Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mail on Bishops

Concrening the post on the Anglican Communion's problems with Bishops:

In an e-mail, one of my friends said this:

Hi Don,

I linked to your article yesterday. I would be interested to know your
thoughts on my piece.

Church and Sin
Hammer left a comment
on my
last post with a link to an article by Al Mohler

about the need for Christians to truthfully confront the sin of
homosexuality. Trinitarian Don

also makes some very good points today about sin, objective truth, the
Church, and homosexuality.

While I fully agree with the truth of what both Don and Al wrote, I
don't like how homosexuality often gets singled out by Christian leaders
when referencing and discussing sin. Al stated, "The church is not a
place where sinners are welcomed to remain in their sin." It sounds like
Al hasn't been to Church lately. Churches nowadays are packed with
greedy, lustful, deceitful, proud, selfish, and sexually immoral
believers who are quite comfortable in most of their sins. Pastors and
other Church leaders are just as comfortable in some or all of these
sins. I'm sure I also have blind spots in regard to my own sins.

Some sins are worse than other sins and all sins have gradations of
evil. Homosexuality is no different. A homosexual relationship with one
partner is different than a homosexual relationship with many partners.
Advocating homosexual marriage is different than advocating acceptance
of homosexuals. Struggling and failing to overcome a homosexual
lifestyle is different than proudly proclaiming a deviant sexual
orientation. If Christian leaders and lay believers wish to demonstrate
the love of God towards homosexuals, they need to place homosexuality
and the gradations of homosexuality on the list of all other sins where
it belongs and quit singling homosexuality out as the worst of all sins.

Additionally, if Christian leaders and lay believers wish to be taken
seriously when proclaiming the truth of homosexuality, they need to
increase the references to the sins of greed, lust, deceit, pride, and
selfishness. Perhaps they could start by proclaiming the truth in their
own Church and make a few believers a little uncomfortable.

David M. Smith

My response was as follows:

Thanks Dave,

In many ways I agree with your comment. I think we do not deal strongly
enough with common sins. It is a lot easier to be critical of sins that
you think "other people" commit and that you do not see every day in
yourself or your church. The church has a serious problem with
pornography for example. Yet you hear few sermons about it and most men
experience little real victory in this part of their thought lives, not
because it is impossible, but because we cut ourselves a lot of slack on
something seen as difficult to stop and in some sense, "natural."

You are also right that, while all sins lead to damnation unless covered
by the blood of Christ, there is a hierarchy of sins. Not all sins are
the same. This is why human law forbids murder but not anger, even
though Jesus makes it clear that without God's grace both will send you
to hell in the eyes of our just and holy God.

But, I do think that while advocating public measures that facilitate
homosexual recruitment or that say it is ok - such as gay marriage or
gay advocacy in schools - is far worse that Homosexual sex, promiscuous
homosexual sex is worse that occasional, and an open homosexual
lifestyle is worse that quietly struggling with it. And, acting on the
desire is worse than the desire. But, I think because homosexual sex is
"unnatural" and because it is avoidable for most people, even people
with the desire for it, it is "worse" than many other sins. Paul does
give it a prominent place in Romans 1, where he talks about the
consequences of rejecting God's truth. It is also an easy place to hold
the line on social values. On top of that, it is important because it
is the area where the current push to expand what society considers
acceptable conduct is taking place. We already lost the battle with the
"playboy lifestyle" in the sixties.

If we can keep homosexuality in the "antisocial" column of common
perception we can save thousands of kids from heartbreaking pain that
will occur if they are recruited to the "gay" life (I do not believe
they are hard wired that way even if there are biochemical propensities
or triggers). Next maybe we can drive the playboy lifestyle and sharp
business practices back into the "unacceptable" column. Such
perceptions matter. Life without major sins is nicer for everyone than
life with the major sins. It would be wonderful to have a culture where
we could focus on helping each other with pride, impatience, gluttony, and
sloth instead of the life threatening sins that currently hold our
civilization in thrall.

This said I do not think people should "hate" homosexuals or persecute
them. There but for the grace of God go we all. They need the gospel
and the love of Christ. But a gospel that says sin is not sin, or that
we are acceptable to God just as we are, without atonement or
justification, or that it is ok not to struggle against sin and just
institutionalize it, is not really the gospel at all. It is a dangerous


David M. Smith said...

Could you elaborate more on why you consider some sins to be natural and some sins to be unnatural? I have heard the distinction before, but […]

Dean McConnell said...

Thanks, David, for your comment. To answer your question, I believe the distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” sins is one of degree rather than of pure quality. In a sense, all sins are unnatural because they are all contrary to God’s plan.

When I use the word natural with respect to sins or law, I mean that what is natural is in accord with God’s plan, design and order, while things that are unnatural are contrary to that design and order. I understand this to be the same usage that occurs in Romans 1, where Paul refers to the exchange of homosexual desires for heterosexual desires as exchanging the natural for the unnatural. Compared to say, fornication, homosexual acts are more “unnatural” because they involve desire between people of the same sex which is contrary to God’s order. It is natural for people of the opposite sex to be attracted to one another, even if there are times when it is not lawful for them to act upon that attraction. Hence, while fornication or adultery is also unnatural, homosexual sin is more unnatural because it is based on an improper desire rather than a proper desire which is wrong in a particular context.

