of the Genesis passage is the wider problem of that fact that many Christians now prefer to see Genesis as a powerful story which shows that God created the world, rather than a literal model.

The old debate which certain theologians pressed strongly with Darwin is surely sterile.  As many Christians have grappled with evolution, there has been a wide understanding that Genesis is not a scientific passage. Genesis tells us WHO created the world, not HOW and the fact that light and dark were created before the sun and the moon, may show Genesis to be more poetic than a scientific article.

 

Genesis 19:1-29 - Sodom and Gomorrah:

 

Genesis 19:1

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. "My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning." "No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square." But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom--both young and old--surrounded the house.

They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them." Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."

The crime which took place here is not one of homosexuality, it is rather gang rape by men of other men.

 

Much is made of 'traditional Christian values of marriage, but what are they  ?

 

Polygamy and concubinage were regularly practiced in the Old Testament. Neither is condemned in the New Testament, apart from the possible teaching for deacons or overseers (1 Tim 3:2,12 and Titus 1:6).

 

1 Timothy 3:2

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

 

1 Timothy3:12 

A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.

 

Titus 1:6

An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.

Many times Jesus is quoted speaking about marriage using the passage from

 

Mark 10:6-8.

 

Mark 10:6-8

"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'

'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one.

 

However Jesus does so by quoting Genesis 2:24, this was never understood in Israel as excluding polygamy. What justification do we have for thinking that a man can only become one flesh with one woman through intercourse? Polygamy endured for centuries in Judaism.

 

Where in the Old Testament are we told that sexual relationships between unmarried consenting heterosexual adults is wrong?  A reading of the Song of Songs reveals some racy love scenes! Criticism is concerned not with sex or love, but rather with the rights of the man over a woman, who is regarded as property. Female slaves were available for the use of their male owners, either for sexual pleasure or for producing children. It is unsuprising therefore that many African slaves were treated in the same way by Christians who believed that they were being obedient to scripture. 

 

The New Testament is also clear that when a married man died childless, his widow was to have intercourse with each of his brothers in turn, until she bore a male heir. Jesus speaks of this without criticism (Mark 12:18-27).

 

Mark 12:18

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.

"Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third.  In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too.  At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"

How does this teaching concur with traditional Christian values?  

In Deuteronomy a married man who has intercourse with an unmarried woman is not an adulterer. He cannot commit adultery against his own wife, only the wife of another. A bride who is not a virgin is to be stoned to death (Deut 22:13-21).  It is interesting that there is no demand for a male to be a virgin.

Leviticus: In Leviticus 18:22 it is quite clear that homosexuality is described as an abomination - there is no room for manoeuvre.

Leviticus 18:22

"'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

The problem lies in the fact that Leviticus condemns us all. It tells us that contact with semen and menstrual blood make us unclean and forbids contact with menstrual women, Lev 15:19-24. It also forbids us from eating shellfish Lev 11:10, encourages slavery Lev. 25:44 etc... I have included a 'meaningful joke' at the bottom of the page which it is hoped you will read in the spirit in which it is intended! Today, would we regard semen and menstrual fluid as 'unclean?'

It is important to remember that it was thought male semen contained all that was required for life. With no knowledge of eggs and ovulation, it was assumed that the woman provided only the incubating space. Hence the spilling of semen for any non-procreative purpose--in coitus interruptus (Gen. 38:1-11), male homosexual acts, or male masturbation--was considered tantamount to abortion or murder. (Female homosexual acts were consequently not so seriously regarded, and are not mentioned at all in the Old Testament (but see Rom. 1:26).

We need to appreciate how a tribe struggling to populate a country in which its people were outnumbered would value procreation highly, but such values are rendered questionable in a world facing uncontrolled overpopulation.
It is of course profoundly difficult to use passages from the Old Testament to define our moral codes today. It might have been right for them to allow selling of their daughters into slavery, (Exodus 21:7)

Exodus 21:7

"If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do.If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners,

But we would hardly suggest the same today? These laws were written by a Bedouin tribe who roamed the desert struggling for survival 3,000 years ago. A struggling tribe needed to increase the population to survive against enemies.  The primitive understanding was that the female was a receptacle for the male seed, since it was male semen which was the source of life (Gen 38:1).

Genesis 38:1

But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the Lord's sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother."  But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord's sight; so he put him to death also.

Spilling seed by any means other than procreation was obviously wrong. Perhaps this explains why the Old Testament does not mention female homosexual acts at all.

