John Elliott Lein

Writer, Artist, Designer and Theology Nerd

Love

Refuting Five "Myths" Against LGBT Relationships

Inclusion, LoveJ. Elliott LeinComment

Today I saw an article titled "5 Myths People Spread About Jesus, Sex and Gay Marriage" by pastor Kenny Burchard at ChurchLeaders.com.

He specifically asked for interaction and dialogue, so I thought I'd write a response to his "myths". (One note on the word "myth"—while it's commonly used to describe "made-up false stories", I prefer to think of a myth as a story that teaches a truth deeper than the surface details. Minor quibble.)

I've broken out each of his five "myths" and grabbed a bit of his argument for each, though you'll need to visit the full article for all of his statements.

1. Jesus never defined marriage as one man, one woman.

When Jesus talked about married people, he spoke of “a man … [and] … his wife” inMatthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7.

Jesus went on to use the language “ … the two shall become one.”

Jesus quoted the text of Genesis 2:24 as the foundation of His teaching on marriage. This is the biblical doctrine of “origins.” Jesus even used the clause “from the beginning it was not so” when talking about divorce.

Read full argument here.

It seems to me that this argument attempts to use Jesus's teaching on one very specific issue and apply his words to a different one. In context, Jesus is directly speaking against the dissolution of marriage. He quotes Genesis to emphasize the sacred nature of the marriage bond. I would counter that, rhetorically, it is a speculative stretch to apply his words to defining the gender make-up of a marriage. He may well have applied the same verse to do so if asked, but that is not recorded in Scripture.

So my conclusion is that the conservative position on this passage is a reasonable extrapolation of a possible teaching, but it is not in fact a strict reading of the text.

2. Jesus never specifically mentioned homosexuality in His teaching on marriage, so we should not make a big deal about it either.

So the idea that because Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality somehow means that it isn’t a point of human brokenness is a fallacy.

Another key observation is that any time Jesus mentions a husband, He mentions a wife. And any time He mentions a wife, He mentions a husband. 

This should provide the eager seeker of ”what Jesus taught” valuable insight. He seemed to believe that a husband belongs with a wife, and a wife belongs with a husband. A husband is a “he”—and a wife is a “she.”

Read full argument here.

True, it is a logical fallacy to make the lack of a statement into a positive argument in favor of acceptance of LGBT people in the church. Of course, I would want to point out that this same pushback could be made on your previous point.

As you say, just because Jesus only encountered and was familiar with traditional marriage in his Jewish cultural context does not have anything to say pro OR con about gay marriage.

However, the fact is that people of his time would have been very aware of Greek and Roman homosexual relationships. They would have been aware of the teachings in the schools that were established in Israel, and would have seen the common relationships between philosophy mentors and Roman legionaries with their male servants (possibly, though speculatively, behind the Roman centurion's relationship with his servant in Luke 7—the man Jesus called out as having more faith than all of Israel). The argument that this didn't seem to concern Jesus at all seems to have some weight against the current conservative insistance that homosexuality is a particularly bad sin (shown in the fervency of activity around this issue, even if claimed its a sin like any other).

3. Jesus's, and Paul's, attitude toward marriage

According to Paul’s teaching, marriage for Jesus (and even himself) would have been a distraction because …

… a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife. —I Cor. 7:33

It is true that during His human, earthy ministry, Jesus did not get married. But interestingly, there is New Testament imagery of Jesus being a “bridegroom” (male person in a marriage relationship) who is preparing to come for His bride (female person in a marriage relationship).

Read full argument here.

This argument is far more complex, and I don't have time to do it justice here. However, it seems difficult to use the teachings of Jesus and Paul to affirm the centrality of the nuclear family and exaltation of one-man/one-woman marriage today.

For example, nowhere in Scripture is there a prohibition against polygamy. Both Jesus and Paul allow the assumption to continue that this is a healthy form of marriage. Only in one verse much later on in the epistles is there a recommendation that the overseers of pastors ("bishops") have only one wife.

For most of Paul's writings, he "allows" marriage if you have to have it, but would really prefer the followers of Christ to remain unmarried. Jesus also does not appear to value marriage as an ambition for his followers, even though he does confront the cultural assumption that the man is in control of the relationship and supports the rights of the woman by speaking against no-fault divorce on the man's part.

