After Church – How To Offend People

Note: I am probably going to offend you if you have any hankerings for modern culture’s definition of morality. If you do offend easily, it’s just better off not to read this. I promise you this is true.

Trolling

I assure you, I’m not trolling.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

– Winston Churchill

I watched this debate a few weeks ago, and found it quite fascinating. It’s not so much in the debaters – people in this sort of forum always know the debates, their arguments, and the rhetorical flourishes required to “win”, as well as an audience’s bias – but in the questioners. There seems a clear difference between the older generation, who stand for some sort of moral force behind the notion of a set definition for “marriage” (barring too-cool exceptions to the rule), and the younger generation who see any labeling of people as an immoral concept from the outset.

Now, I imagine most gays would find the term “homosexual” offensive, although that seeming pejorative actually describes it. Deconstructing “heterosexual” makes the claims that much more obvious – two different genders in a sexual relationship. Now, certainly there’s plenty of baggage when it comes to word choice, but I find it difficult to take people who want to redefine marriage seriously when they, themselves, begin redefining their own image for public consumption. Are you proud of what you are, or are you not? Why should a descriptive term offend is beyond me? Course, we could call it a co-opting of language for the purpose of debate, but I’m not that mean.

Further, people are not willing to take the authority of Scripture as a given. Both men in the debate – Wilson an Evangelical Calvinist, and Sullivan a Catholic (of a sort, but we’ll get there) – believe in the Christian gospel. That’s all well and good, but it’s clear and obvious that their authority rests on different paradigm. If you read Wilson’s blog, you know his whole modus operandi rests on Scripture – what it says is what it means. That doesn’t mean we can’t differ on interpretation, but Christians aren’t too dissimilar on their view of certain issues because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (and, we would hope, a lack of sinful desire for other stuff). Such as, for example, homosexuality – and let’s use the term instead of the word that means “happy”, thanks – which appears roundly condemned in Scripture from Old to New Testament.

It shouldn’t surprise you, however, that many Christians wish to kowtow to the cultural zeitgeist, and insist on a re-evaluation of said verse to provide support for Biblical marriage of homosexuals. I suppose my exposure to such thought came in college (as all such things do), but I honestly suspect that those arguments have nada, zilch, and zip to do with modern acceptance as such. It’s more that people do not want to be hated, or disliked. The argument isn’t logical, but emotional – the turn is long, but it is turning. So we know those Leviticus verses, that much seems clear:

Leviticus 18:22 – You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. 23 Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.

Leviticus 20:13 – 13 If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

I think there’s the impulse to abandon such ideas, though. You can use history and say “they lived in antiquity, and we just can’t do that stuff anymore”, but that’s a blatant appeal to emotion. We could also say that they refer to an ancient “Holiness Code” meant to distinguish the Israelites from their Canaanite neighbors. Of course, in both parts of Leviticus we see homosexual activity lumped into the same context as bestiality and incest – not exactly good bedfellows, in any event. I’m not so much concerned with the world’s viewpoint on this issue, but other Christians? That’s when we get into hot water. Who exactly are you following, and what books are you reading? We also see the Romans 1 verse:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Again, homosexuality finds use in the same context as idolatry and perversion, worshiping other gods. You might find this a weird thing – I’m sure most interpreters did – but the relation seems quite inherent to how God operates. Like the Israelites, God wishes for Christians to distinguish themselves from the world. God institutes a code of Holiness in the Pentateuch precisely because, by following those actions, Israel seperates itself from its pagan worshipping neighbors. God doesn’t delight in sacrifices, (Psalm 51:16, 1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:11, among others) or ritualistic action – these are the true vestiges of antiquity, not the prohibitions themselves.

We can think of this idea in the same sense of the Law vs. grace – it’s not the outward action, but the inner being. That doesn’t mean that we cannot do sinful actions, or that some forms of conduct are not for Christians to engage, but the whole affect doesn’t mean we just go willy-nilly with whatever society tells us is correct. Who doesn’t understand the human impulse to find acceptance and love? But don’t look for that love in the wrong places – God provides more than any human being could.

