The Favorite Unfavorite Person

The phone rang yesterday; an automatic message played. It was talking about a matter of conscience and religious conviction, how a woman doing what was right could very well cost her by the loss of her job, and how their group – the Family Foundation of our state would support her by holding peaceful rally on the courthouse steps in the state capital a few days from now. I imagine the entire state received that phone call. I sincerely doubted that they would have bothered were the shoe on the other foot – were LGBTQ Christians at risk of losing their jobs for taking a stand because of what their conscience tells them what was right. Truth is, most televangelists and mega-church pastors all agree that there’s no such thing as LGBTQ christian so there’s really nothing wrong with seeing the lot of them as lost sinners and treating them as such.

I had just read one well-known advocate for traditional families appeal to the story of the immoral brother in 1st Corinthians as an example of the treatment that ‘they’ are to expect from ‘us’. So let’s take a look at that story and what that means in our modern application:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. (1 Cor. 5:1)

Modern Christianity elevates heterosexuality to the degree that conservative teachers tend to preach that homosexuality is the worst sin of them all. Yet for all the sexual immorality in ancient Corinth, the worst of the sinners was acting out his Oedipus complex.

So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Cor. 5:4-5)

So Paul suggests that the church takes action, but he goes on to say:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (1 Cor. 5:9-11)

One big problem with modern Christianity is that we have our ethics based off a misunderstanding of Scripture. On the one hand, we gladly cast out LGBTQ Christians but on the other hand we ignore the sexual immorality committed by heterosexual Christians.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:12-13)

Paul affirms the punishment by suggesting a course of action – and it just so happens to be a quote referring to a number of passages in Deuteronomy. And so, the aforementioned advocate declared that it was our Biblical responsibility to expel LGBTQ ‘Christians’ from the church, hand them over to Satan, and loving pray that they ‘turn’ from the error of their ways; after all, it’s their sin that we hate, but we love the sinner. But he’s totally ignoring the rest of the story:

The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Cor. 2:6-8)

Christians excel at expelling their brothers and sisters, but they don’t get very high marks for forgiving them and they do even worse at comforting them.

Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. (2 Cor. 2:10-11)

You’ll notice that there’s not a directive that looks something like this: “I affirm that once the immoral brother has shown fruit in keeping with repentance that he must be forgiven.” No, the Corinthians are instructed not to wait for some sign that he’s earned to be forgiven; they are to forgive him completely and immediately.

Remember how I said that most televangelists are agreed that there’s no such thing as a LGBTQ Christian? They error by ignoring Paul’s command to not judge the worldly LGBTQ community and they error again by doubly punishing Christians with LGBTQ tendencies while ignoring the sexual immorality that happens in a heterosexual context.

Then again, if we were to really expel the sexually immoral heterosexual Christians, churches would scramble to fill the open positions to keep their services running. Smaller ones likely wouldn’t be able to given the broadness of what sexual immorality could be. This is just sexual sins – the other sins like gluttony, pride, and selfishness are usually not seen as severe enough to warrant such a punishment.

To anyone else, this unequal treatment of two groups of believers would seem like favoritism. To anyone else, the tendency for heterosexual Christians to be forgiven more quickly and pretty much never expelled from church while LGBTQ Christians are hardly ever forgiven and usually expelled from the church would look like a marked preference for the first group. But Christian know that God doesn’t choose favorites, and they assume that his church doesn’t show favoritism either.

Loveless

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love by our Biblical morality …”

In the last several months, I’ve been told that it’s loving to warn people that their sin is sending them to hell. Not only that, Christians don’t want to be complicit in the sins of others, so much so they refuse goods and services to sinners in the name of conscience. I’ve already discussed though, that they don’t refuse all sinners the use of their goods or services, just ones that claim their sin to be their identity.

It’s long been said, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’ But this presupposes that people have the ability to seperate the two. “Love the thief, hate their thievery.” But they are thieves, to hate thievery, you’d have to hate thieving thieves. So how does one hate the sin that sinning sinners sin, but love the sinning sinners that people are?

Perhaps the better question is: “Why can’t we love one another?” Let’s say that Christian X walks into church and realizes that a homosexual couple is sitting in the front row. If he or she does not want to complicit in their sins, then he or she really can’t love them. If Christian X loved them, that would be accepting something in them that is contrary to their beliefs. Not only that, but one of them might be attracted to him or her, and that’s causing them to sin even more by putting a stumbling block in their path and by being complicit in their sins. So the most loving thing Christian X can do is to not love them to keep them from sinning even more. In the process, Christian X fails to keep the second commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Just what did Jesus die for? Did he wash away clean the stain of all sins, past, present, and future, only to fail here and now? Has all that power been spent on the generations before us? Jesus partied with the lowest of the low, he reached out to the untouchable, and were he around today he would love the unlovable.

In all of this sin, we forget grace. The way that some people teach it, the less the sin, the less grace we have use to up – so we can save it for when we really need it. We can count on ourselves to not murder, to not steal, to not commit adultery because we are just that good. We don’t need grace for that. But is our New Testament Law keepable? We have two commandments: Love God and Love everyone else.

