On what people want Christians to hear

The scene: some church, some Sunday morning

*Ray slips in the back door, picks a seat towards the middle*

Pastor: Now, according to a few passages in the the Bible, homosexuality is a sin.

Couple of older males in the audience: Amen!

Pastor: Now, wait, I’m not finished.  You know what else the Bible defines as a sin?  Divorce.

*uncomfortable silence*Try this in my church, see what happens

Pastor: There are countless passages that talk about how divorce is wrong, and that there are consequences to getting a divorce, such as the wife should be stoned.  Yet, I witnessed a divorce just this morning.  And I gotta tell you, it was heartbreaking, but I definitely didn’t attempt to throw rocks at the wife, even though she was the one who filed for divorce.

*Ray raises his hand*  Pastor Redbum?

Pastor: What the—who was that?  Who called me Pastor ‘Redbum?’

Ray: I did.  That’s your name.  Reverend Q. Q. Redbum.

Pastor: *stares incredulously* It is not!  How did you get into my monologue?

Ray: The internet, pastor.  It seems your creator didn’t give you a name, so I’m giving you one.  Now, I’ve got a few questions about your ‘sermon.’  For starters, who on God’s green earth ordained you?  Where did you get your theological training?

Pastor: What does that have to do with anything?  Answer this, smartypants: Why am I saying this?  You’re putting words in my mouth!

Ray: Lots.  And of course I’m putting words in your mouth.  I’m rewriting myself into your dialogue to show what might happen if this were to happen in a live church with living breathing human beings who have bothered to take more than a cursory glance at the Bible.

That said, I see a problem with your attempted point: it’s not an argument.  It seems to be “The Bible says that homosexuality is wrong, but Christians divorce.”  Is that right?

Pastor: …it would seem so, yes?

Ray:  That’s not an argument.  You have two premises that are completely unrelated and no conclusion to be drawn from them.  Your ‘sermon’ is held together only because you put the sentences one after the other in speaking order.  But go on.

Pastor: …We choose to overlook the consequences of divorce because time has proven that they’re inhumane and cruel.

Ray: What do you mean, we choose to overlook the consequences of divorce?  The church in America has been wracked with the effects of divorce for the last generation and a half; each and every broken family faces consequences every single day, and their churches feel those effects too. This is merely an assertion provided without any substantiation.

There’s a big difference between how the Bible treats divorce and homosexual practice, and that is the difference of intrinsic evil and contingent evil.  Intrinsically evil acts are those that are always wrong; contingent evils can be right or wrong.  Here’s why.

The OT is not so cut-and-dried on divorce; God allowed it but warned it would cause issues.  Furthermore, not all divorce is the same; some divorce is for good reason, and some for shallow or bad reasons.  Divorce is a contingent evil, but homosexual practice is an intrinsic evil and always described as wrong.  By the way, what verses are you actually referencing here?

Pastor: I don’t know.

Ray: Your author certainly didn’t.  Would it have killed him or her to actually see what the Bible says and where?

Pastor: *clears throat, continues* The Bible doesn’t say anything about the consequences of a homosexual lifestyle.

Ray: Where did you get your Biblical degree from?

Pastor: …this is getting old.  Why?

Ray: Because this ‘sermon’ looks like the Biblical equivalent of comparing the Mona Lisa to “Dogs Playing Cards.”  It’s a shibboleth (you can look that one up too).  The Bible actually mentions the consequences of homosexual practice in almost every passage it’s mentioned in.  Ham gets cursed for “uncovering his father’s nakedness” in Genesis 9, which may have been a common euphemism for rape.  The city of Sodom had other issues, homosexual practice notwithstanding, and got destroyed.  The conclusion of the first chapter of Romans paints a vivid picture, where those who engage in homosexual practice are but one example of ungodliness: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

Chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians goes so far as to use two Greek terms to describe the active and passive roles of homosexual practice and places it in a ‘vice list’ that names examples of unrighteousness that disqualifies a person from the Kingdom of God.  Furthermore, the very next verse says “And such were some of you;” indicating that the Corinthian church had men and women who had repented of their past sins, believed the Gospel, and had, as a consequence, inherited the Kingdom of God.  Does that sound like “no consequences?”

Pastor: You’re ruining my narrative.  This isn’t fair.  I can’t argue back like this.

