Resisting the picketing reflex

God hates fagsIt never ceases to amaze me how quickly some Christian groups resort to picketing whatever seems to offend their sense of orthodoxy. Whenever there is something going on in society that doesn’t fit with the orthodoxy of their faith, they feel directly and personally offended. One example of this is the play “Jesus, Queen of Heaven” by Jo Clifford, a transsexual woman. Read about it in this Herald article! Of course, one may argue that the play is bad quality art, as The Scotsman suggests, but that is not the issue I want to discuss here. The issue I wish to raise is how Christians react publicly when they feel their faith is questioned or even mocked by others.

Let it be clear that I’m not defending the play in any way. I haven’t seen it, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s say it is indeed offensive to Christians. I want to talk about the reaction of Christian groups to the play, which I find seriously problematic from a biblical stand point. When I look at the life of Jesus, and the life of the church portrayed in the New Testament I can find nothing to support such outlandish behaviour in the name of the church.

One placard that caught my attention was ‘Jesus, King of Kings, Not Queen of Heaven’. If you want to defend orthodoxy, by all means do it in church. That’s where it belongs, even if we could discuss how this should be done in a spirit of love and compassion. However, we are not called to judge and condemn those outside of the church – 1 Cor. 5:12. It’s funny to me how Bible worshippers always manage to ignore the Bible in the process of condemning others. I guess this is the punishment for worshipping a written text instead of a living God, but that’s another discussion.

I was talking about this incident with a church fellowship group of around 25 in the south of Glasgow last Sunday night. A woman asked me how should we respond to a television programme that offends our faith. Shouldn’t we call to tell them we protest because we’re offended? If we don’t call and protest, wouldn’t people think we don’t care or we don’t exist? Good questions. Another woman asked the same kind of questions, mentioning that Jo Clifford criticised the church for being too judgemental and lacking in compassion.

There are two major issues here:

1. I urged the group to look at these questions from the point of view of how Jesus dealt with his enemies. His instruction was clearly that we love our enemies. The commandment to love our neighbour doesn’t come with a disclosure if the neighbour offends our faith – “Love your neighbour as yourself, but if he offends your faith, picket his house!”. We’re not excused from love when we’re offended or persecuted, if we want to say we follow Christ. The church is seriously enamoured with power. I cringe when I hear Christians say: “This is a Christian country!”, because it means we’re in power and we call the shots; we will eliminate anyone who is against us, or at least we’ll picket them ’till they’re blue in the face. We were not called to wield power, we were called to love wastefully. (Also, a little suffering and persecution goes a long way to refocus our calling.)

2. Whenever we express ourselves publicly as the church, we have to be very, very careful how we come across to non-believers, as well as believers. Are we, by our actions, seen as a loving, compassionate community of people who focus on restoration, inclusion and empowerment of the weak and marginalised, or are we seen as orthodox bullies who will do anything to seize power (political and/or religious) and force people to believe and be just like us?

So how shall we react, as the woman I mentioned asked me? First of all, we shouldn’t react. A reaction comes from the gut; it is aggressive and irrational. We do sometimes need to respond, however. A response is different to a reaction, because it is well thought out, and sensitively crafted. Or so it should be.

Instead of playing the offended victim who protects its own rights, I would rather the church expressed its compassion towards people who go through untold pain and confusion when they discover they are the wrong gender, and feel trapped in their own body. The truth is that few of us know what that feels like. I have no idea what a person feels when they discover they are not attracted to the opposite sex, but to people of their own gender. Instead of being judgemental towards them, we should express our compassion and love for them, even when that is hard and we suffer from homophobia. I wish the church would be known for its compassion and inclusion, rather than for its judgemental reflexes. I’d rather be known for being loving, rather than for being right.

Also read this interesting article by Rev Peter Johnston, the Minister of St Andrew’s Blantyre!

