Friday, June 26, 2015

Losing More Than You Think

Fools say to themselves, “There is no God.”
They sin and commit evil deeds;
none of them does what is right. (Psalm 14:1)

Today marks a milestone in a long series of milestones that have, as their organizing principle, the invention of a new “God” that supposedly will bless same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a ruling that essentially overturns the ability of local states to enact bans on any “marriages” that run afoul of the “tradition definition” in Western society of one man and one woman bound together in legal union. The 5-4 vote from the nine justices usurps any democratic process, and forces states to operate contrary to local election ballot measures and state constitutions. The reactions have been abundant and loud throughout the day both for and against the ruling. Some, seeing “equal marriage” as a fundamental right view this as no less a victory was the abolition of slavery, women suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement. Some against it focus so much on the specificity of homosexuality that their commentary is critiqued as “gay bashing” or “hate speech.”

As a Christian, I am opposed to the SCOTUS ruling, but for different reasons than merely a reaction to homosexuality. After all, if “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” why then would we seemingly pick a “favorite sin” to oppose? Surely there are an abundance of sins to repudiate and encourage our fellow people to pursue virtue over vice. Understandably, those of the LGBTQ community that hear animated voices from religious circles directed at them may feel singled out for particular scorn. Rightly do they point out the hypocrisy of trying to remove a speck from their eye when there is a bean sticking out our own. Those on the “religious right” do us no favors by seeming to focus laser beams of judgement on those whose sins differ from our own, without acknowledging our own so as not to “confuse the issue.”

Often I find that Christians oppose gay marriage, but for lesser reasons that I believe is the most legitimate; that being, the “faith once for all delivered.”

The LGBTQ community rightly often asks, “What threat to your life and religion could my being happy possibly hold?” The correct answer would be: “none.” However, with the societal endorsement of LBGTQ identities that is inherent in a “marriage license” comes the relinquishing of more bedrock beliefs than many (on either side of the debate) may realize. Like pulling on the lower Jenga block, the collapse is unintended, but inevitable nonetheless. Beliefs are not held in isolation, but instead are found in combination with tenants that intertwine and build upon one another. On the one hand, certain faith assertions are correctly seen as ancillary and “adiaphora” (debatable lesser issues) that constitute the variety of the faith spectrum. Some doctrines, on the other hand, are more central than are often acknowledged by those not accustomed to thinking about their faith.

One such doctrine is the notion of “sin.” It is not a pleasant thing, but instead is a frustrating and burdensome reality that is both a self-evident plague in the human condition and the cause for necessitating a Savior. A classic definition of sin is to “miss the mark.” This supposes the existence and authority of an Entity that establishes a “mark” that can be missed. To be Christian, it is not necessary that one point others’ sin. On the contrary, Jesus offers a stern rebuke to those that think to do so. the paragraph of his teaching is frequently quoted regarding this topic, so it should be offered here as well:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
(Matthew 7:1-5)

At issue in gay marriage, however, is not whether speck or beams are lodged in the eye. It instead is about whether we acknowledged the existence of specks and beams AT ALL.

Beyond debate is whether the Scriptures list homosexuality among the various sins that deviate from acceptable behavior. The Bible, as interpreted within the Christian community for two millennia, has defined normative sexuality rather narrowly (between a man and a woman bound together in covenant marriage), and endorsed it with an accompanying definition of normative marriage (between one man and one woman). Exceptions of this were found in Old Testament in circumstances where polygamy was seemingly left un-condemned, but where paradigms of normative marriage were taught, the consistent assumption is that one man is bound to one woman. Religious communities that have held these scared texts as authoritative historically have interpreted them as Divine revelation, indicating standards that cannot be altered by humankind. According to Christian definitions predating the existence of the American experiment, God has set the sexual and matrimonial standards which are no more alterable by man than are other naturally laws such as gravity. Having set where “the mark” is, God has defined the corresponding category of sin where that “mark” is missed.

The very notion of sin assumes the existence of One who has authority to say what is acceptable and what is sin. These assumptions build upon one another. It is because of a Divine “lawgiver” that standards exist at all; standards that, when I break them, make me a “lawbreaker,” a “sinner,” and one who has “missed the mark.” By no means is one “sinless” merely because they are not homosexual. There are a multitude of ways to demonstrate how I am a “sinner,” and I am creatively able to explore many of them. However, vital to redemption is the necessity to acknowledge that I am a sinner and entreat forgiveness and redemption from the One able to offer it (though is not obligated to grant it). The question is not whether I sin; it’s whether I admit it and seek atonement for it from the One whose “mark” I missed. Because of the manner these truths are interwoven, if I should tire of the antiquated notion of sin and fail to admit my status as a sinner, no hope of redemption is possible. Only those that need saving get a Savior.

The dilemma goes deeper though. If the Lawgiver is not merely ignored, but denied by means of rewriting notions of sin to suit my proclivities, then I have reverse-engineered a new “lawgiver,” made in my own image, that draws the “mark” such that I cannot miss it. This “functional atheism” abandons all historic notions of “God” as defined in Jewish, Christian or even Muslim traditions. It’s not that “God has made me this way” so much as it is that “no gods exists that would disapprove of whatever I want to do or be.”

Thus the oxymoron of the “gay Christian” must be universally rebutted. If the doctrine of Sin is abandoned in favor of propensities that either one thinks they were born with or for various reasons elects later on in life, then the Incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ is made irrelevant. Indeed one could be a sinner, with a disposition for homosexual sin, but the seeking of the marital endorsement is to deny that homosexuality is among those sins that demonstrate the need for redemption, along with all other sins of which even “straight” people are guilty as well. It is one thing for a sinner to say they have homosexual temptations and are in need of Divine redemption and enabling from the same to avoid it. It is a completely opposite matter to endorse such sins so that indulging such things (acts, lifestyle, beliefs) is no longer even considered sin, so that redemption from it is no longer even sought.

Along with the abandoning of the notion of sin (lawbreaking) is the relinquishing of the notion of a Lawgiver. The endorsement of a marriage license for such identities is not only a societal confession that “there is no God” (Psalm 14 above), but also constitutes the abandonment of the Christian faith. Though some may not recognize it as such, it is no less than the abandonment of Christian faith by yanking away a load-baring Jenga block. For this reason, lamentation is in order for not only the societal confession, by means of the SCOTUS decision, that “there is no God,” but for all those that erroneously think that such functional atheism is compatible with Christian faith as well.

If there is no sin, there is no Savior. For sinners (myself being chief among them), salvation is made possible because of repentance to Him that has authority to set marks I so often miss. If, however, sin will not be admitted, no salvation is available. Why would it even be needed?

Laments and mourning are in order for the societal, legal endorsement of this folly. Indeed, the same society that has demanded freedom from authoritarian ideas of God has made good on its intent to deny he exists. But mourning is also needed for those that have so misunderstood “love,” misunderstood their faith and misunderstood how faith items interweave, that they blinding celebrate the death of more than they realize. I fear they will understand the disaster they cheered far too late.