing to nature, one should know a little more about it.  I would suggest browsing justachoice.org in order to read up on some of the scientific studies on sexuality.

I’d like to continue going through the Biblical arguments chronologically, but there is another Biblical argument from the New Testament that is often used which I believe to be just another form of the first argument - this is the use of Jesus’ words on marriage when he said in Matthew 19:5
...for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
The argument made from this verse is that this is the definition of marriage and therefore anything not covered in this verse is invalid.  Ok, well here’s one problem with that – does saying “red and blue makes purple” make the statement “red and yellow makes orange” false?  Why did Jesus make this statement?  The purpose of this statement was to point out the sexual double-standard that was prevalent in the culture of the day where men could have multiple wives and have sex with their concubines and divorce their wives by saying “I divorce you” three times.  The purpose of this statement was not to say “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, bro!”, but to highlight the fact that God is displeased when we separate what he has joined, as Jesus then points out in verse 6.  

The use of this statement of Jesus could also be referred to as the "traditional view of marriage" argument.  And there's a problem with this - this definition of marriage is not exactly traditional, if you're honest.  Because if you examine the Bible carefully, you'll find that what was "traditional" in the area of marriage has changed a number of times over the years.  Take a look at the following chart:
Click to embiggen

Wearing Boots Like a Nazi
Next up, let’s discuss Sodom, and the term Sodomy.  Now why do people call certain sex acts Sodomy?  Well, in Genesis 19, God has sent his angels to check out what’s going on in the city of Sodom, and these angels are taken in by Lot, and then some men from the town come knocking on his door demanding that he send these strangers out so they can have sex with them.  Ok…but why are we getting hung up on the method of the act of sin and not the act of sin itself?  See, the townsmen wanted to rape these strangers.  That’s clearly detestable – not just in the Bible, but culturally today as well.  So why are we getting hung up on the method of the rape and not the rape itself?  But there’s another problem with calling certain sex acts Sodomy – what does the Bible say the sin of Sodom was?  Ezekiel 16:49 says: 
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 
That doesn’t sound like gay sex to me; does it sound like gay sex to you?  See, to me I think that calling gay sex Sodomy is kind of like calling anyone who wears boots a Nazi.  There was a whole lot more wrong in Sodom than what sex positions or methods they used, just like was a whole lot wrong with the Nazis that had nothing to do with their choice of clothing.  

Purity Codes
The next couple verses we have to deal with come from Leviticus – 18:22 and 20:13.  Now, let’s put this into perspective before we deal with these – the Levitical law was a set of purity codes that were based on the way the people of the day perceived things to be.  In modern day, we see a lot of things differently.  For instance – according to Leviticus, all fish have fins (Leviticus 11:9), animals with hooves chew cud (see Leviticus 11:3-6, which also declares that rabbits chew cud), and the essence of life is contained in the blood (Leviticus 17:11).  Some scholars have also argued that Leviticus shows that the Jews believed that the essence of life was contained in male semen, and women were just incubation chambers.  Huh, we don’t exactly believe all of those things today now, do we?  Furthermore, as I've pointed out before, there are verses in Leviticus that Christian leaders have used to support the idea of slavery prior to its abolition (see Leviticus 25:40-54).  And as I’ve already pointed out, Leviticus also contains commands not to cut the hair on the sides of your head (19:27 – hey you, over there - your hair’s looking pretty short on the sides!), not to eat pork (11:7 - *gasp* no more southern bbq?), not to eat shrimp or shellfish (11:9), not to wear polyester/cotton blends (19:19), and to steer far away from women who are on their periods (15:19 – actually, I’m ok with keeping this one…KIDDING!  SO KIDDING!).  

