Some days politics and theology intersect – and this is one of those days. For those of you who have somehow missed that I’m an Evangelical, this may be a difficult post, but please bear with me – there’s a political twist here, I promise.
In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, Greece, he writes:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
In other words, people who are defined by their sin do not enter the kingdom of God.
This makes sense in context with another passage, in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
So here’s the context – for those of us who have become Christians, it is not our sin that defines us any more, but our life in Christ. We are no longer listed under “sinner” (though in our imperfect human nature, we will continue to sin – just less and less as we surrender to Christ and are changed), but we are now listed as “Christian” or more literally – “Christ-follower.” This is borne out in the next few lines of the Corinth letter:
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….For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
In other words, God loves us too much to leave us in the sin we started out in, and He loves us so much He sent His son (whose birth we celebrate at this time of year) to die as a replacement for us, His death the penalty we would have paid if we were to die without that forgiveness. In the process, our identity is changed – from being identified with our sin to being identified with Christ. We are to love the sinner (because we all were there before we were “washed” and “bought with a price”), even as we hate the evil of the sin itself, whether it be murder, theft, extortion or homosexuality, as Paul lists above.
This does get tricky sometimes. In our modern world, Hollywood culture often tries to make these sins feel acceptable – whether the violence of the Godfather or the Sopranos, the adultery of Desperate Housewives or Dallas, or the theft/extortion of Leverage or the Italian Job.
There are Christian leaders who have gotten this issue right – and Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California is one of them. Now, I must admit I’ve had my issues with Pastor Rick (I think his “seeker-sensitive” church model waters down the Bible, I think his “40 Days of Purpose” book was a bit thin, and I think he gets off on tangential environmental issues a little too much). But all in all, Rick’s a good guy trying to do his best. Rick is known (among other things) for an outreach to the homosexual community that loves the individual while condemning the sin – because God loves the sinners He came to save from their sins. To love the sin is to hate the sinner – because it condemns them to continue in their sins (and without God).
In that light, Pastor Rick worked hard for the passage of Proposition 8 in California this year, a proposition which reaffirmed a past decision of California’s voters (on DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act) by constitutionally defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman.
I also think Rick was the best debate moderator in the 2008 Presidential cycle. But I digress…
So, yesterday we learned that President-Elect Barack Obama, continuing his headlong rush towards the middle of the political spectrum, has tapped Pastor Rick to do the invocation at the inaugural. I happen to think this is a good thing – and I pray that Rick Warren is one of the voices the new President will listen to in the coming Administration – especially on the policy issues relating to abortion and homosexuality, which Rick is strong on, as mentioned above.
Not everyone is so happy, though, reports Ben Smith of Politico:
“Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans,” the president of Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, wrote Obama Wednesday. “[W]e feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination.”
…“It’s a huge mistake,” said California gay rights activist Rick Jacobs, who chairs the state’s Courage Campaign. “He’s really the wrong person to lead the president into office.”
…“His presence on the inauguration stand is a slap in the faces of the millions of GLBT voters who so enthusiastically supported him,” (the editor of the Washington Blade, Kevin) Naff wrote, referring to gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgendered people. “This tone-deafness to our concerns must not be tolerated. We have just endured eight years of endless assaults on our dignity and equality from a president beholden to bigoted conservative Christians. The election was supposed to have ended that era. It appears otherwise.”
The people who have allowed themselves to be defined by their sin (in this case, homosexuality) are lashing out at the one who is defined by Christ. In another of Paul’s letters – this one to the church in Rome – he explains why this is to be expected.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
The logical flow of this section? That those who practice homosexuality do so because of a conscious rejection of God and His natural order. In response to that rejection, God “gives them up to vile passions.” (Note how similar this passage is to the list in the Corinth letter – people defined by their sin rather than defined by their new life in Christ.)
So, it makes sense that the people who define themselves by their sin (“LGBT/GLBT voters”) would lash out at “bigoted conservative Christians” like Rick Warren (who are defined by Christ). It is impossible for people of faith to stay true to God (and His Word) and make those folks happy as long as they remain in opposition to God by choosing to be defined (and defiled) by their sin. (They say “Open minds”, Paul says “Debased minds”; I’m with the Apostle Paul on this one.)
Our choice as Christ-followers then, must be to continue to love them, while standing against their attempts in the culture and government to legitimize their lifestyle of sin, whether redefining marriage or adoption or employment rights or using tax dollars for certain tourism promotions.
So (for the first time) I give kudos to President-Elect Obama for his choice for the inaugural invocation. I fear it will be the last time, but hope it won’t – as I hope and pray that the reasonable (and frankly moderate) voice of Pastor Warren is one that the new President will listen to and hear, as Rev. Billy Graham was (at least in name) to Obama’s Democrat predecessor, Bill Clinton. We pray this with the words of Solomon, the author of Proverbs, in mind:
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
President-Elect Obama could do far worse than Pastor Warren, and frankly not much better.
All Scriptures quoted above in New King James Version.