I started this post after listening to a speech by Ravi Zecharias. There are several other topics I wanted to engage from that video, and I will probably get to them one day. But I wanted to mention this part today because of the context of another series of posts. “The weaker brother” is a concept that many Christians struggle with: I’m not really sure why, if we’re intending to spread “good news” around the world. I suppose it’s because we all want to be strong. But we each have our different strengths and weaknesses. Mr. Zecharias does not mention this, but I thought it an important element to use as part of my exploration of what he says. Consider key verses in Romans 14: 3-4, 10, 14. Note that they come from the same book as the passage that many people use from the New Testament to condemn queer affection.
“The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand… But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”
From this we can see that “nothing is unclean in itself”: only to those who think it is unclean. This means that even same-gender sexuality is not unclean in itself: and, as has been attributed by many modern studies, there are no emotional or physical risks to same-sex sexuality in itself. (There are emotional and physical risks to promiscuity and refusing commitment: there are emotional and physical risks associated with with being in an area that does not support homosexuality. But in themselves, there is nothing particularly “risky” about homosexuality.) Because nothing is unclean in itself, we should not treat each other with “contempt”; we will all be judged by God, who knows and understands all.
Our human perspective, our judgement, on what is “clean” has changed over time. Technology has been unclean. Women have been unclean. Africans have been unclean. In some churches, even today, people who are divorced are unclean. There are some things that are wrong, clearly: lying, stealing, killing, hurting. In the sexual realm, breaking a promise to be faithful is wrong. But these other things have been only been “wrong” from the perspective of the dominant culture of the time. They were unclean. Paul is telling us in Romans that some of us are able to really see the truth of what God has provided, and move beyond such limitations.
However, I understand that some are not able to do so. Some need the structure of law, and are not able to enjoy the full benefit of our freedom. According to Romans 14:5, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” That’s fine. I am convinced in my own mind that being gay does not separate me from God. No-one has yet proved to me that I am causing hurt to anyone; and in fact I caused more hurt when I was married to a woman and I was lying to the world around me. As for Mr. Zecharias’ suggestion of celibacy, I am the first to admit I do not have that gift. At times in my life I have certainly appreciated the effects of a certain degree of asceticism; but I know myself well enough to understand that celibacy for me is laughable. And it goes beyond that: living without a spouse or without a companion would be a denial of God for me.
Again, I do not believe that I am “unclean” because I’m gay. I am faithful, respectful, loving, charitable: following God every day.
So am I saying that I am the “stronger brother” with respect to Mr. Zecharias? Or, more specifically, that Ravi is the weaker? In this case: yes, I am. I understand, at a deeply personal level, what it means to be gay. I have had intimate relations with both sexes. I understand that it is possible to be lustful, manipulative, arrogant, uncaring… in either kind of relationship. Ravi does not have that kind of faith. He does not need to, in one sense: because he is not gay himself. He does not even have to worry about it. But he does. And that is where he violates God’s instruction. “…the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another?” By judging us (and whether he recognizes it or not, that video is filled with condemnation) he effectively turns many away from God. Much though he might be a wonderful speaker, such people are a dime a dozen. What is helpful to God is people who are willing to communicate His truth of freedom, and to adopt it for themselves.
Thus I do not condemn those who disagree with me. Many do, as is (or probably will be) obvious by the comments on this post (but definitely on some of my previous posts). Some of my best friends think my marriage is… “wrong”. Where I do condemn people and I do speak out is where they try to force people (including me) to adhere to their Law; to stir up others and to angrily speak against some of the most vulnerable in our society. The recent spate of schoolyard bullyings and suicides is the most recent result of their actions.
Just to reiterate: for I know some will take what I’m saying and expand it to illogical conclusions. Does this mean that nothing can be “wrong” any more? Oh no. We just have a new “Law”, one based on love. In fact, in many ways this Law is more stringent than the Old. We must not murder, must not lie, must not cheat or steal or ignore our brother in pain. We should not even think of these things. We need to give of ourselves completely. Can I point to this Law, so that we can debate it? No. It is written in our hearts (Romans 2:15, Hebrews 8:10). We can still debate it: but we must respect each other enough to be flexible in these less-than-central matters. But that new Law is a law of love, and one that has applications according to each individual. Each of us knows what they are for him or herself; we go beyond that only with great care.