As for the image of Jesus as bridegroom, that's an interesting analogy to use in support of traditional marriage. After all, the imagery seems to transcend our notions of gender, and affirm that both men and woman are united to Jesus in this "marriage", the same Son of God who is revealed as a male on earth.

In Galatians Paul insists that in Christ there is "no longer male or female". Our cultural divisions are no longer valid in the kingdom of God. His teaching in Ephesians does not focus on the differences between genders, but in fact on the need for equal treatment and that self-giving love is the true picture of Christ's love. There is no contextual indication that this depiction of love is only valid based on gender, simply because the example comes from the common form of marriage Paul would have been familiar with.

4. Jesus reached out to and accepted people into His circle who did not fit the “traditional marriage” model.

Two case-studies of this position are often brought up when talking about Jesus and marriage. The first is the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4). The second is the woman caught in adultery (see Jn. 8:1-11).

What can we make of these two stories? Is it something like …

Jesus speaking: “Hey, there’s a serial-divorcee, and an adulteress. I’m going to invite them to become members of my circle of people just so I can show people that I accept people like this.”

Yes! The truth is that Jesus was reaching out to them, but not without a call to leave their sexual/relational dysfunction behind them.

Read full argument here.

You use two stories here to illustration your point. May I break them apart and tackle them one at a time?

a) Samaritan woman at the well

As I've studied this passage, I've found that the common understanding of John chapter 4 isn't actually in the text. While Jesus uses his knowledge of the Samaritan woman's marital situation to declare his authority, he doesn't actually call it out as sin or ask for repentance. The woman's reaction, both at that moment and when she returns to her village, shows no evidence of shame or contrition.

Of course, that could be because it's likely she is barren, and the victim of the contemporary patriarchal system which would justify her being divorced from each man in turn (which Jesus confronted the Pharisees about) and ultimately forced to live with a man who would not marry her just to survive since it was rare for a woman to be able to make a living on her own in that culture without turning to prostitution. So maybe he didn't confront her sin because she wasn't sinning? (I first heard this interpretation from a conservative Reformed professor at a conservative evangelical university last year, for what it's worth).

b) The woman caught in adultery

I would like to point out two things with this story. 

First, adultery is the opposite of a committed relationship, whether inside or outside of marriage. I have not heard a pro-LGBT argument trying to claim that God is fine with LGBT relationships because Jesus is "okay" with the breaking of heterosexual relationships. We're talking about opposites here. We all agree the breaking of relationship is wrong.

Second, this particular story was hugely controversial in the early church and was contested as a legitimate passage for a long time BECAUSE it was seen as too forgiving of the woman! The church did not want to accept that Jesus would withhold punishment of this woman. The story was eventually accepted as an authentic story of Jesus, though both liberal and conservative scholars agree it was likely added to the manuscript of John sometime after the original writing (maybe migrating from one of the synoptic gospels).

(In general, this is only one of two stories in the entire collection of Gospels wherein Jesus says "go and sin no more". The other is a crippled man in the same Gospel, with no description of his sin. Calls to individual repentance of individual sins simply weren't a focus of his teaching. Now, calls to community repentance and repentance of judging and condemning others were certainly something that came up more.)

5. These are the kind of people Jesus would reach out to if He were here today.

Yes, Jesus would reach out to every kind of person. He would tell them of God’s love, and He would call them to repent of their sins. He would call murderers, thieves, liars, adulterers, homosexuals, gossips and racists.

And He would lead them out of their sin and into a new life with Him.

Read full argument here.

I'll try to keep this one brief. Your assumption is that being created gay while having the same need we all have for human relationship is sinful, and your list of sins seems to reflect a conservative and incorrect translation of certain terms. For more on that, you might be interested in the full in-depth study I did on these verses, which you can find freely online.

Also, this argument fails to take into account the Spirit-filled lives and testimonies of LGBT Christians and the widely acknowledged failure of the "ex-gay" movement.

Conclusion

I hope this helps you understand a little more about the other side's position. I appreciate your post helping me think through these things more for myself.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in return Kenny. Thanks for the invitation to dialogue. Grace and peace!