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10 thoughts on “Resisting the picketing reflex

  1. God doesn’t hate the sinners, but surely he does hates the sin, and we all know that. God loves the sinners and calls us to love them too. But I don’t think that God wants us to defend the homosexuals and the transsexuals or to tolerate the sins they’re living in. That’s a major problem in our country today, that we started to accept somehow these sins, just to be politically correct or to avoid offending someone. It is a real problem for christians and churces today. Yes, we are called to love them and not to picket them, but we dont have to make confusion between sinner and the sin itself.

  2. I saw a funny comic with two guys talking. One of them says: “God says…”, and the other responds: “Wow, God sounds a lot like you!” You talk a lot about what God hates and loves. I think a little humility and self-doubt go a long way when making statements about what God wants.

    First of all, the idea that homosexuality or transexuality are sins are your interpretation and assumption. Not everyone agrees with you. I certainly do not. However, I choose not to debate this on this blog, since this is not the space for it. It is my personal opinion and I choose not to discuss it here, or to convince anyone that I’m right. (So please don’t continue the discussion in these lines, because it will be cut short.)

    But I will say, even if this is off topic for this post, that this whole idea of ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ which you’re suggesting, is a MYTH. It’s a little trick invented by fundamentalists to mask their hatred of those who are different to them.

    Human beings cannot do that. We are simply not built to do it. Our logic will eventually take us to ‘Kill the sinner – that is the loving thing to do, since that way he won’t live in sin no more!’ (If we can’t kill them, at least marginalise them and point fingers. That’ll teach them!)

    We either accept that we are ALL sinful and in need of forgiveness, or we don’t, thus kidding ourselves that we are ‘holier’ than they are, because we ‘believe’ the right stuff and we are heterosexual. Aren’t we righteous?

    We are ALL sinful and in need of grace. Every single one of us, regardless of our sexual orientation. We are not forgiven on the basis of our heterosexuality, but on grace. Saying something like “A homosexual cannot be saved!” is to say that you’re saved based on your heterosexuality.

    This stands regardless if homosexuality is a sin or not. Again, we’re not debating if homosexuality is a sin or not. It’s not about that. Stay on topic please!

  3. “And when they came to the grain-floor of Chidon, Uzza put out his hand to keep the ark in its place, for the oxen were slipping”

    I always find this story very similar to what happens when one’s belief is challenged by external factors any time and place.
    Certainly in your example here. People just can’t help themselves not to defend God with the wrong weapon (attitude)

  4. I received a comment from someone called Geraldinio. I wanted to reply to him/her personally, but the email address given was either false or misspelled. The comment was not in English, so it will not be posted. If this person reads this, post another comment with an actual email address, and I will respond personally.

  5. I thought it would be useful to clarify one of my statements above, namely that ‘it is my personal opinion that homosexuality or transexuality are not sins’.

    Let me begin by saying that this is my unfinished personal opinion at this point in time. It is not a theological statement, since theology (in my view) has not resolved the issue. I also have my doubts it will ever actually be resolved in our life time. We just have to learn to live with unresolved tensions – it is part of living by faith.

    It is rather a pastoral statement. It is pastoral both for people who are homosexual or transsexual and may feel that their life will be made impossible for this reason, and for people who are heterosexual and feel that their heterosexuality will save them.

    What I mean is that homosexuality and transsexuality are not sins in themselves, just as heterosexuality cannot be classed as sinful in itself. There is however homosexual destructive (or sinful) behaviour, just as there is heterosexual destructive behaviour. Heterosexual promiscuity is just as bad as homosexual promiscuity. I make no distinction between them.

    The only theological statement I can make at this point in my journey is that the Bible says very, very little about homosexuality (Jesus never mentions it!) , and then it refers almost exclusively to destrucive lust of a homosexual variety, which can very well apply to heterosexuality, and indeed it does apply to it.