“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 5:20-21

Loving people is not the equivalent of being complicit in their sin. It’s not sinful to wish that a dying person had one more day, one more week, one more year, or one more decade to spend all that time sinning, rather, the time is to allow the grace of God to work and for them to come to faith. It’s not sinful to wish a couple to have a happy and smooth relationship together as they live in sin, rather, it is to make it easier to allow the grace of God to work in their lives and save both of them together. After all, God wants everyone to have the opportunity to believe in Jesus, Christians aren’t making that easy if they go around telling people how much God hates them.

If we truely love one another, then whoever walks into our church, whatever they claim to be, whichever denomination they belong to doesn’t determine how much or how little we love them, accept them, or how well we treat them. They are our brothers and our sisters. We don’t always have to agree on every detail of how to live the Christian life, but we are supposed to be loving.

Christians, we have it all wrong. We shouldn’t create a New Testament Legalism where we create and keep laws of righteousness. That would seem to say: “We have the ability to keep these laws on our own power, we don’t need Jesus’ grace to forgive us for failing to keep them.” When we do that, we fail to keep the debt of love that we owe everyone. And so we fail to do the very think we claim that we are doing.

Paul knows what the next logical question would be: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” His answer: “By the death and ressurection, we have been set free from sin … you are not under law, but under grace.” Let us learn to extend that grace to everyone we meet.

There’s only grace
There’s only love
There’s only mercy
And believe me it’s enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
There’s nothing left now
There’s only grace

“Take your business elsewhere. I won’t serve you!”

Growing up, there was one small sign on the door of every business that  always read: “No shoes, No shirt, No service.” It seems that in recent  years, Christians have added: “and No sinners!” to that sign.

But they don’t mean ‘No sinners’ in the general context, or they would  have no one to do business with – they mean “no homosexuals.” Which discriminates against one particular kind of sinner and ignores all the rest.

This brings up the question whether or not all sins are equal – after all, if there are worse sins, then it would be wiser to specifically deny that sort of sinner service as well. And if all sins are indeed equal, then it seems wrong to provide services for all the other kinds of
sinners.

That’s when I stumbled across one well-known Christian personality who claimed that all sins were not equal because the Old Testament declared different punishments for different sins. Now we have to categorize these unequal sins by degree of severity – but the problem is that while we might not have a problem with a little white lie, a bold lie would be worse – yet they both fall under the category of lying and you have to choose if that’s worse than theft (in the face of hunger), theft (to support an addiction) or theft (boredom). There is always the danger that whatever system of categorization we use, what sounds reasonable to us might not be right according to God’s definition.

Since ‘sin is lawlessness’, we have to consider what is usually meant by ‘the law’; it’s the Old Testament commandments that were laid down at the time the Israelites wandered through the wilderness and re-established when King Solomon built the first temple. However, Christians are not required to be circumcised, eat kosher food, or wear clothing of only one kind of cloth. During the Council of Jerusalem, christians came together to decide the issues and decided that these laws were the only ones that gentiles should keep: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” – Acts 15:28-29

But the ‘wages of sin is death’, which seems to indicate that ultimately, they all have the same punishment. Sure, we can commit small sins and be punished on earth, but that does not mean that we will get out of the eternal punishment of sins. So perhaps the answer to the question of whether or not all sins are equal is yes and no; no they are not equal in life where it remains possible to be forgiven for them, but they are all equal in death where forgiveness cannot be secured. Even so, there’s no biblical rule that allows for Christians to deny services to people on the basis of one particular sin.

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-10

So long as you don’t know whether a person is or isn’t a Christian, you should never deny them the services of their business because there are two possible outcomes; either you refuse to associate with sexually immoral Christians as the Bible says you should, or you refuse to associate with sexually immoral non-Christians as the Bible says you should not judge them. But let’s remember that while ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ is used in this passage, it means a believer you are close to. Trying to correct Christians you don’t know is more likely to cause offense than to restore their relationship with God.

It’s a fine line to walk – you can associate with all sorts of sinners as long as they aren’t believers, but once they do become a brother or sister in the faith, you have a problem. Either fold them in gently, over time helping them to overcome sin (which I’m not entirely conviced is something that believers can do for one another, some things are beyond us as humans) or outright refuse to associate with them as it’s clear that they’re still sinning Christians. Just be careful not to sin yourself, and not to sin against your newfound brother or sister in the faith. That’s why we were warned to watch out for legalism. But it’s one thing to talk about sin in general when you don’t know a person who sins in that way. Most people have this attitude of “It’s so easy for me, I don’t get why it’s hard for you.” which persists in church. It seems as if many Christians have forgotten how to extend grace because they try to exist in a way where they don’t need others to be graceful to them. If you walk in love and in grace, then the law becomes a bit of a grey zone.

Besides, sexually immoral is such a general term, it rules out not just one particular type of sinner, but a great many. The difference is that most people don’t have such a visible sort of sexual sin. It’s not as if all people on a list of offenders have to wear something that identifies them as such or all adulturers and divorced individuals have to wear As or Ds. So it just adds to the hypocrisy to single out one sort of sin and one sort of sexual immorality while serving all the rest. It seems to me that the simplest solution is to always serve all customers to the best of your ability without reguard to religious belief or percieved sins. To pick and choose might be making a stand, but it could very well be making the wrong stand and sending the wrong message.