So what do we, who live in an enlightened scientific age, do with Leviticus?  Well, we recognize it for what it is: a good thing for the people of Israel based on how they understood the world thousands of years ago.  Now, what you have to understand is that the culture surrounding the Israelites back then was quite different than what it is today.  Israel was quite possibly the only culture that only worshiped one God (side note: what's interesting is that they most likely believed there were other gods, but just weren't allowed to worship more than one).  Most other cultures worshiped many gods, and often they would have a fertility god, or sex god.  And often, the way these cultures would worship this “god” was to have prostitutes, both male and female, in the temples of this “god” – this practice is known as shrine prostitutes or shriners.  Many scholars believe that the sexual purity laws in Leviticus dealt with this problem, and warned Israelites away from these practices.  Now, shrine prostitutes are a very different thing than monogamous relationships between two consenting adults, are they not?  I think we can all agree, no matter who we are, that the practice of going to a temple and having sex with a prostitute in an act of worship towards a false god is a bit repugnant, right?

But also, to get a little technical, it’s interesting to study the language used in the two Leviticus verses commonly used to bash homosexuality.  There is a word used in these verses that is often translated “abomination” - a particularly effective choice of words that carries a certain sense of doom and fear with it in the English language.  But what’s interesting is that the original Hebrew word - toevah - could more accurately be translated as “uncleanness” or “impurity” or “dirtiness” or “taboo”.  It is that which is ritually or culturally forbidden - this is religious law, not moral law.  The significance of the use of this term (toevah) becomes more clear when you realize that another Hebrew term, zimah, could have been used.  Zimah means, not what is objectionable for religious or cultural reasons, but what is wrong in itself.  It means an injustice, a sin.  So if the authors had intended to point out that homosexuality was morally wrong, rather than culturally taboo, they would have used the word zimah, which they did not.  

In modern times, most Christians have no problem breaking the many purity rules within Leviticus - we cut the hair on the sides of our head, eat BBQ and lobster and shrimp, and wear clothing made from blends of fabric.  Why is this?  Well, in Acts 10:15, God told Peter in a vision not to call unclean what He has made clean, and this is commonly interpreted as a license to stop observing the Levitical purity code.  So why do we think we can pick and choose some rules from within that code to keep enforcing, and some things we can keep calling unclean?

Actually, this brings up something interesting, because the only other passage in the Old Testament that is currently used against homosexuality is Deuteronomy 23:17, which was at one point in the early 1900’s translated in the King James to use the word “homosexual”, but which is now more accurately translated as “shrine prostitute” – you see, in order to support their preconceived notions that homosexuality was gross, the translators back then willfully and intentionally picked an inaccurate translation in order to enforce their own bigoted ideas in the church.  Interesting, hmm?  Remember how I talked about testing the spirits and the fruit they bear?  Wouldn’t this be a form of lying?  Wouldn't that be a bad fruit?

More Than A Woman?
Now I'd like to delve into a story I find very interesting.  When I was growing up, this story had no special significance to me.  But after I had reconciled my views on homosexuality, I remember seeing someone use a verse from this story in defense of affirmation, and it was like the scales fell from my eyes and I saw this story for what it was for the very first time in my life!  It's amazing what you ignore when you've already decided that a certain possibility is just plain impossible (you could call that selection bias or maybe confirmation bias).

You see...there's a story in the Bible about King David and Saul's son Jonathan.  And after I had changed my views on homosexuality, I found myself reading this story in a whole new light.  And I found myself seeing things that I was very surprised I had been unable to see before.

For this story, I go to 1st and 2nd Samuel, which is speculated to have been written by a member of King David's court, since there are so many intimate details in the writing.  The first time Jonathan and David see each other is in 1 Sam. 18:1-4, and the way the various translations put this is always a little interesting:

Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  Saul took him that day, and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore.  Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.  And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.
Now, what most people will do is to try to spin this story into a "brotherly love" type thing - "dude, they were bros!"  But let's think about the details of this - this was an immediate reaction upon first sight on the part of Jonathan, and what he does afterwards by stripping off his robe and giving it, his armor, sword, bow and belt to David?  Those are a prince's prized possessions - they are important status symbols of a prince.  It would be hard to find a cultural equivalent today to be honest.  These were identifying possessions - symbols of Jonathan's identity, his status in society, and his authority.

So the tendency among the "traditional marriage" crowd is to say "oh, this is just a sign of respect" - but if you put to rest the current cultural prejudices against homosexuality and pretend this is a story between Jonathan and a woman, how do you think you'd read this passage?  I think this would be seen as a "love at first sight" kind of thing, don't you?  Doesn't his immediate reaction after the very first time Jonathan laid eyes on David seem like a bit more than just respect?