Ray: It’s not your fault.  These are simply the words you’ve been given to say.  Same for the poor old men who had to say “Amen” when they did: This isn’t a sermon, it’s someone else’s wishful thinking.  Do you think old men are the only people who would agree with the suggestion that homosexual practice is sin?  Besides, you don’t really have room to complain about not being able to fight back.  That’s why I’m rewriting the meme.  You’ve attacked a terribly weak argument that I’m not going to defend.

Pastor: *pauses for a second* …Yet, we seem to be spearheading a campaign to ruin the lives of people we don’t even know.

Ray: What do you mean by “ruining the lives of people we don’t even know?”

Pastor: I don’t know.  This showed up in 2014, about a year ago.  Maybe it has to do with DOMA or Prop 8.  Or possibly RFRA, since it was around this time that it was invoked for the Hobby Lobby case.

Ray: Are there any good reasons to oppose redefining marriage?

Pastor: What do you mean?

Ray: You know, the rights of children to have their biological parents, the restriction of speech and religion that inevitably follows in the wake of redefining marriage, and the moral upheaval that it is based upon?

*The pastor shifts a few notes around*

Pastor: The Bible states to love thy neighbor.  That’s it. There are no other rules or restrictions to that passage.

Ray: Pastor?

Pastor: What now?  I’m tired of this.

Ray: Where does it say that?

Pastor: Uh, Jesus said it.  Don’t ask me where.

Ray: It’s three times in Matthew and once in Mark.  Where do you think he got it from?

Pastor: I don’t know.

Ray: Remind me to have a word with this church’s pastoral search committee.  Ever heard of the book of Leviticus?

Pastor: You mean that book that says to kill gays and avoid shellfish? That’s full of commandments?  It can’t possibly be in Leviticus.

Ray: It is.

Pastor: Okay, it can’t possibly be near the commands to kill gays.

Ray: And if it is?

Pastor: It means what I’m saying about the “love thy neighbor” command is atrociously wrong.

Ray: Reverend Redbum, you’re finally right about something! …Mostly.  Turn with me to Leviticus 19.  We read in verses seventeen through nineteen:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

 “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.”

That passage falls right in the middle of the two descriptions of homosexual practice as “abomination.” Now, do you see any other commands attached to those verses?

Pastor: It would have been nice of the author to have looked this up first.

Ray: For once we agree.

Pastor: So, we as a church family have to support equality with a smile on our face.  That is a true Christian way.

Ray: “Support equality?”  Nevermind your baffling ignorance of the Biblical text that no pastor would ever want to evince; what do you mean by “support equality?”  And how on earth did you get from the beginning of “the Bible says that homosexuality is sin” to “divorce is bad” “Christians are hypocrites” to “gay is okay” to here?

Pastor: I think the author mean the usual rhetoric about equality.  As for how I got here, ask the author.

Ray: Equal with what, exactly?

Pastor: I can’t speak for the author but I think it means that gay couples are equal with straight couples and should therefore have the same rights as them.

Ray: People are equal by virtue of being human beings.  Attractions themselves do not make us less equal; but actions are not equal; some are moral and some are not.  Legal wars aside, you’ve failed to adequately comprehend, much less even quote, the Biblical texts about these issues.  You’ve simply parroted some pious-sounding nonsense that passes for an argument these days that Christians who have studied the Bible can see straight through.  I’m sorry, Reverend Redbum, but you’re a pawn in someone else’s game.  Here’s the true Christian way: the Gospel.  Belief in Christ, the repentance of sin, and a witness to the world.  You’ve said what you wanted Christians to hear.  It’s a shame it wasn’t the truth.

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3 thoughts on “On what people want Christians to hear

  1. Excellent article. It helps Christians provide a argument when disarmed by premises that have nothing to do with each other.

  2. Having conversations with yourself is easy. See, two can play this game:

    Ray: I see a problem with your attempted point: it’s not an argument. It seems to be “The Bible says that homosexuality is wrong, but Christians divorce.” Is that right?

    Pastor: That’s a rather poor oversimplification, Mr. Comfort.

    Ray: Wait, I’m not Ray Comf-

    Pastor: It’s all right, Mr. Banana Man. You’re trying to reduce this to a syllogism, because that’s apparently all you know how to do, but by doing so, you’ve dumbed it down to arguing based on semantics rather than the spirit of the argument, which is this…

    Ray: Oh no! I’m terrified of your logic! Someone please save me

    Pastor: Homosexuality is often said to be the greatest threat to the family in our society, which is strange, because the thing that’s actually destroying our families is divorce. Yet churches, by and large, embrace divorce. Every time a church hosts a remarriage, it is endorsing something that the Bible specifically calls “adultery.” Every church that hosts a “divorce support group” for its members is supporting people as they break God’s law.

