Monday, September 15, 2008

LTSHTS - An Overplayed Statement

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” (LTSHTS)

This statement is often flung as a catch-all statement to ‘resolve’ any dispute surrounding homosexuality perspective in the church. Unfortunately, those who inflict it are usually against any motion that supports homosexual practice. Like a plane trying to fly on one wing, one wonders that if this statement is so true, why aren’t the other camp more pro-active in endorsing this statement? I guess no one disputes the first part of the statement. It is the second statement that is more controversial. Not everyone agrees that homosexuality is a sin, especially when one claims their sexual orientation is a gift or something they cannot help it. Indeed, the gay issue is one of the most divisive issues of the 21st century church. It cuts across virtually all denominations. The results of any effort to resolve this controversy are pathetically ambiguous. For the Methodists, from April 22 to May 2nd, 2008, at the general conference of the United Methodist Church, the motion to ordain homosexuals, gay marriage and reword the constitution were all defeated, thanks to the votes from the more conservative Africans. A small victory for the pro-gay group was the agreement to renounce homophobia and any forms of violence against gay people. According to the UMC report, the sensitivity of the issue makes people more careful about the statements they make. One UMC representative, Kent Millard said:
“The truth is, we are divided. Let’s just acknowledge that it doesn’t say one is right and one is wrong. It just says we disagree.”
A refusal to state what is right or wrong. This shows how difficult it is to make any strong stand these days, simply because the world has changed. There is greater individual awareness and courage to speak out one’s mind. Any ‘strong’ statements can be branded judgmental. Hence, anything that can ‘soften’ the blow is a welcome relief. However, not making a statement can be worse, especially in a society paranoid about ambiguity. A society that lacks maturity finds it more difficult to swim the waters of ambiguity. The Singapore Methodist Church took a step further. They put up an official statement that tries to anchor itself back on history and tradition. They re-affirm the belief that:
"We consider the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teachings. However, we do recognize that homosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. They need the ministry and guidance of the Church as well as the spiritual and emotional support of caring fellowship."
This address to the Methodist population in Singapore can be found here. Alas, it is another statement of LTSHTS advocated mainly by those arguing against homosexuality sympathies. ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ is a summary mantra that aptly describes this stance. Advocates for gay rights hate this statement as it seems to be a popular blanket used in the name of ‘biblical’ to smother any flames arising out of the gay controversy. It is often the ‘conservative’ circle that unleashes this statement. Like a broken record, the words ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin (LTSHTS)’ gets played to the point of annoyance. What does that actually mean? Is this statement biblical?

Conversion Instead of Conversation
I like what Eugene Cho writes in his blog about the gay debate. He says: “The church can be so obsessed with morality and conversion that it loses out on the beauty of conversation.” That is something that we must take note as we discuss on the gay topic. Any impatience to make a statement can prematurely end any conversation, and as a result effectively burning the bridges of understanding. It is my sincere wish that there be a spirit of openness and conversation instead of moral judgment and antagonism. One can say all the right things, but if it is uttered in the wrong way, all credibility goes down the sink. Before going any further, I will like to take another look at LTSHTS and contrast that with Romans 15:7.
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
The first chapter of Romans is a popular portion of Scripture used to call homosexuality a sin. I think the intention of Romans 1:18-32 is not meant to be a summary judgment against homosexuality. In other words, it is not to be interpreted as Anti-Gay 101. The symptom must not be seen as the main disease. It is meant to showcase the depravity of unrighteous people who do not live by faith. They suppress the truth. They become godless people. Romans 1:21 refers to these people as:

“..they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”

We must be careful that we do not simply read one or two verses from the passage and diminish the rest. The entire context has to be considered. In other words, it is not the homosexual act that is the specific sin. It is the act that LEADS to worshiping the partner as an idol. The Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138AD) was grief-stricken when his lover boy, Antinous drowned mysteriously in the Nile in 130AD. He was devastated and later decreed that Antinous be worshiped as a god. This is the extent of the dangers of homosexual behaviour that made Paul’s letter to the Romans a warning not to let homosexual acts lead to acts of idolatry.

