05.30a Homosexuality, Pride, and Crossing Lines; Suicide. There at the same time seems to be too much, and too little, attention to homosexuality and condemnation of it by the Church-- by which I mean true Christians as individuals, congregations, and parachurch organizations. Simultaneously:
1. The Church is active against homosexuality in the public realm, with lots of discussion about same-sex marriage, homosexuality disqualifying a person to be a pastor or other church leader, and so forth. Yet aren't pride and failure to love one another worse sins, or at least ones more relevant to most people?

2. Churches that I've observed don't attend to homosexuality or condemn it at the level of individuals. Preachers don't condemn people in their congregation from the pulpit, either generally or by name; there's practically no church discipline; most churches don't have counselling groups or active efforts to get members (much less outsiders) to end their homosexuality.
First, I'll backtrack a bit. Point (1) is not really correct. The Church maintains the traditional position of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and natural law generally that homosexuality is evil. But it has been amazingly timid about this in the public realm. I have seen no lobbying for a return of the laws making homosexuality illegal that every state, I think, had before 1960-- not even a stated desire by church leaders. I have seen no serious effort to make pornography of any kind, homosexual or heterosexual, truly illegal. There is no effort to close down public institutions such as gay bars or classified ads for sex partners. My impression is that adoption of children by homosexuals is now commonplace, and perhaps even that homosexuality is less of a bar at many adoption agencies than Christianity. I'm not sure there are even any laws against homosexuals being teachers in public schools-- and I know there are anti- discrimination laws in many places. Churches stay quiet, not being directly threatened. Yet it is true that at least true churches take a firm stand on homosexual behavior being a sin.

Now, back to the apparent disjunction. Both (1) and (2) have the same explanation: a homosexual liason is an intentional, overt, act. If Joe sodomizes Tom, Joe cannot pretend to himself that he didn't really do it, or that it was by accident, or that he didn't understand what he was doing. This contrasts with a sin such as pride, which may be equally serious but is much more insidious. A person may be damned for pride while being quite unaware of it. He didn't consciously decide to be proud at some instant in time; he might not realize that he is elevating himself above God; the fact that he values his pride more than anything else in the world might not be known to anyone because he has never had to make the test; he can easily pretend to himself that his pride is really realistic and modest self-esteem; he may never have experienced what it is like *not* to be proud, and so does not know what he is doing. At a deep level, he is blameworthy, but it is because he has not searched deep enough into himself for sin. Not so with homosexuality: Joe has crossed a clear line.

This means that the Church has no wiggle room in talking about sodomy. (It does when talking about homosexual lust-- and most Christians jump at any escape from confronting that as a sin.) Churches have to make their choice, and they do. Apostate churches thus accept homosexuality, and true churches reject it, whether mildly or vehemently.

But even churches that reject homosexuality generally don't go after their members for it, even anonymously. I've heard lots of sermons that condemn pride, selfishness, inattention to prayer, overwork, and such things. I've been somewhat chastened, but not cut to the heart, because those are not "cross the line" sins, and so I have wiggle room to get out. Therefore I don't get mad at the preacher either. What I don't hear sermons do is to condemn homosexuals, fornicators, users of pornography, tax cheats, adulterers, or instigators of divorce. People in the congregation are sensitive on those issues, because they can't escape guilt. In one respect, preaching on those topics seems unnecessary. Everybody already knows those are bad things, and they know they're doing them, so why preach on them? But in another respect, it is more important: the sermon will have more impact precisely because it reinforces something already known by adding John Edwards's "affections" to our intellectual knowledge that they are wrong.

I imagine that churches and drug rehab programs have the same problem. You want to get people into the building each week, but the whole purpose of getting them in is to tell them they're bad and should stop doing what they like best. Drug rehab programs enlist the threat of prison time. I don't know what churches should do.

A somewhat different problem is that any sort of sin is embarassing and shameful, and pride gets in the way of our getting help, even to the mild extent of attending Sunday worship. This makes it difficult to have, say, a "Weekly small group for those struggling with homosexuality" posted in the church bulletin. It would be just as hard to have a "Weekly small group for those struggling with stealing from their employers"-- even harder, in fact, since the sin is an illegal one. And it is hard to have public prayer and help-- which includes monitoring-- from other Christians. Most prayer requests are for medical problems, which are well worth praying for, but not as important as spiritual problems. You never hear, "And let us pray for Eric Rasmusen, who has been trying without success to overcome his addiction to internet pornography. The counselling staff says the outlook is serious, but with God everything is possible."

When a person engage in homosexuality, or a church accepts it, the person and the church have crossed lines. That makes the sin less dangerous because is more obvious, but more dangerous because to cross the line is a definite attack on God. It is possible to cross back, of course, and much attention should be given to that. I'm reminded of something I heard in a sermon tape by Timothy Keller of Manhattan's Redeemer Presbyterian that went something like this: "I have often, often, had people come to me for counselling about lust. But never in all my years as a pastor have I had anyone come to me for counselling about greed. Yet the Bible has far more to say about greed than about lust." Pastor Keller goes on to make the point I have made here: that greed is more insidious. The difference in how churches handle different sins is not just in how serious the sin is, but in how blatant.

The Roman Catholic treatment of suicide is another example of an implication of blatancy. That church regards suicide as a sin (wrongly, I think, since the Bible does not explicitly label it a sin and we can imagine both situations in which suicide is an evil and situations in which it is a good-- e.g., a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his buddies). If suicide is a sin, then someone who has held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger has died unrepentant and hostile to God's commands, and is damned. He cannot therefore be buried in the churchyard, whereas church burial may well be allowed for a notorious murderer and thief-- because the criminal did have a chance to repent before he died, and the Church likes to give people the benefit of the doubt, if there is doubt.

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