Both in very different ways were writing about the same thing: how should Christians act towards unclean people, abominations… sinners?
I think the same thing is true concerning same-sex relations. The Bible teaches that such relations are sinful, and if questioned or confronted, I will say so. At the same time, I can completely love a person who commits such a sin. I can show him or her kindness, treat him or her as better than myself, and refrain from judging him or her. I’m willing to admit that in the eyes of God I might be far more sinful than any homosexual person in the world.
Peter said. “But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”
Not a word there about calamari or bacon. That’s not what the vision was about. It was about people. God has shown us that we should not call any person impure or unclean — that we should not treat any person as impure or unclean.
So here’s an invitation or a challenge for the New Year: Sign up for the scavenger hunt. Take the Big List of the unclean and the untouchable and turn it upside down and inside out. Seek out those people instead of avoiding them. Touch them and let them touch you.
I react towards those two posts very differently. They’re both saying – though Fred much more subtly than RG – that gay is on the Big List of abominations. (Sex between men certainly is, twice, in Leviticus: in the list of 613 things an observant Jew must not do, a Jewish man may not have sex with another man, no more and no less than he may shave his beard or get tattooed or eat bacon or own a slave for more than 7 years without offering him his freedom: he cannot make a wave-offering in the Temple if he has made himself ritually unclean in this way. It’s not allowed.)
Both of them, also, explicitly say that this is about Christianity being inclusive, not exclusive.
Yet I get a warm and welcoming feeling from Fred’s post – he reminds me why I like Christianity; whereas from RG’s post I get no such feeling. Fred uses the illustration of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. (There are monasteries where by tradition, once a year on Maundy Thursday, the abbess or abbot, the representative of Christ on Earth of those vowed to the monastery, would wash the feet of twelve of the nuns or monks. )
In any hierarchical organisation, even the most rigid, there will be times when an extremely senior person may, by accident or design, end up doing a lowly service for a very junior one. When that happens, it can happen in a range of ways – the senior person could be irate that they have to do this, or could do it without anger but with an air that makes it clear they consider this to be a particular favour, or do it briskly and ungraciously – or, if they’re extremely confident in their seniority and see making their juniors comfortable as a part of their work, they might do the service with charm and grace, as if they were actually happy to do it for the junior.
Whether that’s fetching coffee, or holding a door open, or picking up a dropped folder, or… well, if you’re a junior nun, the Abbess washing your feet.
Or, if you’re a straight Christian who believes that gay sex is on God’s Big List of Abominations, but also believes that Jesus said to love the sinner even if you hate the sin, the problem of how to react to a same-sex couple in church.
Try to emulate Jesus washing his disciples feet in the upper room at Passover? Without a word for that smelly ingrown toenail that Thomas has, or the dirt that’s ground into all the cracks on Peter’s feet, or the remains of some dry goatcrap that John stepped in yesterday that got over the edge of his sandals? That’s Fred’s message about emulating Christ, as I get it.
Or try to emulate Jesus telling people they are sinners? After all, there you are, with their feet in your hands, you can see and smell how dirty they are, are you supposed to just ignore that filth, RG asks? Obviously, he’s still going to wash those feet, that’s what Jesus did, but why should he have to pretend he can’t smell the crap they’re walking in? That’s RG’s message about emulating Christ: make sure the sinners know they have dirty smelly feet, while acknowledging that his own feet are just as dirty.
When I was a very junior employee in my first week at IBM, it happened that a very senior manager had to open the secure door to the wing where I worked: he just happened to be the nearest employee with a keycard, which I hadn’t yet been issued. I had no idea who he was at the time: I had been told I had to identify myself to anyone who let me into the secure floor, or both they and I could get into trouble. So I shyly told him my name and who I worked for, and I have never forgotten: he gave me an enormous smile, held out his hand, and said happily “Welcome to the team! Good to meet you!” shook my hand, and went on his way.
You can do these things one way, or you can do them another…
And yet: being gay is not like having smelly feet. Straight or at least very closeted Christians who argue that it is their business to condemn sinful LGBT people for being queer, use parallels of alcoholism or drug addiction or – if you’re Obama’s BFF Rick Warren, really ugly stuff like paedophilia or bestiality.
They blur the lines when they do this, as well as cause offense, because alcoholism, drug addiction, cause measurable harm to the addict, as well as to the people the addict knows. Not abstract, God-says-it’s-a-sin harm, but real, physical, evidentiary damage that you don’t have to believe in God to see.
Paedophilia and bestiality are both regarded as abominations because they involve forcing those who cannot consent. Homophobic Christians argue that they are being “forced to consent” to something they cannot consent to, when they live in countries that accept same-sex marriage as legal, equating themselves with the children or animals harmed by a molester. They see themselves (we saw this after Proposition 8, when even though they won, a loud whine went up from all over the anti-marriage blogosphere) as the victims of LGBT people who want to get married.
Like eating bacon, having sex with a woman while she’s having her period, having sex with someone of your own gender may not be to everyone’s taste. But the only reason Christians have for asserting God says all or any of these things are sinful is that they are against the law of Leviticus. That may be enough for a good Christian or a devout Jew or a Muslim. But (unlike eating bacon) what people do in the privacy of a consenting adult relationship, is no one’s business but their own – and God’s if you believe in God. Whether that’s having sex during a woman’s period, or a man having sex with another man: it’s not an outsider’s business to inquire into it. It does no harm.
Christianity at its best is about acting against real, measurable harm to others. Jesus didn’t say “Police other people’s sex lives if you want to pass Judgement”: he said, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of sick people, visit people in prison.
When Katrina hit New Orleans, hundreds of prisoners were abandoned in Orleans Parish Prison. Yet oddly enough, this act of utter inhumanity was never cited by the many Christians who argued that when Katrina hit New Orleans God destroyed a wicked city. Nor, though in fairness a majority of Christians rejected the idea that God sends hurricanes, did any of these Christians who asserted a supernatural cause point out that the kind of wickedness explicitly condemned by Jesus was the kind of inhumanity that left thousands of people behind in New Orleans to survive as best they might because they were too poor to obey an evacuation warning that provided no assistance: the kind of inhumanity that left thousands waiting for days without clean water or food or health care: the kind of inhumanity that left prisoners behind to drown. That is the sin of Sodom: not the sex lives of Mardi Gras festival goers.
Complaining about the smelly feet of the gay couple sitting next to you, in a country where 36 million people go hungry, is exactly like preachers denouncing New Orleans for hosting Mardi Gras and ignoring Orleans Parish Prison. If you can say two things for sure about the Jesus of the gospels, he would have gone to Mardi Gras and had a great time: but he’d have walked over water and broken down walls to rescue the prisoners who were standing chest high in water.