There will be those who disagree with the analysis, but the inescapable conclusion of those who wish to be completely literal is terrifying. Leviticus 20:13 gives the command that whatever we judge homosexual sin to be it must be met with a punishment of death.

"'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. Leviticus 20:13

 

The New Testament Passages are more difficult

These are more difficult to interpret.

Romans 1:26
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
 

In this passage Paul is critical of those who act contrary to nature, leaving or giving up their sexual orientation for something which is foreign to them. Was Paul here condemning a sexual orientation which is fixed early in life, some would emphasise genetically. Paul is critical of 'shameful lust,' we would all echo that. But, he is not therefore speaking of genuine love shared between consenting and committed same sex couples. 

1 Corinthians 6:9
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Timothy 1:10
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers--and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.


These verses speak with differing degrees of clarity about homosexuality, they are not convincing that it is homosexuality is wrong in itself, rather than promiscuity or 'sex-for-sale.' Some Christians took the passage from Romans and applied it to the prese Homosexuality and our interpretation of scripture - Sermon Archive - Christian Teaching - thisischurch.com - Homepage

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Homosexuality and our interpretation of scripture

Address by Reverend Charles Royden to Bedford Methodist Local Preacher Training


 

John Stubbs asked me to speak about something as a last minute stand in this morning. I looked at the papers and read the leader in the Church Times this week and decided to consider the homosexual question. This is in part due to the apocalyptic nature of some of the things said, and partly because I had some notes which could be adapted for you.

 

It is helpful to look at this subject because it has implications for us as preachers about how we use the Bible, our principles of exegesis, where authority lies.

 

What authority does the Bible have? To what extent are we able to interpret the Bible and make it new for our generation? Jesus felt able to put aside Old Testament laws, are we given the same authority to deal with the New Testament in the same way? The food laws, circumcision, Sabbath laws, all of these were put away by the early church, they felt they had liberty to do that. In our generation the same things has been done by the church in putting aside the New  Testament teaching on subjects such as women. The fact that there are women teachers here this morning is evidence of that.

 

Hear what The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali said at the Anglican Evangelical Assembly in London. He distinguished between faithful Christians in the province of The Episcopal Church in the United (ECUSA), and those who had “actively encouraged sin” by taking part in the consecration of The Rt Revd Gene Robinson.

 

‘Disciplining the latter would be a form of pastoral care’, he said.

 

States (ECUSA) should not to be penalised for admitting a homosexual bishop, a senior Evangelical said on Saturday. But those involved in the consecration of the bishop, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, should be disciplined.

 

 “I do not see why a whole province should be put under some kind of interdiction, and I don’t think it will be, as a matter of fact.”

 

Dr Nazir-Ali was answering questions after addressing the Assembly on “Shaping a confused Church”. In the current crisis, discipline was required because people had departed from the unchanging scripture. “In our own situation, any discipline that is enforced must be about maintaining fellowship between Churches.”

 

It was not the sinner that was the object of condemnation, but the church leaders who had “actively encouraged sin”.

 

Dr Nazir-Ali went on: “If I ordained someone who should not be ordained, the greater responsibility is mine. There are degrees of responsibility that will have to be recognised.”

 

Members of the Assembly were divided over the way forward. The Ven. Paul Gardner, chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council, said that the council wanted to pull together “a practical, measured unity” that would draw people who opposed the liberal developments in the Communion.

 

“Be grateful for that part of the world that is speaking what we dare not speak,” he said, referring to Anglicans in Africa, Asia and parts of the Americas. God had been raising up a body of believers who could now respond to the crisis, he said. They had “stood up for what is pure, holy, good in the light of scripture”.

 

Mr Gardner went on. “But we must ask: who are the false teachers who despise those parts where the Church is growing?” The Church suffered “under the onslaught of liberalism”.

 

Canon Chris Neal, international director of CMS, said that there was no guarantee that the Anglican Church would survive. The Church was entering a “period of liminality — a time of melt down”.

 

Are we ? in Meltdown ?

 

Is the church threatened by liberalism, should we be sticking to the Biblical line and what is it?

 

As I wandered around The Albert Dock in Liverpool, I visited the maritme museum. There was a display on the issue of slavery and I read once again the story of how we treated people as sub human in this business enterprise. It brought about much wealth to Liverpool and other cities across the world. Of course church people believed that slavery was not only allowable, it had the backing of scripture. The church was divided between those for and those against and there was much anger and bitterness. Over a hundred years later and we have moved onto another subject about human beings which divides Christians and which involves interpretation of scripture. The issue of homosexuality is raising the same division and threatens the integrity of the church across the world.