But let's move on with the story - one night at the dinner table, King Saul asks "where's David?"  And Jonathan speaks on his behalf about his whereabouts.  Saul's reaction is a bit surprising, in 1 Sam. 20:30:

Then Saul’s anger was aroused against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!  Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?" 
Now this is a fascinating reaction, don't you think?  And quite a sudden mood change on Saul's part.  Why do you suppose he'd get so angry so fast?  And why do you think he'd put it like that: "chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame"?  You know...it almost sounds like the reactions some modern fathers have when their sons come out of the closet....

But later on in the same chapter, Jonathan warns David that he'd better lay low for a while, and this is where the two of them say goodbye in 1 Sam. 20:41-21:

As soon as the lad had gone, David arose from a place toward the south, fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times.  And they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so.  Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘May the Lord be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’” So he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.
Now, you can try all you want to say things like "oh, their culture was different back then and kissing meant different things...."  But I know what this looks like, dude.  It's really hard to reconcile this as "they're just bros, man!"

This was actually the last time David and Jonathan saw each other.  At the end of 1 Samuel, there is a battle with the Philistines where Saul and Jonathan are killed.  And in the first chapter of 2 Samuel, David is singing a song he has composed in honor of Jonathan for his funeral - here is a section from that song in 2 Sam. 1:26:

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Surpassing the love of women.
Wow...let's be honest...how many bros are going to say about any guy that their love was better than a woman?  I find it really hard to make this into a "two bros" story with language like this.

Now, the question you've got to ask yourself is - if David is really a "man after God's own heart" as it says in 1 Sam. 13:14, and David had a homosexual love affair...do you really think God hates the gays or finds what they do completely repulsive? 

The Difficulty of Translating a Word
Now we get into the New Testament.  There are two verses we have to deal with that in modern translations often use the word “sodomite” or “homosexual” -  I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:9-10.  Now I’ve already outlined a problem with the usage of the word “sodomite” to mean “homosexual” – Sodom’s sin had so much more to do with being unloving, self-absorbed fools who cared nothing for God or their fellow man and who forced themselves onto others to show their controlling power, and so equating them with all homosexual people does not seem fair to me at all.  But I think what the modern Christian really needs to do is to take a serious look at the original language and think about translation issues, because it seems that there is a disagreement over what the original word means.  The original language used the term “arseno-koitais” or “arsenokoites” as it is sometimes spelled in English.  It seems we have difficulty translating this word, because along with the terms “sodomite” and “homosexual”, the phrase “abusers of themselves with mankind” has also been used.  That last phrase is certainly difficult to summarize in one English term, but some scholars have also said that the original Greek word literally means “the male who has many beds” (to put it in the vernacular: a man whore) – and so it would have more to do with promiscuity than a monogamous homosexual relationship.  Once again, if we examine the culture of the day as a historical context, it is apparent that Romans were very promiscuous (at least the males were) in how they treated sex, and often practiced orgies and (once again) had sex with temple prostitutes.  So again, I do not think it is fair to equate the moral point Paul is trying to make here with condemning monogamous homosexual relationships between consenting adults.  

To delve a little more into the difficulty behind translating the word “arsenokoites”, I should point out that this is a compound word that Paul seems to have made up.  See, scholars have been unable to find any other uses of this word before Paul - so it seems like he may have actually invented the word.  Now, "arseno” means “man”, and “koites” means “bed”.  So it might seem reasonable to translate this as a homosexual male, but there’s one big problem with that: there were other words that were commonly used in the time when Paul wrote this that indicated a homosexual male.  So why would Paul make up a new word if that’s what he wanted to communicate?  And to illustrate this further, here is a list of other “koites” words:
  • doulo·koitEs: consorter with slaves (slave-bedder)
  • deuteron·koite: to have a bed-fellow (two-bedder)
  • polu·koitos: promiscuity (many-bedder)
  • homo·koitos: bedfellow (same-bedder)
  • enOto·koitEs: with ears large enough to sleep in (ears·bed), or possibly one with an ear fetish
And then, within this scheme, there is already a word which was commonly used to indicate sex with a man:
  • andro·koitEs: having intercourse with a man