I think LTSHTS is more easily said than done. Firstly, it cannot be done in our own strength. Overstating it is downright risky as it puts one almost immediately on the seat of judgment. I do not condone homosexuality. What I am concerned about is the use of high-handed behaviour that tries to silence honest dissenting voices. Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary, made an observation of the current evangelical landscape. Calling Christians a ‘spiritually stingy people,’ he says:
“A recent Barna Group survey, for example, offers evidence that many young people in the larger society think of evangelicals primarily as "judgmental" types, hostile toward folks in other religions and mean-spirited in our attitudes about homosexuality. Even many young evangelicals share some of these assessments of the older generation.” Richard Mouw, An Open Handed Gospel in Christianity Today , April 2004).
The second reservation I have is that when we overstate LTSHTS, we will soon find it very difficult to separate the sin from the sinner. One may hate the sin so much that one gradually becomes more willing to discard the baby with the bathwater.

An Alternative – “Accepting one another”
My point in this article is that LTSHTS is an overplayed statement. It becomes unhelpful when it is used mainly as a vehicle to suppress non-conformists. Like a silencer used on a revolver, the gunshot may be muffled but the damage is equally deadly. A spiritually stingy people do the cause of Christ no special favours. One can be theoretically right but practically wrong. We must keep the doorways of conversation open, simply because we are still trying to grapple with the rising consciousness and expectations of different people in different generations. There is a time to make dogmatic statements. There is a period where doctrinal declarations are followed to the letter. Without followers, no amount of leadership rhetoric can help.

Mouw asks the question: “How do we convey our Christian convictions while displaying a spirit of generosity in our relationships with others?” He calls for spiritual generosity. I think Mouw is right. True acceptance of one another in Christ has to be generous. We do not love conditionally. Love must be done with no strings attached. In fact, LTSHTS should not be used all the time. It tempts one toward greater spiritual stinginess. LTSHTS can be superfluous as well. If one is intending to love the sinner regardless, then ‘Love the Sinner’ should be a universal endorsement. Why pair it together with ‘Hate the Sin?’ By twinning it, does it mean that we love the gay person less if he insists on his homosexual ways? That is why we need an alternative. That alternative is ACCEPTING ONE ANOTHER, AS CHRIST ACCEPTED US.

Romans 15:7 is one that is more reflective of spiritual generosity.
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Rom 15:7)

Let me make myself clear. I assert that I do not condone homosexual acts. Homosexuality is something that is unnatural and not according to the divine intention of God. I believe that we ought to use LESS of LTSHTS and use MORE of “Accepting one another, as Christ accepted us.” It is less intimidating and exhibits greater spiritual generosity. One note of caution. We cannot read Romans 1, and then jump to read Romans 15:7. We need to follow the flow of Paul’s letter to the Roman church. It is from Romans 12:1-2 that helps appreciate the new perspective in Christ. When our minds are renewed, our bodies offered to God as a living sacrifice and our lives totally conformed to Christ rather than the world, accepting one another becomes more doable. Without the work of Christ in our lives, we cannot authentically accept one another. We will always attach conditions to our ability to accept one another. The Greek verb (προσλαμβάνεσθε) ‘proslambanesthe’ is an imperative (a command) which consists of ‘pros’ (to/toward) and ‘lambano’ (accept in addition to oneself). Its preceding clause ‘dio’ is translated therefore which implies that the context of accepting one another where the strong will need to bear with the failings of the weak. It calls one to treat one’s view as important as the others. There is no room for any kind of chauvinism. If there are, then we need to seek God for forgiveness, and to ask him to teach us acceptance. True spiritual generosity must be cultivated in a land of harsh words and tough statements. I will take the plunge to assert that ‘accepting one another in Christ’ is much more beneficial than plainly declaring LTDHTS. We cannot change people. Only God can do that. We are but vessels of testimony to carry God’s grace and love to all.