    The Bible makes no reference to long-term loyal relationships between people of the same sex, since that was unknown to the ancient world. Homosexuality was inextricably linked to promiscuity and prostitution, hence the biblical injuctions against it. This can be disputed, of course, and it is not a final conclusion, nor can it be.

    The question we need to ask pastorally is this: Is it possible for two people of the same sex to live together in a long-term relationship of love and companionship, in a way that is mutually supportive and beneficial? Personally, I know people who live in such a relationships and who love God with all their heart. And not just one or two, but several.

    I also know countless heterosexual couples who live in destructive relationships, and yet claim to be holy and righteous.

    That is why I’m saying it is a pastoral statement. This is not an easy issue to deal with, especially if you come from a fundamentalist environment where homosexuals have been demonised and stigmatised without mercy for centuries in the name of religion. We have to be aware that we are dealing with real people, with real issues, and not just with theological abstractions. It’s easy to talk about people you’ve never met and never had to minister to!!!

    In conclusion, as a pastor, I would rather be wrong by loving people too much, than by condemning them. And as a pastor, I am painfully aware of, and willing to take that risk and love those who are rejected and marginalised. Do not take my position as normative for anyone. Everyone has to make their own decision and live with the consequences.

  6. I understand from your comment here that being a pastor is a bit harder than being a theologian. Probably a bit more rewarding though.
    I am curious how would you position yourself if the opposition in your church, let’s say, against accepting homosexuals as bona fide Christians is too strong and you have to choose between keeping the post and lose a few “siners” or staying by your opinions and alienate the rest of the people?

  7. Indeed, being a pastor is harder than being a theologian. When you’re a pastor you work directly with people. Theologians tend to work with books, so they can afford to be abstract. I can’t! There is a lot of discussion around this separation in contemporary scholarship.

    However, everyone is, in a sense, a theologian, once they develop an articulated idea about God. Not everyone is a professional theologian though.

    I liked your question! It is strongly pastoral in its nature. As a minister in my denomination, I am not called to bully people by imposing my theological understanding on them. I am not called to brainwash people or to make spiritual clones.

    Rather my role is to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments according to my calling and my conscience. I always try to encourage my listeners to develop their own understanding, to ask their own questions, to explore things further, and to not take my conclusions as normative. Thus I try to liberate people rather than enslave them to a closed system of thought, namely mine. My style of preaching is inductive, rather than deductive; or at least I try.

    In this context of diversity of opinion and mutual respect, I believe it is possible to live and minister together throughout the parish and beyond, even if we do not agree on every single interpretation of biblical texts. The Church of Scotland is such a place where this is possible, which is why I love it so much.

  8. Please try to reconcile your views on homosexuality with Romans 1:26-28 or 1 Cor 6:9-10. Sincerely, it seems to me that “homosexuality is not a sin” statement is far from the what God has to say, isn’t it?

  9. If you read my previous comments carefully, you will see that I have already addressed biblical references, referring to the word ‘lust’ or ‘abuse’ as key words in these passages:

    “The Bible makes no reference to long-term loyal relationships between people of the same sex, since that was unknown to the ancient world. Homosexuality was inextricably linked to promiscuity and prostitution, hence the biblical injuctions against it. This can be disputed, of course, and it is not a final conclusion, nor can it be.”

    This is as far as I am willing to go on the subject of homosexuality on this post, since this is not the topic I was proposing in the first place, and I do not want to resolve the issue here.

    If you are really interested in the subject, I would suggest you read traditional commentaries, but also some biblical scholars who do not agree with the traditional interpretation of the passages you mentioned, and then make up your own mind, by comparing the two. The final decision rests with you, as it is linked to your conscience. I’m afraid I can’t help you here.

    A blog is not the right place for in-depth biblical exegesis. I consider this matter closed on this thread, even if it is unresolved. It is unresolved for me as well, but we will leave it at that for now.

    I will not allow more comments on the subject of homosexuality – if it is a sin or not – on this thread. If you have a comment relating to the original article, feel free to post.

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