Loving is listening

LoveJ. Elliott LeinComment

During my recent conversations around LGBT and faith on Facebook, while discussing a linked articled called "Distorted Love: The Toll of Our Christian Theology on the LGBT Community" a concern around who defines "love" was brought up:

"If I take your last response and article at face value, then I must conclude that it is gay advocates (Christian & otherwise) who ultimately define love, with no room for dialogue or dissent. What a sad place for the Church."

Here is my response, an off-the-cuff set of ramblings on how I might attempt to answer that question.


Love. My thoughts.

Love cannot be defined solely by the giver, but must be affirmed by the receiver (and generally recognized by outsiders who see a net benefit in the long term).

A simple example is the "5 love languages". If the giver insists on using the language of "service" because it's what they resonate with, but the recipient values "touch", then is it self-less or self-ish love?

A more complex example would be the idealist's conviction that an action is loving based on their values, but which is experienced by the recipient, communities with other values, and/or by history as having a damaging result. For example, I think of Saint Augustine and John Calvin supporting the torture and/or death of what they saw as heretics because they thought it was more loving to ensure that the remainder would gain eternal salvation as they understood it. I can understand and empathize with their motivation. I can see how they thought it was love. I can understand that the civil law, cultural understandings of the time, and social pressure from their own religious group would influence their perception and that I might have done the same in their place. But I personally cannot define that as love from where I stand, based on the recipient's experience.

White American slave owners in the 1800's were convinced that they were loving their slaves by providing food, lodging, moral direction and steady work. It's clear that they had a high moral conviction around their policies if you read the declarations of secession or other documents by the southern states. Over half of published Christian sermons before the War supported this position by appealing to both general morality and to Scripture.

"In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law."
           — from A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union.

Many national leaders we now see as morally troubled made decisions motivated at least initially by a conviction that they were in the best interests of others, yet because they did not listen to opposing voices or accept challenges to their worldview, we now see them as "evil" (Mao, Lenin, Hitler, etc could all fit into that category on some level I think as extreme examples).

If an expression of love from the giver ends in obvious, provable harm for the receiver (setting aside exceptions such as restraining the receiver from hurting others), then we need to ask some serious questions about whether that is actually love.

"Love your neighbor as yourself". You have to get to know your neighbor pretty well before you know how to love them to the level that you love yourself (whom you know pretty intimately). 

I'm not saying any of this is empirically true of any particular non-affirming Christian or the traditional absolutist position on marriage. However, if we do not allow the gay recipient of a person's love to voice their sense of how it feels to receive that love, then how do we judge if it truly is love? Whose interpretation of the Bible "wins"? Just the one that's been around longest? Then we have to wrestle with the Scripture-supported "curse of the Jews" anti-semitism which began in the 1st century, was supported in the Inquisition and by Martin Luther and cumulated in the Holocaust before we finally returned to re-read the Bible in a different way (see Southern Baptist ethics and holocaust scholar Dr. David Gushee's work on this).

That's what the article we have been discussing is saying, I think: 

"The recipients of your love aren't agreeing that they feel loved or respected, even when you share the same faith and love for the same God, and neither do independent observers around them. Why?"

Us "gay advocates" are just asking our fellow Christians to take the time to listen more carefully to the recipients of the traditional language around marriage, and to think and pray carefully about how God would want to us to respond. I personally failed to find a way to do so without changing my mind (and after I did, I came to a new understanding of Scripture that seemed clearer and more literally accurate than before).

To be honest, some of this may challenge some particular understandings of theology on a larger level, which is part of what I've gone through in the last couple of years. Yet there too are many different approaches available from that very same Bible we share and love.

Well, that's my opinion. Maybe it helps you understand better where I'm coming from even if you disagree.

Love People to Love God

LoveJ. Elliott LeinComment

(Part 3 of my meditation on the Love commandments. Read one and two.)

Jesus summarized all of his religious community's teachings about God in two commandments:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. 

And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

   — Matthew 22:37-40 (NRSV)

What does it mean to love God with everything you are?

How do we love God? What does loving God mean? How does our language around love in other contexts apply to a transcendent non-human being that we do not experience in the kind of direct ways in which we experience fellow humans, animals or even other physical aspects of our world?

