In light of the heightened commotion in Australian politics surrounding the renewed debate on legalising ‘Marriage Equality’, there seems to be a wide-ranging display of views being put on offer throughout the media. Notably, the media has been portraying this conundrum as an extremely two-dimensional ‘David and Goliath’ battle between bigoted, Christian institutionalism and the meek, humane progressive general population. Whilst this is heavily misrepresented, time and time again we as Christians are undoubtedly being baited into an argument which continually exposes our lack of understanding of our own Bible.
Despite not being the only faith that condemns the practice, Christianity has been disproportionately targeted in this debate and there are a few reasons for this. The media, in particular, are great at juxtaposing the issue of the Church opposing the redefinition of marriage with the ghastly and horrific historical institutionalised child abuse within the Catholic church in recent history. Added to this, there is no consistent and tangible argument being presented across the spectrum of Christianity, with many fringe denominations accepting and even claiming that just as God is love, one should not deny others to love. Above all of this, the number one failing is that Christianity as an entity is constantly discredited by the following circular argument:
World: Christ didn’t mention anything about homosexuality!
Church: Yes, Christ didn’t say it but, St Paul and Leviticus…
World: Aha! So why do you wear blended clothing? And do you think that women shouldn’t speak in Church?! You are such a hypocrite!
And yes, it is true, not one of Christ’s teachings mentions it specifically. The Old Testament is peppered with verses condemning it and, in the New Testament, St Paul in his letter to the Romans and to Timothy explicitly warns against it. But Christ was mum about it – He never mentioned that word.
And while we stutter to try and find a response they would listen to, this circular argument glaringly only seems to prove is two things:
- People seem to Google search Bible verses to regurgitate and misquote them to suit their agenda, just purely to condemn one another.
- People have no intention of delving into the Bible with intent of understanding.
In other words, we have become a society too blinded with the self-perpetuating notion that we are right and those on the other side are wrong, yet we do not bother to search for the truth.
The route cause
Christ addressed something far bigger than just homosexuality in His sermon. In fact, the extent of what He addressed led President Truman to once say “I do not believe that there is a problem in this country or the world today which couldn’t not be settled if approached through the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount”. In particular, if we delve into the sermon and ponder it awhile we may be surprised in what we find.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Whilst not specifically stating the act, Christ addresses the route cause – the lust of the heart. Pope Shenouda emphasises that the word ‘heart’ has great importance because the Lord wants your heart itself. He says “My son, give Me your heart” (Psalm 23:26), therefore external purity is not everything. Man may keep his senses clean. He commits no sin either through sight or through touching or through hearing and despite that, his heart may not be pure. St Augustine contemplates that “It is well worthy of consideration that He did not say, whosoever lusts after a woman, but, whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her, i.e. turns toward her with this aim and this intent, that he may lust after her; which, in fact, is not merely to be tickled by fleshly delight, but fully to consent to lust; so that the forbidden appetite is not restrained, but satisfied if opportunity should be given.”
Hence by addressing the route cause, Christ in turn condemns any perversion of purity. Had the act been the primary issue, Christ would not have shown mercy and compassion on the evidently remorseful woman who was caught in the very act and was about to be stoned, rather than condemning her, He saved her saying “neither do I condemn you” and instructed her to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Although the Mosaic Law forbade satisfying the sin of adultery, Christ has explained that intention of law was uprooting the defilement. St. Augustine clarifies this by explaining that, “the lesser righteousness, therefore, is not to commit adultery by carnal connection; but the greater righteousness of the kingdom of God is not to commit adultery in the heart. Now, the man who does not commit adultery in the heart, much more easily guards against committing adultery in actual fact.”
Note that Christ directs this commandment at the personal level. We live in a hypersexualised society that glorifies promiscuity. Furthermore, divorce and premarital relations are normalised even within the greater Christian community. This is despite Christ clearly condemning both in Matthew 5:31-32. Yet it appears that that other types of sexual immorality are elevated in level of iniquity. What is the difference? All sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2) and if God does not differentiate sin (James 2:10, Romans 6:23), why do we differentiate?
Purity and celibacy go beyond just the practice of physical abstinence – they require the practice of the abstinence of the mind and heart. Saint Jerome observed that: “There are people who live with celibate bodies but their spirits commit adultery. It means that adultery is in their hearts although their bodies did not commit physical sin.” The issues Christ is alluding to in the sermon on the Mount is that the error is beyond engaging in the physical act, but it is a symptom of a long-corrupted heart and a deviated mind. St Augustine further explains that, “therefore, under the category of the adultery mentioned in this section, we must understand all fleshly and sensual lust… every evil lust is rightly called fornication, since the soul, neglecting the higher law by which it is ruled, and prostituting itself for the base pleasure of the lower nature as its reward (so to speak), is thereby corrupted.”
In the end, the sin of sexual immorality has little to do with who or what is lusted, it is just merely different flavours, which by its nature all-consuming and strangles the spirit. St Paul, despite his bold and powerful profession of faith throughout his ministry, warns us with fear to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Flee it! Don’t tempt it or entertain it, don’t even try and face it. Flee it!
As he further explains, “Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
So, where does this leave us?
Whatever the outcome of the current political storm, do not ever say Christ did not foreworn the dangers. The normalisation and acceptance of behaviour incompatible with the teachings of the Church are not new. Above all however, this by no means suggests that Christianity should condone hatred or homophobia, the overwhelming power of Godly love that Christ declared and commanded us to live should never be forgotten or ignored. It is not our place to judge (Matthew 7:1-5). We are called to be far greater than the bounds of the expectations of society – Christ commands us: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Finally, as the famous Poet Oliver Holmes once said “Most people are willing to take the sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer.” Hence whatever the powers at be decide, remember we are not of this world, and we should take comfort that the words of Christ are eternal. If you get a democratic chance to voice your opinion, by all means exercise your right as your conscious desires. The state has no power in defining the sanctity of our Holy Sacraments which were established by God. Christ comforts us, when He tells us “not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18-19)
SAYG ~ David Ghali.