As we have watched scenes in Afghanistan, it feels very literally like “the enemy is at the gates.” Many of us already feel besieged by COVID. The Coronavirus has caused all of our feelings to be superglued to our sleeves, and we sometimes take ungodly pleasure in taking swipes at the sleeves of others. We have become so easily offended, and offensive. Road rage is rampant. Feelings of “my way or the highway” have turned us against one another. Everybody has an opinion about vaccinations, and devil may care attitudes about what science says. We’re living in a tough time: Hurricane Ida, wildfires out West, earthquakes in Haiti, and the debacle in Afghanistan is a crime against every Afghan interpreter, woman, girl, and the thousands of coalition forces that have suffered to make that country a better place, and ours safer.
It is convincing to me that many of our problems, especially in Afghanistan, are rooted in faulty intelligence. With COVID we could add pride and selfishness, but the primary cause of the decline of our values and morality is plain old ignorance. Every one of us could talk about multiple contemporary subjects where we have displayed wholesale ignorance, and depended on personal opinion or the opinion of others (e.g., the media) more than we should, but here’s just one. Yesterday, esteemed ex-President Jimmy Carter was extolled for his opinion that the practice of homosexuality is okay because Jesus never talked about it. I wish he would do his theological homework before “armchair quarterbacking,” an opinion that he seems to have reached only toward the end of his long life now that it’s become popular and politically expedient.
He, and the rest of us, could benefit from reading the solid exegesis of someone like Dr. John Stott, in his book Same Sex Relationships, or brilliant author and podcaster N.T. Wright, who dives deep on the subject. But, even Tom Wright gives academic deference to what he calls the best short treatment of the human sexuality debate that is found in one of the chapters in former Duke Divinity Dean, Dr. Richard B. Hays’ book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. These are three well-respected and intelligent scholars who can be very helpful in shaping anyone’s thinking. They have almost nothing in common with either conservative fundamentalists or milquetoast progressives, but provide a fair and balanced perspective. They can provide anchors for your understanding in the face of superficial false teaching.
After all, Jesus may not have technically used the word, “homosexual,” but He certainly defined marriage. In Matthew 19:5-6, Jesus said, “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” What Jesus said was as clear as a bell!
So, how does Jimmy Carter and many others miss the plain teaching of Scripture? Is it ignorance, or the thinking that if you say something often enough it becomes true? Really, what causes us to be amenable and accepting of behaviors that have been firmly rejected by thousands of years of Christian teaching? Is it our pride, or the influence of the cultural moment? Is it superficial reasoning or Biblical ignorance? Perhaps most of all, is it the inner conflict of observing family and close friends who struggle with same-sex attraction? Which one of these experiential factors is worthy of being elevated to a status equal or better than the Scripture of God? I know it’s difficult and can be complex. I’ve been there, got the t-shirt.
We’ve all been close to people that were or are doing things that we’re convinced isn’t in their ultimate best interest, and isn’t a part of God’s desire for them. In any such case, how do we differentiate between our dear love of someone and our well-founded concern that they’re involved in an unholy pattern of behavior? Well, the ultimate example is always Jesus.
If you’ve had a chance to watch “The Chosen” at all, it’s a great snapshot that this is all exactly what Jesus does so deftly with his disciples, even in their most ignorant moments: he lives a perfect balance of accountability and grace (watch here: http://www.thechosen.tv/app or search “The Chosen” in your app store). I love it! It’s a great reminder that cherry-picking and proof-texting Jesus’ words are never a substitute for who he was, and who he is, as a whole person and as the living God. Trying to confine him to our current cultural standards, mincing the things we claim he did or didn’t say, quoting his famous lines on “love” while neglecting his equal teaching on obedience and righteousness – it all falls short of letting Jesus be his whole self.
My hope is that we can all embody his wholeness, his balance, before our values go down the drain of human history. God forbid that the only people on the planet who promote moral absolutes are the Taliban. Couldn’t there be a movement among Christians who are as fervent about our God and our Gospel, including a holy measure of grace and forgiveness? Can’t we do the hard work of thinking through the tough questions while holding fast to both our love of God and our love of others? I think we can do both, and I believe we must.