I've been thinking a lot about what we mean when we use the word "God". It's one of those words that I inherited from my background in church, one that is hardly ever discussed directly but is referenced directly or indirectly in almost all contexts.

Evangelical Christianity often uses the phrase "personal relationship" when talking about what Jesus offers us with God. This was a powerful, revolutionary concept in the ancient world which saw deities as impersonal powers to be either feared or manipulated. Yet, what does that phrase "personal relationship" mean when we apply it to God?

For the purposes of this post, all I mean to say is that by definition God is not an entity that we physically touch, hear from, or see in human terms. Despite the mental image that I developed as a child, God is not a bearded old man sitting on a mountain somewhere (maybe I confused him with Zeus?).

Ways that are not love

One way I used to think about the command to "love God" was that it was about compelling an abstract emotional response on command or through emotion-targeting experiences (for example, a music concert). 

Another way of articulating "love God" seems to redefine "love" as "obey". This is very easy to understand (though sometimes still not as clear as some might think), but it's a different concept entirely. To obey God, to do God's will, is an action not a relationship. Love surely has something to do with relationship, and it is separate from what we might do for another out of respect or love. Obedience may flow out of love, but it is not the same as love. Love exists outside of any action or circumstance.

So, how do we love this transcendent (yet also affirmed to be equally immanent in the world) being in the way that Jesus calls us to, as the greatest and first commandment?

Re-reading the words

Once again, I'm drawn to re-examine the words that I've heard but seldom considered for so many years.

I personally affirm the importance and significance of the first commandment to love God, yet I'm left with wondering "how?". Surely Jesus didn't intend to leave us with something so vague and unknowable. What if we look at it again with the assumption that there is an answer embedded in the text above?

The first commandment is followed by the second commandment. Together (not separately) they sum up all of the "Law and the Prophets". If the first commandment seems hard to understand on its own, maybe we can use the second to interpret it.

The second commandment (which is "like unto" the first) is "Love your neighbor as yourself." My conclusion is that maybe this gives us the answer to our question about the first. That the way we love God is through loving those around us, which comes from us first loving ourselves (recognizing that we are truly worthy of love).

Loving God

So, what do you think? Is God's call to love others our way to loving him? And is the route to truly loving others centered in accepting our own status as fully loved creations?

Love As Overflowing Cup, Not Obligation

LoveJ. Elliott LeinComment

Last week I was thinking about the "love yourself" portion of "Love your neighbor as yourself". I couldn't get the topic off my mind.

First, what it's not about

"Love yourself" does not mean that you deny your failings, or see yourself as sinless. It means that you are able to recognize your inherent worth and value as a human being. You are able to trust that you are loved regardless of what you might do or think or feel.

Too often our identity and understanding of ourselves is based in shame and guilt. When "who we are" is summed up as "worthless sinners", then condemnation is all we expect from God, from others, and from ourselves. This internal narrative of condemnation and judgement is then naturally shared out by judging others.

If we believe that our identity is one of shame and guilt, that there is nothing inherently good in ourselves, then we believe that condemnation and judgement is how God relates to us and therefore how we should relate to those around us. The constant dialog in our heads is "you are not worthy to be loved". It destroys our spirits, corrupts our thoughts, damages our relationships, and separates us from the always-giving love of God.

This internal judgement overflows outward in our interactions with other people. Judgemental people are the opposite of hypocritical – the judgement they give out is matched by the judgement they internalize.

Is love an obligation?

Hospitality is an attitude and set of actions that can be learned and required of ourselves and others. It's not 

When our giving is primarily about obligation (often out of guilt and shame) rather than love, our efforts can be distorted.

I'm reminded of Mother Teresa's charity work. She is rightly venerated for her incredible self-sacrifice into poverty and provision for the most abandoned and hopeless of humanity. Yet as I've read more about her life and work, I've come to wonder if this fatal flaw is at the core of her efforts.

In her posthumously-published private writings, she confesses that she rarely felt the presence of God. She felt abandoned and alone, and unloved. Her work seemed to be motivated at least partially by a need for penance, not necessarily in passing on love. There have been some controversial discussions around her disallowing pain medication for the dying and suffering, and allowing individuals to die instead of have life-saving surgery. Her glorification of suffering could have come from her personal feeling that she was unworthy of love.