 

The problem is that across the Churches worldwide there is currently considerable disagreement concerning the position which it adopts towards people who are homosexual. Perhaps the greatest test for those of us in the church is whether we will be able to live graciously with those who hold positions different from our own.

 

I hope in the following page to outline some of the history to the present

struggle. I will also present some of the theological issues and seek to make clear why it is that homosexuals feel aggrieved about their position.

 

So what is the cause of the disagreement ?

 

At the heart of the issue is the belief by many Christians that homosexuality can never be a valid lifestyle. Homosexual behaviour is viewed as sin. Since Jesus spoke strongly about the importance of thoughts as well as actions, then one must conclude that homosexual orientation must necessarily also require treatment. To say that homosexual acts are a sin but the condition is not, seems to me to be a cruel position and a way of avoiding tough choices.

 

The evangelical wing of the church is at the forefront of opposition to homosexuality. It has always tried to base its beliefs upon the Bible and Evangelicals claim scripture as the source of their authority. I would not want to enter into a full theological exposition of the passages concerned but here is a glimpse of the passages from the Bible which lie at the heart of the case against homosexuality. The question which we must ask of each other is whether or not they speak in a way which means that loving relationships between people of the same sex, men and women, is wrong.

 

Old Testament

 

Genesis

The creation story in Genesis shows God creating man and woman.

 

Genesis 1:26 

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.

For many this is the model which they see as the God given normal basis for human relationships. Phrases such as 'God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Ken' come to mind. 'Normal' sex is considered to be that between a man and a woman, and it results in procreation.

In response to this, other theologians would wish to stress the importance made in the second account of the creation in Genesis Chapter 2

Genesis 2:20

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, ' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

This tells that a man should not be alone and required a suitable companion. God creates other human beings for company, not just to enable procreation to take place.

Underlying the use nce of AIDS in the homosexual community, they consider that indecent acts were punished by God using AIDS. However Christians disagree about how important these verses are for different reasons.

Interpretation
Some theologians will draw attention to the words used and the sentiment meant behind them. There is disagreement about whether it is actually homosexuality at all which Paul is criticising but rather male prostitution or promiscuity. At the heart of the debate for many homosexuals is whether Paul (or the writer) is angry in these passages, or would have the same anger about same sex committed relationships. The answer to that question must be no, clearly not in the manner proposed by advocates today, since such partnerships were just not possible. It was not an option. Surely we would expect Paul to have harsh words to say about promiscuity, but this is directed against all forms of such behaviour - heterosexual and homosexual.

Context
The other problem is one of context. Even if the Bible is totally against homosexual expression, many people argue that this is not necessarily a problem. Many of us realised ten years ago that homosexuality was an issue which was going to engulf the church - what alerted us was the ordination of women as priests. Many of the same problems surfaced then - passages from the Bible which spoke angrily about women and said they must be silent in church and cover their heads as signs of submission to their husbands. I remember as a youth in church seeing women missionaries returning from Africa and being refused permission to speak in the pulpit.  They had to deliver their address to the congregation from the chancel steps, to make the point that a woman was not preaching, or having authority over men.

What happened in the church when the priesthood was opened to women women was a fundamental shift. Ordinary Christians were told that some parts of the Bible were culturally relevant, they meant one thing for people in Corinth 2,000 years ago, but the laws were not necessarily binding today.  There are many passages in the New Testament which Christians have agreed are culturally very relevant to then, but no longer relevant to now.

 

Lets look at some of those passages.

1 Corinthians 11

The apostle Paul said that the head of a woman is the man  1 Corinthians 11

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head--it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man and so women should have their heads covered to show this.

  

1 Timothy 2

The Apostle tells us that women cannot teach men, or have authority over them, that they must be silent.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
 
These passages could not be more clear, but in spite of these passages, the Church has agreed to move forward and women no longer have to keep silent in church or have their heads covered, as we read in Corinthians. The church came around to the position where it recognised that before we ask what the Bible means to us today, we have to ask what the Bible was saying 2,000 years ago. Having done this the church concluded that some things are no longer of significance.