Dale Martin of Yale University is a prominent researcher of the meaning of the word “arsenokoites”, and he commented (found in “Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality” by Robert L. Brawley): 
I should be clear about my claims here. I am not claiming to know what arsenokoites meant, I am claiming that no one knows what it meant.
I think that to understand the meaning of these two passages, we need to understand the larger point that Paul is making – Paul is not merely pointing at certain types of sin and calling them sin here.  In the I Corinthians passage, he says that all these kinds of people will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But then he immediately turns around in verse 11 and says “and that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Does Paul mean to say that all of the people in the Corinthian church are now living perfect lives that are in full compliance with the Jewish law?  

And then in I Timothy 1, if you look at the whole context starting at verse 8 and reading on to verse 11, Paul is talking about how the law was not written for the righteous but for all these different types of people.  When you take all of this in context with all the things Paul has said in his many writings about the law, and how the law does not save us, I think we can get a picture of the purpose of the law for a Christian not being something to shame us and imprison us in guilt, but to illuminate our need for Jesus, and to encourage us to put aside anything that would get in the way of our command to love God and make him a greater part of our lives, or the command to love other people.  Now, in that light, it is much easier to make a case that leading a sexually promiscuous life - sharing your bed with many partners - is not being loving towards other people in that you may leave damage in your wake in the form of other people’s hurt feelings, and a case could also be made that this kind of lifestyle will distract one from the love of God and become an idol.  It is more difficult, however, to make a case that a monogamous homosexual relationship does the same.  And so I lean towards the “the male who has many beds” translation of “arseno-koites” as being one that makes more sense with what Paul is trying to get at in these two passages.

What Is Natural?
Next, we have a well known passage that has been used for the purpose of gay-bashing.  And this one is, perhaps, the most difficult to reconcile, as it seems to be the one that most clearly describes homosexuality as a sin.  In Romans 1:26-27, Paul talks about women exchanging “natural sexual relations for unnatural ones”, and men abandoning “natural relations with women and [being] inflamed with lust for one another.”  This seems to be the most clear condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible, right?

Maybe not so much.  But before I get into that…

One thing I’d like to point out is how the passage starts out in verse 18 - Paul speaks of the wrath of God being revealed from heaven against godlessness and wickedness.  Perhaps traditionalists need to learn how to take a back seat and allow things to run their due course, rather than trying to control things and mete out God’s wrath themselves?

Now getting directly into Romans 1:26-27, what I’d really like my readers to pay special attention to is the words “natural” and “unnatural” in this passage.  The whole argument hinges upon the assumption that homosexual humanoids are actually engaging in unnatural acts.  But if people can be born with homosexual desires, would it really be unnatural for them to engage in homosexual relations?  

Studying into the history of Rome sheds more light on this passage, I feel.  Because you find that in Rome during this time period, temple prostitution was a common practice.  Included in these practices were customs where married women would engage in sexual acts with prostitutes, and men would engage in sexual acts with boy prostitutes, all part of the “worship” of fertility gods and fertility goddesses.  So this would be a pretty clear case of a heterosexual engaging in a practice that was not natural for them.  For more on this topic, see this article.

But there’s another way of looking at the passage as well.  You see, part of the problem with debates like these is that we are using the Bible like a constitution - like good little lawyers, we pull a little phrase like “right to bear arms” completely out of context and we think that we can then ignore the fact that, within the context, this passage is speaking of militias.  But we forget that the Bible was not written with chapters and verses.  We put those in later, and I think all too often they are a distraction.  Romans was a letter, and was meant to be read all the way through.  And what you find when you do this is that Paul is playing a delicate balancing game - he’s got a divided church made up of Jews and Gentiles, and these two groups are at each other’s throats.  The overall purpose of Romans is to bring these two groups together in unity, and so Paul plays this delicate balancing game by strategically going back and forth between the two groups and pointing out problems with their arguments while sometimes affirming them as well.  And when you realize this, you notice that the first verse of “chapter 2” says:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
When you start to put the puzzle together, you might realize that Paul is playing a rhetorical game here.  In “chapter 1”, he seems to be confirming the Jews’ condemnations against “those dirty Gentiles”, but when you get to “chapter 2”, you realize that it’s possible that this might have all been satirical or sarcastic.  He might have really been setting up the Jews to smack them upside the head in “chapter 2”.  So the question then becomes: is the point of these two verses to legalistically pick out what sins others are committing, or are we supposed to be focusing on unity and love?