In a second example, it is always wrong to murder. Murder of a soldier who is out of action in war is unlawful. But it is less unnatural than a child who murders its parents. Why? Violence against an enemy is more understandable than against the natural object of love – a parent (though God expects us to love our enemies too). In many ways, this can be seen as splitting hairs, but if you are going to make distinctions within public policy about which immoral acts are going to be against law and policy, and which immoral acts are going to remain in the realm of morality alone, it is occasionally necessary to make such distinctions. One does need to take care though. There are plenty of instances of crazy out comes of such reasoning in scholastic literature. You have to include other moral principles as well, such as the hierarchy of sins in general, the fact that sins that corrupt others are worse in some sense than many solitary sins, sins of the mob are worse than sins of the small group, and sins that corrupt innocents are worse still. Within all this it is important to remember that, apart from the grace of God in Christ, all sins send us to hell, and are unacceptable to God. There are no OK sins that it are “safe” or can be winked at or approved. Nor can a person’s salvation status be known to us because of where there individual sins appear on the scale. God can save a murderer by his grace, and an unrepentant gossip or tax cheat can suffer eternally.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Dean McConnell,

Your reasoning makes sense to me using Paul’s words to differentiate between natural and unnatural in regards to homosexuality. However, as you also stated, care needs to be taken because it is not always clear what is natural according to God’s will. In many ways, homosexual relationships, but not homosexual acts, are more natural than heterosexual relationships. One of the reasons I believe marriage is so important for society and in accordance with God’s will is because of how unnatural it is for two people of the opposite sex to lovingly coexist in certain situations. I have a mother, a grandmother, four sisters, four sisters-in-law, two daughters, and multiple female friends and relatives, but I never had to really understand females until I got married and we produced two daughters. Many times I know a group of guys would be much more natural and much easier for me to live with than my family, but I also know I would not be the same without them.

Scripture seems to consider sexually immorality as a particularly bad sin. Several of the letters to the seven Churches in Revelation mention sexual immorality as being held against the Church. However, throughout Scripture, whenever sexual immorality is mentioned, the reference is never specific to a particular deed. Therefore, we are left in a quandary as to how to categorize different sexual sins. You seem to believe homosexuality is particularly bad. I’m still not sure it is worse than other sexual sins.

Perhaps a better measure of sinfulness would be first to determine God’s perfect standard and then measure our deviation from the standard. For example, if one man and one woman married for life and only having sex within marriage is God’s perfect standard then we can say that sex outside of marriage with the opposite gender is one deviation from the standard, homosexual sex or multiple partners is two deviations, homosexual sex with multiple partners is three deviations, etc.. I’m thinking out loud now because I still don’t have a rock solid standard.

Dean McConnell said...

Interesting idea.

While women are different from men, and at times inexplicable to us, I think the love of friendship tends to focus on sameness, but erotic love tends to seek contrast and otherness (see C.S. Lewis' book The Four Loves). An easy marriage often combines friendship and erotic attraction as well as agape type unconditional commitment. Some interests are shared, and some differences intrigue. Friendships can be very powerful indeed (e.g. David and Jonathan) but between men and men they do not normally become erotic in nature.

I have heard (Dobbson I think) that one factor in Homosexual attractions is that when a boy is raised by a very strong woman and no father the masculine seems exotic and attractive. But this attraction is still "unnatural." God created male and female bodies to fit together and "help" one another through their contrasting natures.

One thing that complicates this is that male and female characteristics exist in a range within individuals rather than in radical polarity. Some women and more "masculine" in some ways than some men. Some men have a few "feminine" characteristics that are more strongly exhibited than in many women. But, it remains true that in terms of "nature," definition, statistics, etc. there is a difference between masculinity and femininity of which physical differences are only one part.

The masculine and the feminine are designed to compliment each other in marriage. And, ideally, men are masculine and women feminine - at least in general. When the characteristics of an individual stray far from the gender norms it makes life more challenging and difficult rather than better. But it does not justify sin. We cannot condone men with abnormally strong sex drives living the playboy lifestyle or very attractive women becoming prostitutes either, even though the characteristics they have may create pressure's more difficult for them to resist than for more average people.

People without Christ may choose to some degree among sins, but cannot escape sin altogether. But in Christ all sins can be resisted, regardless of how difficult resistance would be "in the flesh." Now if only we lived in the Spirit and resisted sin more than we do! But, while I understand why some people may struggle with homosexual impulses, and that their temptations may be worse than mine (the greater God's glory I suppose if they resist and conquer those impulses), homosexuality is still "unnatural," and for most people, a more avoidable sin. Despite nature and nurture factors, homosexual practice is an avoidable thing. When society says homosexuality is OK, it has the effect of recruiting people to that lifestyle, especially when they are in those sexually confusing years of childhood and teens. If homosexuality is against public policy, most people will marry the opposite sex and make it work out instead of developing a less "natural" urge. There are a few who will be unhappy. But in a fallen world, where we have fallen desires, sometimes that cannot be helped but through prayer and counseling. So, I do think public policy is more justified in opposing even monogamous homosexuality (which is very rare in practice) than adultery (though we should oppose it too if political factors would allow).