The true vision of humanity, we might say, does not involve the actions shown herein. As Wilson himself says:

God could hardly have been plainer. The Bible begins with the wedding of a man and a woman. The Bible ends with the wedding of the Bridegroom and the Church. In between we have the story of how God overcame our rebellion and sin in order to drive us toward His ultimate design. The Garden was the location of the first hetero wedding, and the Garden City is the location of the ultimate and final hetero wedding. It is our duty as individual couples to proclaim this truth through our own marriages (Eph. 5:25). And it is the duty of every society to listen to this proclamation, and submit to it (Matt. 28:18-20). Therefore, gay marriage is disobedience to the gospel and unacceptable.

Taking the Bible as a whole, and if you believe it is inspired Scripture, it’s hard to argue with something like this. Unless the Bible remains a holistic document, it’s hard to say Jesus’ death had any significance either; you cannot pick and choose, reinterpret the things you don’t like out of existence, or change an immutable truth. You cannot help that people will not like it; that it is the truth doesn’t mean that the truth is not offensive. It is foolishness, to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). I apologize if you’re offended, but that is what the Gospel does in severing us from family, friends, and anyone else who doesn’t live under the same worldview (Luke 12:53). Why should we expect the Gospel that changes the world into God’s idealized form (which it will, there is no doubt about that) to be inoffensive?

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Why don’t we obey the other Levitical laws? I have never gotten a good answer from a Reformed believer on this.

    • I’m not Reformed, far as I know (but I guess I am presenting a Reformed-style argument, so I’ll bite! But here’s a possible answer:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC_WA8C64n0.

      Also, pretty sure that answer in the video relies on postmillenial presuppositions, so fit yourself into the framework before looking at the arguments in play. If you think of the ideas of a “Judaic” versus a “Christian” age (is that preterist?), then this means that when Paul and the early Christians were still worshiping in synagogues, they lived in a sort of in between period. They still celebrated Passover, right? And still going to sacrifice at the Temple, so this makes sense.

      However, when they transition to the Christian era (which, I imagine, starts with the fall of the Temple in 70 AD), the rules change. Paul looks like a harbingers of the new era where the “leaven works through the bread”, so to speak, and we’re moving towards a certain threshold. The Law contained in the ordinances (Ephesians 2:15) means that the ordinances themselves become unnecessary, whereas the spirit of said laws remain. Even so, the Law was a tutor (Galatians 3:24) but we now no longer need it.

      But it does make us say: why pick this one and not this one? I think you could get a pretty solid argument against homosexuality, for example, not just from Leviticus but from the creation order in general (male and female, right?). I mean, the Church is called the Bride of Christ too; at the very least, we’d call it the ideal of Scripture. The other verses (like Romans and such) also exist as possible ones. Of course, these all depend on your historical perspective of said verses, how you think the Greek should be rendered, etc. Is it a ceremonial law or simply a moral law in general? Well, a pretty substantial case works both ways.

      Whether or not that answer stands, I think, lies in your view of the authority of the Old Testament, in any event. When Christ comes to fulfill the Law and not abolish it, a pretty solid case could be made. Can I make intertextual comparisons? Is the whole of Scripture interpreted by itself? Do I accept traditional biblical commentary over the historical-critical method, or vice versa? Again, there’s lots of questions that go into acceptance of certain Levitical laws over others.

      Alvin Platinga goes over the difference here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/plantinga/warrant3.vii.ii.html.

      Sorry for the long response, but TL;DR – there isn’t one. Just can’t be condensed in a soundbite (unfortunately for me)!

  • fiks

    “Modern culture’s definition of morality”, also known as “morality based in logic around harm and happiness, rather than the fiat of an arbitrarily chosen Zeus.”