Correspondingly, if we do not believe that women have to do as Paul says, why should homosexuals?  We should all be concerned that it might just be that homosexuals are more of a minority and so we can treat them shamefully. Just as men oppressed women for years, are we now guilty again of oppressing homosexuals? The plight of homosexuals in the church has run parallel to the plight of women, albeit homosexuality struggles behind. Homosexuals are now using the same hermeneutics (theological methods) as women used previously. I would suggest that the reason that they are not so far advanced is not to do with a less formidable theological case, rather that they are less powerful, because there are fewer of them. As an aside, the natural progression now is that women will be allowed to advance in the church to become Bishops. Having conceded so far there is in my opinion absolutely no theological reason why women should not be Bishops and this will surely happen before too long.
 


Christians disagree
 

The early Christians did begin to see that Jesus laid down a new order where there was no male and no female Galatians 3:28, where the old order of subjugation and dominance was done away with. It is for us now to try and interpret that teaching, to bring about an order of tolerance and understanding worthy of our founder. Every generation has to listen to God and try to discern what God is saying. That is what we are doing now as a church. We need to remember that at the heart of the church lies change. Jesus broke the Sabbath and declared all foods clean - contrary to Leviticus. The Apostles did away with circumcision, contrary to the Old Testament laws. This has never been without pain. It is interesting to remember that the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter had a blinding row about whether it was allowed by God to eat with Gentiles (Galatians Chapter 2). Peter was frightened of what The Apostle James, Jesus' brother would think if he found out that Peter was doing this. Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy and won the argument, and as a result we now have Christianity, not the form of Judaism which Jesus left us with. The church moved forwards, led by the Holy Spirit! Just as those early Christians had to work out their differences and find the way forward so must we. It is important for us to remember that the early Christians had to ignore the letter of the law and discover the leading of the Spirit. That's why Paul said the law brought death and the Spirit life. Clearly the actions of the church demonstrate that over 2000 years God has caused us to change and make fundamental alterations to our beliefs and practices. We are a Pentecostal church, that is a church open to the movement and prompting of the Holy Spirit, not a dead fossilised church stuck with our past mistakes. 

There are many thousands of different Christians denominations, because sincere Christians who take the Bible very seriously, disagree about what it means. On so many subjects we disagree, therefore it is unhelpful to say that we know the Bible says one thing or another. We can have strong convictions about what the Bible says, but shouting Bible verses at each other in loud voices will take us nowhere, we have to accept that sincere Christians who love the Bible deeply, nevertheless understand it differently. We must never be so arrogant to suggest that people on the opposite side of the debate have not read their Bibles, or do not treat them as seriously as we do. Romans Catholics and Anglicans disagree about a great many issues, one side may be more right or wrong, but at least we should have the good manners to recognise that they each take the Bible seriously - they just disagree

How wonderful it would be if Christians agreed to worship and pray together even when they disagreed. As sincere believers in God, over the course of time, we are prone to change our minds on a whole range of subjects, polygamy, divorce, slavery, women. The prayer of Christ was that his people should be one, is it necessary to separate from those with opinions different from our own?  

 

Conclusion

The Bible is library of 66 books in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In these 66 books, you will find a total of 1,189 chapters containing about 31,273 verses. Homosexuality is mentioned in half a dozen and Jesus never actually even mentioned homosexuality. Sexual ethics are important, but have we arrived at a time when we can allow Christians the freedom of conscience to disagree in love about something which the Bible spends so little time talking about?

Rowan Williams is now barred from conducting communion in 350 parishes in England, because of his support for women priests, under the provisions of Section C of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod (1993). Do we now want to create another set of flying bishops for people who do not accept homosexuals or the bishops who consecrate them? We are at a watershed, and I can only hope that we decided to opt for respectful tolerance and grant that there is room for diversity of opinion?

The church once had a completely disparaging view of people who went through divorce, people tell me about being denied access to the Holy Communion by their Vicar. Other Christians tell me that not so long ago they were smacked for using their left hand, it was thought to be a sign of the Devil. Many Christians have known they were gay since the first moment they knew they had a sexuality, for them their sexuality is no different from being left handed, are we at least as a church listening to their experiences? There is within us all a tendency to be 'holier than thou,' in my experience a great deal of good comes when we are prepared to listen and enter into a real dialogue with people who are different from ourselves. 

The church bases its doctrine on three main pillars of truth,

Scripture *  Tradition  * Reason

Scripture - In this case sincere Christians read the Bible and arrive at different conclusions

Tradition - The tradition of the church is that homosexuality is wrong. However the tradition of the church has also been one of oppression and bigotry towards women. We changed that, perhaps we can move on this issue also?

Reason - Here we need to allow ourselves to be open to ideas which may be very different from our own. Studies will be discussed and argued over, but in our wider society in England, homosexuals are being accepted in a new way and recognised as being different, not deviant.