If we only love others out of obligation, is that "love", or is it action motivated by guilt?

Maybe if we can work on accepting all of ourselves as loved, even embracing our shadow side, we can begin to truly love others from which our loving actions will naturally overflow.

Just my thoughts for today. What do you think?

Love Yourself

LoveJ. Elliott LeinComment
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
— Mark 12:31 (NRSV)

One of my favorite restaurants, the Taqueria El Rancho, is just a short stroll from my office. I often walk past the local United Methodist Church when I pick up food there, and they have had Jesus's famous two-part commandment on their two-sided sign out front for the past few months (sure beats the puns!).

I've heard these verses so many times that it seems I've never really thought about the actual words much until the other day. I was on yet another jaunt up the hill to get my usual (two beef enchiladas, add one cheese, with the best rice and beans) when I re-read that sign once more, and started thinking about what it really meant.

"Love God, love others"?

Sure, love is a theme. Simplifying the commandments down to "Love God, and love others" is a short and catchy summary. And I definitely affirm that concept.

However, this time it was the second half of that second commandment that really caught my eye: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself".

What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Is it simply a moral standard that says you should think of how you would like to be treated and use that bar to treat others? Or is there something more there? After all, some people's ideas of being treated well might not really work for me, and vice versa.

Listen to others to know how to treat them well?

Maybe we could extend the idea to say that the standard to which we should treat people should be based on equivalent results. That is, if I want to treat someone with respect, to give them dignity, and make them feel loved, I should endeavor to find out what actions would communicate this to that person.

Certainly this is widely regarded as important in marriages and relationships – don't assume that what you like is what the other person likes. You have to spend time with that person. You have to ask questions, and listen. Listen more than talk, or assume.

I'm reminded also of the training I received in cross-cultural communications when we left to be missionaries in Germany. We learned that respect and love are communicated in radically different ways in different cultures and contexts. Listening, learning, and attempting to understand life from a different perspective are crucial in these situations (whether overseas, or simply with someone raised in a different family!).

Can we apply that understanding to random strangers we meet in person or hear about online? To seek to understand and listen first, instead of assume? We can definitely try, and it would be great! Yet, there's one more level to this seemingly-simple commandment that I started thinking about.

Love Yourself

"Love your neighbor as you love yourself" implies that the love you give out to your neighbor is equal to or based on the love you have for yourself. If you do not love yourself, if you do not understand yourself to be loved/lovable at a deep level apart from any relationship or context or action, how can you love someone else to that same level?

Tonight I saw a tweet from Nathan Hamm that got me thinking about this whole topic again:

People who condemn others for
sexual sin are often
guilty of deep, dark sexual sin.

It's projection, not morality.
Hypocrisy, not holiness.
     — @NathanHamm

Nathan's premise has some concrete accuracy, as we've seen time and again in scandals emerging around some of the most condemning voices. I don't believe everyone is in this boat, knowing that I have made condemning statements without a "deep, dark sexual sin".

I think rephrasing slightly to "People who condemn others for sexual sin often feel guilty of deep, dark sexual sin" encompasses a greater range of people, and gets closer to the core issue. Focus on the word "guilt" as an internal story instead of an external one. If you have been given the narrative that your identity is inherently and completely sinful (one term some people use is "Total Depravity"), and if you've been given very tight limits to what is considered "ok" around sex (especially if merely looking at someone is a sin), then you probably have difficulty believing that you are loved, and that you can love yourself.

If you internally condemn yourself, if your internal narrative is focused more on sin and punishment than on grace and love, then that is naturally the way you may treat others. Consciously or unconsciously, you may not be being a hypocrite, because you are constantly doing the same thing to yourself.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

As Jesus said, we must take care of the log in our eyes before turning to the dust mote in our brother's eye. Maybe some people who condemn others frequently have not been able to accept love from others, from God, and their internal monologue is reflected in their outward speech. I believe this to be true for myself, though I'm working on trusting in that love.

So, if you hear people around you doing condemning (of yourself or others), or maybe hear yourself doing it, remember that Jesus tells us we need to accept our status as loved creations of God, and love ourselves, before we can begin to follow his command to love others.