Actually, there's a pretty good argument to be made that Paul was speaking rhetorically in Romans 1:18-32 - because if he wasn't, then either Paul disagrees with himself, or Luke was in err about Paul's views on the idolatrous.  If you take a look at how Paul treats the people of Athens in Acts 17:22-31, he is surprisingly merciful towards their idolatry.  In this story, it is only because of the people's ignorance that they worship idols, and all that needs to be done is to calmly and lovingly point these idolaters towards the truth.  But this does not mesh well with Romans 1:18-20 - because if Paul is not being rhetorical, then he seems to believe that there is no excuse for idolatry.  Idolaters are wicked people who are ignoring the truth that is absolutely clear and plainly made known to them, and they are without excuse - so God is going to pour out his wrath on them!  So which is it, Paul?  Are idolaters ignorant and to be treated with mercy, or are we to look on them with disgust because they have no excuse?  Or perhaps Paul is speaking rhetorically in Romans 1:18-32, and it would be a mistake to take something from this passage out of context in order to use it as a proof-text against your pet sin....

What about Jesus?
At this point, I’d like to pose the question: what did Jesus think about this subject?  Well, it’s difficult to say - some have used the “argument from silence” strategy to say that this should not be a concern at all:

But this may not be entirely accurate.  You see, there are a few interesting passages in regards to this topic.

In Matthew 8:5-13 and paralleled in Luke 7:1-10, there is a story of a centurion who comes to Jesus, and asks Jesus to heal his servant.  Jesus indicates that he is willing to come to the centurion’s house, but the centurion says that he understands authority, as he himself is a man of authority and he speaks his commands and they are done.  Jesus indicates his amazement at the centurion’s faith, and pronounces the servant healed.  Now, you might think this is just another miracle story.  But there’s something interesting about this story.  One must first of all ask - why the special attention to one servant?  Centurions were not well known for being compassionate people who would care for the wellbeing of their many servants, so what’s going on here?  Well, I think this becomes a little more clear when we examine the original language.  The Greek word used in Matthew’s account is pais.  Now it is true that this word has multiple meanings - as you will find most Greek words do (or words in any language for that matter).  There were three common meanings of this word: a male child (boy or son), a servant/slave, or a male concubine.  

Now, the most common objection that would be raised as people realize where I’m going with this is that it wasn’t necessarily a male concubine.  This is true.  However, there are some other clues.  In the Luke account (Luke 7:1-10), the writer uses the phrase entimos doulos to describe this pais.  This phrase - entimos doulos - literally means “honored slave”.  This was no ordinary slave, but was a special slave - a slave that was regarded with affection by the centurion.  

A second clue is that in the Matthew passage (Matthew 8:5-13), the centurion switches from using pais to describe the particular servant/slave he wants Jesus to heal, to using doulos when he’s describing how he is able to issue commands to his servants/slaves and they obey him.  So this clearly shows that the pais in question is no ordinary servant/slave, and when a master pays special attention to one of his servants/slaves it could only mean one thing in that culture: this servant was his master’s lover.  

