Thursday, May 12, 2011

Is it Compassionate?

My daughter and I ran into one of her friends in a public place. Her zipper was unzipped. My daughter was in a quandary. “Should I tell her?” There were lots of other people around and activity going on. Her dilemma was kind of funny, really. I laughed and asked her, “Would you want her to tell you if your fly was open?” “Well, yeah, but it would be kinda embarrassing,” she said. She tried to get near her and pull her aside but couldn’t (or didn’t). No harm was done. The friend had a long shirt that covered the delinquent zipper. It bothered my daughter that she didn’t tell her friend. She cared about her. But it sparked a good conversation. What’s more compassionate? It is certainly cruel to purposely embarrass, impugn, avoid, or discriminate against someone because of a blind spot they have—this is a point no one would dispute. But is it cruel to NOT tell them of the blind spot? Is it compassionate NOT to tell your obese friend that their lifestyle is hurtful to them and offer to help? Is it compassionate NOT to warn your fiscally-challenged friend about a foolish purchase they’re considering or the consequences of poor financial decisions? In some cases we can even share liability. If it is our responsibility to help someone and we choose not to, we could even be legally liable. Examples: the doctor who does not suggest an available life-saving treatment...the engineer who misses a safety-related design flaw...the school that knowingly employs a child-molester...the auditor who ignores embezzlement. You get the point.

But what about the Christian—the follower of Christ who has covenanted with other Christians in accomplishing the Great Commission through a local church? What if he knows that one of his brothers is living in sin—buying the lie of the enemy and the world to his own hurt—perhaps even hurting others? He is either temporarily blinded or he NEVER COULD SEE. Jesus said that we are responsible to find out which kind of blindness they have by being honest (Matthew 18:15-18), so that they can see. We are to do this gently (Galatians 6:1-2). Of course this is not easy! We’re not talking about a zipper. It is much easier to just not deal with it. But what if we don’t perform this service to our brother? He is “led away by his own desires and enticed.” If he is a Christian, he is robbed of joy. He puts distance between himself and God. He experiences God’s chastisement. If he persists, God may even end his life. If he is not a Christian the stakes are even higher. Am I my brother’s keeper? Answer: I am. We are to help the fallen brother. We are to know where our brother is spiritually. We are to CARE.

The point is, I'm afraid we really just don’t care. And that’s a mark of our culture.
The public school teacher who started Reach Them To Teach Them told me recently, “The problem today is not that kids feel bullied, the problem is that they feel invisible.” She told me of a poem that one of her “more difficult” students wrote that said just that. It changed her. So many feel that no one cares. That’s fascinating to me, because I think it is (in part) an unintended consequence of radical tolerance, which is now our culture’s highest moral value.

Politicians have sometimes quoted Cain in Genesis 4 who asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Of course, what they usually intend by use of the quote is that we should want the government to provide services and take tax money from the “haves” and redistribute it to people they consider the “have nots.” I don’t think that’s what being "my brother’s keeper" means. I think it means (among other things) that I am to care about him. I am to care for him. I am to care where he is...that he is unharmed. Cain didn’t of course—he had just killed his brother when he said this, and his answer showed no remorse. He had no compassion. He did not care.

We aren’t just to care enough to hold individuals in our Christian family accountable—at least to remind them of what Christ expects of fellow Christians for their own sake, we are to hold Christian institutions accountable. A case could be made that this is even more important since institutions have more influence on people than mere individuals.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) just became the 4th Protestant denomination to allow openly gay clergy. Unbelievable. As a former PCUSA member of our church told me, “The fact that they were even talking about the possibility is indication enough that they are gone.” They’ve been talking about for a long time. The battle to do this has been waged by proponents for 30 years! Virtually every year saw another campaign and call for a vote by a few activist leaders. Every time, the people’s representatives voted it down. Appeals from conservatives from both inside and outside the PCUSA were made. But the proponents of tolerance never quit. During that time period, the denomination lost almost half of their membership. A once great denomination that claimed many notable Christian and American leaders among their ranks will now, I predict, decline more rapidly and effectively die (if not in number soon, certainly in their usefulness to God in disciples-making), becoming an historical footnote. I can’t help but think that John Calvin, John Knox, Peter Marshall, Francis Schaeffer, and nine U.S. Presidents (and even more vice-presidents) are rolling over in their proverbial graves! They’re not literally, of course; I actually think they're in heaven. All of these men were a part of a Presbyterian Church that believed God’s word and proclaimed the Gospel. The PCUSA is not the only Presbyterian denomination. There are others, including several that splintered off for obvious reasons. If not due to acceptance of homosexuality, good Christians left for a more fundamental reason: They believed the PCUSA no longer viewed the Bible as God’s word, inerrant and authoritative. We should all grieve this once great denomination’s decay and decline.

The Gay Issue

“But why,” you may ask, “is homosexuality such a watershed issue? What about that particular sin is so grievous by comparison to others?” Great question. After all, you don’t read headlines about denominations arguing about whether or not gluttons should be members of the clergy. What gives?