The Church of England and the Methodist Church are about to sign a covenant, so perhaps it is worth listening to something from Methodism. Methodists have four foundational principles, they call it a quadrilateral. They include the three pillars which I have mentioned, but they also include 'experience.' It is surely time to listen to the experience of homosexual people, clergy, priests canons and bishops. They have a story to tell and it has not been heard. People like Canon Jeffery John are not raving queens like something out of Priscilla of the Desert.' They are sincere godly people and without the ministry of the enormous number of gay clergy, the Church of England would be in serious trouble.

The Bible freely sanctioned slavery and it is pervaded by sexism and patriachalism. We have however moved beyond a simplistic and literal legalism when reading these passages. Indeed some would say that contained within the Bible is a form of teaching which enables and empowers us to use the scripture as a living word, not a dead fossil. If we read Paul's teaching as a new law, we have perhaps missed the point. As Christians with the law written on our hearts, we are to be freed from bibliolatry, worship of the Bible, and regard the Bible rather as the Word of God which speak afresh to our generation.  

If after listening as a church we can still not accept that this is a valid choice, perhaps we can all agree to graciously disagree and carry on serving God. Divisions happen so quickly, sadly we then have to spend many years trying to put the church back together again, let's not make that mistake - again. At the present time the church has not reached a consensus, until we do we need to listen and learn from each other. Let us pray for all of those engaged in this debate that we may listen and be encouraged to continue to share together as the Body of Christ.,
 
The following is a prayer, used in Putnoe Heights Church on October 19 by Mr Edward Peck.

Let us pray for all those involved in our current controversy in the church in relation to sexuality. Let us pray for church leaders in this country and world wide, who are wrestling with the question of how to guide the church through difficult debates on this issue. Let us pray for all those directly caught up in the controversy, Christians lay or ordained who are gay or lesbian, in a relationship or not, who may feel very exposed in the present climate; for their partners their families and their congregations.  Amen.

Sermon by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The follwoing is an interesting sermon which some may find helpful

Long, long ago, very clever people decided that the human body, flesh, all material things, that all of these were in and of themselves, evil, intrinsically, inherently and always. So there was no way that the good, the pure, the sublime and, by definition, the perfectly good spirit could be united with the material. For these people, the dualists, the incarnation, God, pure spirit, becoming a human being was totally and in principle, and always, out of the question. What people thought was God become flesh in Jesus Christ, well, that was all just playacting, a charade. Could you imagine God the
all-powerful, God the eternal, dying? Oh come off it! Get real! When this one was crucified, it was not really Jesus – God – dying. You and I may pooh-pooh all this superiorly and say, “How odd, flying in the face of facts” but aren’t so many of us really closet duallists or worse, have we not sometimes been embarrassed with our physicality, when we have found it attractive to engage in the familiar dichotomies as between the sacred and the secular, the profane and the holy? When we have thought that Original Sin, must somehow have had to do with the facts of life, we snigger a little bit, wink, wink, as if when God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply”, God meant that they would do so by perhaps looking into each others’ eyes!

And have we not heard so many, many times: “Don’t mix religion with politics”, so very much the philosophical position of duallists. And just look at the tangle we have got into about human sexuality, about gays and lesbians, etc. Now what follows is really in parenthesis. I hope so very much that you have got over the anguish of last summer and may I salute Canon Jeffrey John who acted with so much dignity and selfless generosity.

The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing – their race – and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about – their gender, and hence my support inter alia, for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

And equally, I could not myself keep quiet whilst people were being penalized for something about which they could do nothing, their sexuality. For it is so improbable that any sane, normal person would deliberately choose a lifestyle exposing him or her to so much vilification, opprobrium and physical abuse, even death. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally
unacceptable and unjust as Apartheid ever was.

The God we worship has taken our physical material selves seriously because God declared about everything that God had created – matter and spirit, everything, not just that it was good, God said it was “very good”. That is why we say in the Nicene Creed: ‘maker of all there is, visible and invisible’. That matter is not recalcitrant, hostile and antagonistic to the spirit and so God could and did become a real human being, a real baby, belonging to a particular couple who have names, who lived in a real, a particular village, Nazareth, in an actual, real part of the world God created, belonging to an actual, real community with particular and specific laws, rules and customs.