    Ray: So what’s your point?

    Pastor: The point is that we ignore the “consequences of divorce.” That DOESN’T mean the direct results of the divorce itself, and I’ll admit that those were a poor choice of words on my part earlier, but rather, the Biblical punishment that is recommended for divorce/adultery…which we ignore because it’s cruel and inhumane to stone someone to death because their marriage didn’t work out and they want to try again with someone else.

    Ray: …I mean, “love your neighbor” is from Leviticus, so…

    Pastor: …which also says that you can beat your slaves, as long as they don’t die from it, and that if you have a female slave, they aren’t to be released after a number of years of work, like the male slaves are. I bet you have a convenient rationalization for those, like, “Slavery was different back then, ” which it wasn’t…or that “That’s a ceremonial law,” which it also wasn’t. Fact is, we also ignore those bits, because they are also cruel and inhumane, and more than likely the product of flawed humans who were trying to establish some semblance of order in a cruel world.

    Ray: …but the Bible says…

    Pastor: Thankfully, we as a church have evolved past the rhetoric of racism and segregation. We now acknowledge that, despite the Bible being very easily used to endorse those things, that it shouldn’t be. I’m also thankful that the church WILL evolve past this sort of rhetoric too. Someday, we’ll look back on all of our attempts at spearheading a campaign to ruin the lives of people we don’t even know…

    Ray: What do you mean by “ruining the lives of people we don’t even know?”

    Pastor: You know PERFECTLY well what I mean, so stop feigning ignorance. Anyway, we’ll look back on those attempts and shake our heads, just as we look at Southern Baptist pastors from the late 1800s with embarrassment for the way they abused the scriptures. The question is…will you get on the bus now, or when it’s too late?

    • A few points: I actually considered a line where the pastor called my character “Rayford Steele.” I decided not to put it in, but the thought did cross my mind.

      Of course It’s easy to make a written dialogue go the way we want it to; that was the point I made answering the meme the way I did. The author of the original meme did a terrible job with his ‘church’ setting, and I saw fit to give the meme a taste of its own medicine. That said:

      Do you have any idea how ironic it is that you’re accusing me of being too rational by preferring that an actual argument be made, and then having me suggest that I’m afraid of someone else’s logic? That dog won’t hunt.

      Regarding divorce: I’ve been wondering something for a while, and perhaps you can help me. Let’s say that Christian marriages suddenly begin to succeed whereas they previously failed in divorce, according to the gripe against the church. At what percentage of successful marriages would Christians be able to say that homosexual practice is sinful?

      Regarding “But the Bible says:” The author of the meme chose to try to tell everyone what the Bible really said. He or she failed in a blaze of …something other than glory. What he actually presented was a form of theologically liberal fundamentalism, no less uncritical than the view he was attempting to refute.

      Regarding Leviticus: Thank you for demonstrating what theological liberal fundamentalism is. The point is not that we ignore the “ceremonial” bits; they have been obsoleted, according to 1) Jesus and 2) Paul and 3) The rest of the New Testament, specifically the whole book of Hebrews. Ceremonial law only applied to Israelites; moral law applied to everyone and was the basis for the punishment of the Canaanites (see Leviticus 18:27, which just happens to be…in with the relevant passage to this post).

      Regarding “But Leviticus also mentioned slavery:” Levitical slavery was akin to indentured servitude with a time limit of seven years, and was vastly different than chattel slavery as used in antebellum America. And just because pro-slavery pastors tried to say “It’s in the Bible” to defend it does not mean that it justified the American form of slavery. Their arguments were actually quite bad.

      Regarding “ruining lives:” You mean like how the owners of Memories Pizza almost had their lives ruined? You mean like how Christian bakers, florists, or photographers have had their lives ruined? You mean like how people like Bruni in the New York Times openly write that Christians must be made to change Scripture about homosexual practice? I said what I did about legal issues because I think most of the legal issues that follow from redefining marriage can be dealt with without redefining marriage.

      I refuse to play by the rules that allow a mere unsubstantiated assertion like “Christians are ruining lives” to be applied to Christians as a whole. It’s broad-brushing. It’s vague. What counts as “ruining lives?” As Christians, we are under no obligation to recognize disordered attraction. We are under no obligation to acquiesce to wishful thinking. We are obligated to share the truth in love, even if it’s what people don’t want to hear.

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