Everyone needs love. No exceptions. When LTSHTS gets used like homophobic bullets against gay-rights proponents, it can be extremely unloving. Love is not love until it is given away lovingly. If one insists on using LTSHTS, let me suggest that all parties reserve the right to use it. Make sure that it is not used as a projectile to force others into conformity, but a mirror to teach us humility. Let all who sing the tunes of LTSHTS obey the same rules they trumpet.

In summary, let me say that LTSHTS is a statement that becomes unhelpful when overplayed. It becomes less inclusive when used exclusively only by any one side. It becomes downright unpleasant when its purpose is to 'silence' any dissent. I propose that we do away with this and adopt the attitude of accepting one another, just as Christ accepted us. We must be so Christ-centric that we refuse to allow any inner chauvinism to impoverish our levels of spiritual generosity. We must have big hearts. Let me end with a story told by Mark Buchanan, a pastor in British Columbia. It is a beautiful story of accepting one another. It is taken from ChristianityToday’s Leadership journal here entitled ‘This is It.’
A few years ago, a friend assembled a weekend work party to lay sod in his yard. The sun was shining. He had fresh coffee and cinnamon buns. And the crew he'd called together were all good friends. We liked each other immensely.

Then Al said, "Guys, do you realize something? This is it! This is it!" We stopped.

"Al, this is what?"

"This is community."

We all murmured our assent and congratulated one another. Yes. This is it.

But then I said, "Al, this is great, but I don't think this is it. I like you all too much. Add a person or two to this company who lacks social graces, who looks different, who's needy, smelly, and irritating. If we truly loved a person like that, then that would be it."

Silence. Then one of guys said, "Uh, Mark. We've accepted you, haven't we?"

We all laughed, but they granted my point.

We're always tempted to turn the church into a club. With our kind of people. With a strict decorum designed to keep up appearances and keep out the, shall we say, undesirables. But Jesus said it's no credit to us if we love those who love us – our kind of people. We don't need God to love them; natural affinities are sufficient. But you, Jesus said, are to love the least of these and the worst of these – losers, enemies. That takes God: a supernatural subversion of our own prejudices, and a heaven-borne infusion of God's prodigal love.

I preach that. I try to live that.

A year or so after our sod-laying party, Wanda arrived. Wanda was not our kind of people. She was thirsty alright, for beer, port, rum, vanilla extract, whatever. She had only one way to pay for that. I'll let you guess.

But she was desperate, and thirsty for something else. She called the church one day, wondering if she could see a pastor, and now! Two of us met with her. She told us her troubled story. I told her about the woman at the well whose life, like Wanda's, wasn't going well. But she met Jesus and he offered her living water. I explained what living water was, and asked Wanda if she'd like some.

"Oh yeah!" she said. We prayed. She confessed, repented, surrendered. Drank deep.

The other pastor said, "Now, Wanda, this Sunday will be your first time in church. Don't feel you have to fit in right away. You can sit at the back if you like, come late, leave early. Whatever is comfortable."

Wanda looked at him sideways. "Why would I do that?" she said. "I've been waiting for this all my life."

That Sunday, Wanda was the first to arrive. She sat at the front, and loudly agreed with everything I said. She was the last to leave. The next Sunday, same thing, except she brought a friend, one of her kind of people. I preached on servanthood. My main point: if you've tasted the love of Jesus, you'll want to serve. It was Communion Sunday. In those days, we called our elders The Servant Leadership Team. I asked the Servant Leaders to come and help with Communion. That day only two of our team were in church. They straggled to the front.

All Wanda heard was the word servant. And she had been listening intently to my sermon: if you've tasted the love of Jesus, you'll want to serve.

She walked straight up to serve Communion with the other two "servants."

I flinched.

Then I remembered Luke 7, Jesus' words to Simon the Pharisee as a woman, not unlike Wanda, washed Jesus' feet: "Do you see this woman?"

Do you see her?

I leaned over to Wanda and said, "Since this is your very first time doing this, do you mind if I help?"

So Wanda and I served Communion. The best part was watching the faces of the people I love and serve and pray for and preach to.

Not one flinched. They saw her.

This is it.


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