It is true that all sin is sin to God. He is infinitely holy. Any unholiness is infinitely sinful to him. Infinitely. Deserving of eternal hell. But God has decreed that some sins carry greater consequences in this life than others. Gluttony is infinitely unholy to God. So is murder. But while gluttony primarily hurts the glutton, murder hurts others. While gluttony may bring some shame to one who becomes overweight and unhealthy as a consequence, murder violates another person’s most basic right—the right of one created by God in his image—to life itself. Those who loved the one who was murdered were robbed of the relationship with that person. And God made us for each other. Therefore, murder carries a much more serious punishment, both in the Bible and in human law. Throughout the Bible, homosexuality is considered a gross sin, carrying a most severe punishment—perhaps the most severe. Every time it comes up in the Bible it is presented as a sin against human dignity violating God’s very created order. Nothing is more vital to human society than the male-female relationship. It is how our species is propagated (gee thanks, Captain Obvious!). God made us this way. It is in this context that secure, healthy kids are best raised. Heterosexual marriage is the basic building block of the family and all other human institutions. Our nation is experiencing dangerous moral decline, and even secular sociologists cite the decline of the nuclear family as a (if not “the”) primary factor. The plight of the African-American family is a well-documented example of this principle. In the past half century, welfare and social programs made it attractive for more black women to have children outside of marriage. More black men were not encouraged by society to be faithful husbands and fathers. Many poor blacks were given money, government housing, and food stamps. Work and education were not valued as highly. This social experiment, intended for good, resulted in a large group of people who were harmed by the decline of the family. Drug abuse, crime, violence, high incarceration rates, high abortion rates, all followed. It is now happening to every demographic. The traditional family is something to fight for. Redefining marriage and encouraging homosexuality is killing our culture. But our highest value, radical tolerance, causes many to not say what needs to be said. "We love you. This is not good for you. You are hurting yourself and others." That's true compassion. Tolerance lets us off the hook. It encourages us to not care. It is not compassionate.

Let me be clear: homosexuality is aberrant, sinful behavior that is categorically condemned in the Bible. It is not God’s will for men to lust after and have anal sexual intercourse with other men, or for women to burn with sensuality for other women and stimulate them to sexual orgasm. Some of you are shocked that I wrote that, but that’s exactly what it is. It is base—shallow, carnal, eroticism for its own sake and the fleeting, short-lived pleasure it promises (I could say the same thing about other forms of sexual sin, but homosexuality is the subject here). Paul uses homosexuality as his primary example of ultimate rebellion against God and his order (Romans 1:26-32), and says that both those who practice this lifestyle AND those who approve of it deserve the punishment it demands. Homosexuality is not “gay.” It is treachery. It is misery. It leaves a person ridden with unavoidable guilt, regret, and emptiness. I have known many homosexual men and women. Without exception, every one of them I have asked readily admitted that they were miserable, and admitted that everyone they knew in the lifestyle was miserable. That’s not “gay” at all. What a misnomer. When our culture tolerates, equivocates, or worse, congratulates this sinful lifestyle, people are profoundly hurt. Society as a whole is profoundly hurt.

It’s the spirit of our age to not judge people’s sexual orientation. It’s the politically correct and safe thing to do. It sounds so tolerant. So...caring. But is that right? I think for most of us, we just don’t care. Radical tolerance teaches us to not care. They are just invisible to us. Let them do what they want. It’s much easier. The Christ-like response to homosexuality is not rocket science. We are all sinners. We are to love all sinners because God loves all sinners, sending Christ to die on their behalf. God offers GRACE not tolerance, which is better by far. Therefore we do not impugn or mistreat or ignore sinners—including practicing homosexuals. We love them. And we love them enough to be honest. Paul said to the church in Corinth (a city known for homosexuality):
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators...nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites (NIV: “men who have sex with men”)...will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1Cor. 6:9-11 italics added)

Some of them WERE homosexual, and are no longer engaged in that lifestyle of sin. They may still struggle and fight the unholy urges, but they fight. By God’s power they are sanctified (are being made holy). Are they born that way? We are all born with a sinful nature. But that doesn’t make sin ok (or, "tolerable"). If I’m born with a proclivity toward violence, that doesn’t make it ok for me to beat my wife! I must control my anger. That’s what people—made in God’s image—do. We are not animals, enslaved to our instincts. We are human beings with a will. Christians have the Holy Spirit to guide, convict, and empower. I don’t know a heterosexual married man who hasn’t found other women attractive—but a Spirit-filled man will neither give sway to, nor act upon his carnal desires. He yields to God’s control. Certainly this kind of discipline is not too much to ask of a leader in Christ’s body!

The compassionate thing for Christian individuals and institutions to do is to stand for truth—God’s truth. Instead of accommodating sin and misery, instead of convincing ourselves that open, unrepentant, practicing sinners are not only going to heaven but are worthy to lead our churches, we must lovingly show people their blind spots. When a denomination (or any Christian organization) drifts so far away from the authority of Scripture that it effectively proclaims sin no longer sinful, it has mortally wounded itself. And that’s why the PCUSA is finished: they have chosen compromise and tolerance rather than compassion and grace. May God have mercy. Presbyterian brothers and sisters, flee. Encourage the elders of your church to join with the PCA, the EPC, or another Presbyterian denomination that upholds the Bible as God's very word.