So this baby’s parents obeyed the law and brought the baby to be redeemed as the first-born male who belonged therefore to God. God took human history seriously and so fulfilled promises God had made earlier to a Simon and to a faithful widow, Anna. God became a real human being; God took on our humanity – why? Other clever people said God became a human being so that we could become God. The epistle of St Peter speaks daringly of us as partakers of the divine nature. In this Eucharist, we will mix water and wine in the chalice and the President prays a remarkable prayer: ‘Oh God, who didst wonderfully create and wonderfully renew the dignity of man’s nature, grant that by the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His divinity, who shared our humanity.’

Here God uses everyday, mundane, material things to communicate the very life of God, making Christianity, as Archbishop William Temple used to say “the most materialistic of all the great religions.” Yes, we are made partakers of the divine nature, God became a human being so that we could become as God. The Orthodox Church makes far more of our so-called ‘deification’ than we and you might recall how in the epistle to the Ephesians, the author speaks of us as being those who are going to be filled with the fullness of God – yes, we have been created in the image of God, that is our destiny, our destiny to be God-like, God-like so that we are perfect, even as our heavenly father is perfect.

So in the Old Testament, God exalts God’s people to be holy, “even as I your God am holy” and though this injunction occurs in the book Leviticus, which spends a great deal of time over the minutiae of cultic, ritual things, it turns out that this holiness that God requires of God’s people has nothing to do – or very little to do – with cultic purity. No, it is to reflect the divine compassion and concern for the weak and the hungry and so the assertion is when you are harvesting, don’t take up everything, leave some, leave some for the poor, be kind to the alien, for you see you were aliens in Egypt.
How apt as we contemplate ever more stringent requirements for asylum-seekers and refugees. When you worship this God, if it does not make you see and feel like God, then that worship is a cult and for God it is an abomination, however elaborate it might be.

God will not heed your worship, your beseeching, for your hands are full of blood, the blood of your sisters and brothers killed in wars that were avoidable. Demonstrate your repentance by how you treat the most vulnerable: the orphan, the widow, the alien. When you are king over this people, and this God gives you God’s righteousness, it is so that prosperity will prevail, will prevail because as king, you judge rightly, you judge rightly especially the poor with equity, you give justice to the poor, you deliver the needy when they cry and the poor man who has no helper. You will pity the helpless and needy and save the lives of the poor. How many of our governments would pass this stringent test: “how did you deal with the poor?”

And when God’s spirit anoints you, it is so that you may preach the Good News, especially again to the poor, to preach the release of the imprisoned ones and to announce the year of the Lord’s favour, the year of jubilee, the year of release, the year of the cancellation of debt – of heavy, un-payable, draining international debt.

To be partakers of the divine nature means we become more and more God-like, treating all with an even-handedness, even those we regard as evil. For you know, even the most evil, the Shipmans, the Saddam Husseins, Bin Ladens – we may not like it – but they remain God’s children. This God, who lets God’s sun shine on good and bad alike; who makes God’s rain fall on all, for all, and we, who want to be God-like, are asked to forgive, even as God has forgiven us in Christ, forgive even that which we consider to be unforgivable.

To be like this God, who gives up on no-one, who loves us, not because we are loveable but that we become loveable only because God loves us, God loves us with a love that will not let us go, a love that loved us before we were created, a love that loves us now, a love that will love us forever, world without end. A love that says of each single one of us: “I love you, you are precious and special to me, I love you as if you were the only human being on earth, I love you and there is nothing you can do to make me love you more because I already love you perfectly.”

How incredibly, wonderfully, it is that God says to you, to me: “There is nothing you can do to make me love you less. I take you, I take you very seriously, I take you – you – body and soul, you the visible and the invisible of you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town

A joke from Leviticus

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a US radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet.
 
Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
 
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them.
 
1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbours.
They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
 
2.I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
 
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in
her period of menstrual cleanliness - Lev.15:19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.
 
4. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and Female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
 
5. I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus
35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
 
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality.I don't agree. Can you settle this?
 
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I
have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses.Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
 
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?
 
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
 
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread(cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really
necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town
together to stone them? -Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)
 
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.


 

Additional Passages

 

Deuteronomy 25:5

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.

The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

However, if a man does not want to marry his brother's wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, "My husband's brother refuses to carry on his brother's name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me."

Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, "I do not want to marry her," his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line."

 That man's line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled. If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

 

Deuteronomy 22:13

If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, "I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity," then the girl's father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate.  The girl's father will say to the elders, "I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her.  Now he has slandered her and said, 'I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.' But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity." Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town,  and the elders shall take the man and punish him.  They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.  If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found,  she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you. If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death--the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man's wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbour, for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her. If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.