So when we take this perspective back to the beginning of the story, you can imagine more clearly what is going on.  This centurion is a respected man - he has status and a reputation in his community.  People look up to him.  This centurion comes to Jesus and asks Jesus to heal his sick pais.  Jesus says “ok, I’ll follow you to your house.”  But for Jesus to do this - and most likely have a number of people from the surrounding crowd follow them - would reveal that this pais was the third kind of pais (a male concubine) rather than the second kind (servant/slave).  The centurion doesn’t want Jesus to come to his house.  He doesn’t want to cause a fuss, and he doesn’t want to publicly reveal his secret, which might ruin his reputation.  So I wonder if the next thing this centurion said to Jesus might have even been whispered to him?  I wonder if he emphasized doulos when he spoke of his other servants/slaves in order to help Jesus pick up on the clue?  If he spoke this loud enough for the crowd to hear, I wonder if some of the audience members picked up on the clue and got tense?  “What’s Jesus going to do?” they might think.  Jesus’ response: “I have not found faith like this in all of Israel!”  Not only does Jesus not condemn this centurion for his homosexuality, but he also insults his home country (and most likely a majority of the surrounding audience)!  And then, without another word, Jesus indicates that the servant is healed and sends the centurion off.  No sermon on changing his wicked ways, not even a “go and sin no more” as Jesus said to the adulterous woman in John 8:11.  All Jesus does is proclaim that the servant is healed, and send the Centurion back home - badda bing, badda boom, done.  So the question you have to ask yourself is: did Jesus just affirm a gay couple?

But there’s another interesting statement Jesus makes - in Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus states:

Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.

In this passage, Jesus outlines three kinds of eunuchs - some born that way, some who were made eunuchs by others, and some who choose to live like eunuchs.  Now, I was always taught that there was only one kind of eunuch - a man who was castrated.  So what’s Jesus talking about?  Is it really a common enough phenomenon for a man to be born without the proper equipment that he’d even think it worth a mention?  And are there really men who just choose to cut...well, you know.  

These questions led me to look into the history of the word “eunuch”, and what exactly it meant in that culture.  It is with this question in mind that I approached the investigation.  Now, the word we translate as eunuch literally means “guardian or keeper of the couch”, and eunuchs have been referred to in some literature as “trusted ones”.  The reason for this is that it was common for eunuchs to hold the office of “bed holder” - they would be posted as guards of royal harems (or sometimes the guardians of the Queen herself).  You see, you wouldn’t want to post a guard who would be tempted to use “the goods” he was guarding, so you’d post someone who had no desire or ability.  The early church father Clement of Alexandrea (150 AD - 215 AD) wrote a couple of interesting things about eunuchs:
Many are eunuchs; and these panders serve without suspicion those that wish to be free to enjoy their pleasures, because of the belief that they are unable to indulge in lust. But a true eunuch is not one who is unable, but one who is unwilling, to indulge in pleasure.
(Paedagogus, III, 4.)

"Not all can receive this saying; there are some eunuchs who are so from their birth, others are so of necessity." And their explanation of this saying is roughly as follows: Some men from their birth, have a natural sense of repulsion from a woman…. 
(The Stromata, III. 1.1.)

Now it seems pretty clear from these statements that the people of the culture did not have one simple category of “eunuch” - being only made up of men who have lost the ability or never had the ability to engage in sexual activities with a woman.  Rather, there is this sense that a “true eunuch” is one who has no desire for this.  Now, of course Jesus has outlined a third category in the Matthew 19:11-12 passage - “those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” [emphasis mine]  I believe that this refers to monks - men who choose to forsake the pleasures of the world in order to focus entirely upon building the kingdom of heaven.  So Jesus outlines three categories of eunuchs - ones made eunuchs, ones born that way, and ones who choose to live that way, and then he states: “The one who can accept this should accept it.”

To flesh this out even further, I want to examine a story in Acts 8:26-40 - the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  There are some interesting things to note about this story if you’re very observant and have a detailed knowledge of the Bible.  You see, we can now approach this story with the question: which category of eunuch is this Ethiopian?  

Well, before I get into that, I’d like to point out what precedes the story: Philip has just come from preaching the gospel in Samaria.  Now this is of special importance, I feel, because we need to realize the way the Jews felt about Samaritans - there was a very deep seated prejudice against them!  Samaritans were despised because they were not full Jews, and they did not worship at the temple - in fact, it was part of their belief system not to worship at the temple, and so this was a point of contention as the Jews held the temple as sacred.  So Philip has just been preaching the gospel to outcasts, and has had much success doing so!

