Christianity in Crisis

Here's Part 2 of my response to Christianity in Crisis, written by Andrew Sullivan. This article was the cover story in Newsweek and was posted to their website April 2, 2012.

Sullivan writes:

It would also, one imagines, baffle Jesus of Nazareth. The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear in either [Thomas] Jefferson’s or the original New Testament. Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce (now commonplace among American Christians) and forgiveness for adultery.

Again, we must look at the context of Jesus' historical situation. Apparently, homosexuality and abortion were not problems to Jesus' audiences otherwise I am convinced that he would have addressed them. Homosexuality was relatively common in the Greek and Roman worlds but Jesus was not sent to them. His followers were, however, and they did speak about homosexuality.

The Old Testament addresses homosexuality in ways that are not convenient to our modern culture, but since Jesus followed the Law of Moses, which condemns homosexuality, we can also infer that Jesus would have spoken against it too.

However, I believe that Jesus would have dealt with homosexual people more constructively than the modern church is. In my opinion, he would have treated homosexuality the same as he treated the woman caught in adultery in John 8:

"At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? 'No one, sir,' she said. 'Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin.'"

Jesus says this to all of us, no matter if we were or were not caught in adultery, homosexual behaviors, lying, gossiping, or thieving. The fact that many modern Christians focus on homosexuality as if they are snipers zeroing in on a target shows that they do not understand the true nature of God's forgiveness. Perhaps, they have trouble forgiving themselves and others; they certainly are not humble, nor are they loving.

As for abortion, what we have today was not an issue in the first century. In the Old Testament, God did condemn armies for ripping open pregnant women and men for spilling their "seed" so that a woman would not get pregnant. God also supports sex and procreation within the context of marriage. Again, I believe that if abortion were an issue within his society, Jesus would have addressed it. Today, abortion is an issue in our society, and we as Christ's followers should address it. Not only for the sake of the innocent, but because our tax dollars fund abortion. It is atrocious that the U.S. government would pay for abortions and propagate the lie that the baby is not a human being while not helping families who want their children by decreasing the tax burden and the regulations on small business.

Continuing with Sullivan's comments in that same paragraph:

The family? He disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him. Sex? He was a celibate who, along with his followers, anticipated an imminent End of the World where reproduction was completely irrelevant. 

There is much to say in response to this one paragraph. I think Sullivan's view of and interpretation of Jesus at the Temple as a 12-year-old boy is incorrect. Luke 2: 49 - 52 will clear up the fact that he did not publicly disown his parents:

“'Why were you searching for me?” he asked. 'Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?' But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."

In Jesus' society, it would have been disgraceful for a Jewish boy to disown his parents. If Jesus was to garner the favor of God and man, as Luke says he did, disowning his parents would have not been the way to do it.

Later, in his ministry, as Luke records in chapter 14, Jesus said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

At first glance, this sounds like Jesus is telling us to abandon our families. Yet, in Mark 7, we find Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for abandoning their parents! "And he continued, 'You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) — then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

So, which is it?

The explanation is demonstrated in the example of St. Francis of Assisi, which Mr. Sullivan used to say that Christians should give up everything they own and live like Jesus - homeless. St. Francis was a rich person who gave up his inheritance and everything he owned to follow Christ. He even encouraged his followers to beg for their sustenance. St. Francis "hated" his life in the context that Christ described in Luke 14, in that he was willing to give up everything that kept him from following God like Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do in Luke 18.

I am sure that if God had impressed it on St. Francis' heart, however, to keep his money and use it to help the poor he would have gladly done so. This is the context of which I am speaking. We need to be willing to lay down or keep anything God asks in order to follow him. Some of us aren't asked to give up homes and living near our families. Some of us are. The ones who are not called to minister far away can help the ones who are. That's how it should work. Jesus was homeless and without a place to lay his head because he was a traveling rabbi. His mission did not leave him much time for all of the things life had to offer, including marriage. Remember that Peter had a mother-in-law and John took Mary, Jesus' mother, into his home. It seems apparent that the disciples had families, even wives. Paul suggested that people not get married, but he did not mandate it.

There is so much to following scripture. We can't just take one verse and base an entire theology or opinion on it. We have to take scripture as a whole, think on it and prayerfully make our decisions. I encourage you, readers, to read the article and draw your own conclusions in love.

As a side note, my denomination's magazine has published a wonderful article written by Kevin Ulmet on getting along. You might want to take a look: I Am a Concerned Nazarene