Then he is told by an angel to go south.  And along the way, a chariot carrying this Ethiopian passes by Philip, and Philip hears the Ethiopian reading out loud from Isaiah.  The passage tells us that this eunuch was “a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship.” (verse 27)  The next verse shows us that the Ethiopian man was returning to his home from Jerusalem.  Now the fact that this eunuch has just come from Jerusalem is a clue - because if you read the Old Testament law, you find this little clue in Deuteronomy 23:1:
No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.

Now there are two possible scenarios here - neither of which are good for you if you are wanting to make the case that homosexuality is a serious sin which we should be busybodies about.  Keeping in mind the three kinds of eunuchs Jesus has outlined, I do not think it likely that this was the “monk” kind, as the passage has told us that this eunuch was a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen.  So it is either the castrated kind, or the kind who is naturally repulsed by women and was born that way.  If it is the castrated kind, than what most likely happened is that this Ethiopian went to the temple in Jerusalem to worship, and was turned away because of this law.  And if this is the case, then you have a situation where, because of the freedom found in the gospel of Christ, Philip has given this man direct access into the real holy of holies: the Ethiopian sees some water and says “look, why can’t I be baptized?”  And this is obviously a rhetorical answer as Philip simply takes him down to the water and baptizes him.  And this would be a good model of how the gospel of Jesus is extended to those who are outcasts because of legalism.

But the other possibility - and the one that is perhaps more likely - is that this was the “repulsed by women” kind of eunuch.  The reason this seems more likely is because we see later on in the book of Acts that there is this big debate in the church: what do we do about the gentiles?  Should they be getting circumcised and following the Old Testament laws?  Should we even be associating with them?  And it’s not until Acts chapter 10 that Peter receives the vision from God where he sees the unclean animals being lowered on a sheet and hears the voice telling him to eat, and saying “do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  So, because of this, it seems more likely that if this had been the castrated category of eunuch, there might have been at least a slight hesitation from Philip about baptism.  As Brian McLaren wrote about this passage:
As they pass a body of water, the man then asks if there is anything that could hinder him from being baptized. Anything that could hinder him - his race? His sexual identity?
Imagine what Philip might have said: "I need to contact the authorities in Jerusalem to get a policy statement on this issue. Maybe we should wait a few centuries until the church is more established. Baptizing you could cause real controversy in our fragile religious community. In the interests of not offending people back home, I'll have to say no. Or at least not yet."
But Philip doesn't answer with words; he responds with immediate action. They stop the chariot, and Philip leads him into the water and baptizes him.

And this is the scandalous nature of the gospel of Jesus - a community that welcomes those who are outcasts without regards for taboo or legalism!  This is what we should be today, if we are to call ourselves followers of Christ!

I seems clear to me that the Biblical case against homosexuality stands on very shaky grounds, while the Biblical case for love of our fellow man is exceptionally strong.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God, and the second was like it: love your neighbor as yourself - meaning to put yourself in your neighbor’s shoes in the spirit of empathy.  

If homosexual acts are indeed a sin (for which I find the case to be very thin), then what I find most curious is that such special attention is given to them.  Even an act as heinous as murder is not judged without first taking into account the context it occurred within, and is given leniency when mental disorders or self-protection are involved.  But with homosexuality, there often seems to be a swift, merciless reaction.  And Christians have taken a very small handful of verses that seem to be more about homosexual gang rape, orgies, and wild sexual abandon and have equated these things with monogamous, consensual homosexual relationships.  Then these things are judged without any thought for nuance.  

But even if it is indeed a sin, would we want our own sins judged in the same way that we all too often judge homosexuality?  Would we want to be cast out of a congregation for eating that second piece of cake, because this is gluttonous?  Would we want to be denied the opportunity to be involved in leadership in our congregations because we made up a little story to explain a very sensitive situation to our kids (well, that’s lying and it’s a deadly sin)?  Would we want to be treated as outcasts because we wore a shirt made out of two different kinds of fabric, or had an angry thought once, or saw a woman in a bikini and thought “whoah” (well, maybe not cast out - maybe we should just gouge out an eye)?

And so I implore my Christian brethren - do not judge.  Love.  I believe that everything else will work itself out if we only seek to live a life grounded in love - for love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).  I beg my brethren to listen to all sides of this matter and to be slow to judgment, quick to embrace in love.