When we “level the playing field” for those who perceive bias and condemnation among Christians, some evangelicals fear this effort will collapse into theological compromise. Without minimizing this risk, I believe it is our calling to make the Gospel accessible to people where they are. To do this, we must clear roadblocks – such as bias and judgment – that hinder others’ journey towards Christ.
If I am correct – that this can occur without theological compromise – then such an approach will enhance our outreach to and pastoral care of all people. This enhancement helps us avoid the easy default of urgent theological demands that often chop at the roots of others’ faith journey.
I routinely refer to Romans 2:1-4 as a great “leveling” passage. Here is my paraphrase of Paul: “When you judge others and yet are guilty of the sins I listed at the beginning of my letter, do you think you will escape the judgment of our Holy God who sees you hide and accommodate your own sins? You entirely miss the spiritual reality that God’s kindness, tolerance and patience are designed to draw those you are judging towards repentance. By refusing to repent yourself and then blocking their path toward me, you are storing up wrath against yourself.”
That does a pretty complete job of eliminating judgment, doesn’t it…
Once we clear the roadblock of overt judgement, we must then remove the less conscious ways we moralize others. Some scriptures are so tough that we struggle to stand under the weight of them. When this happens, we tend to imagine that God must be speaking to “other” people. We run into this temptation all throughout Romans 1 and 2. Take, for example, my paraphrase of Romans 2:14-16:
“The Gentiles, who do not have the law, demonstrate that the
requirements of the law are written on their hearts. Their very consciences bear witness to this! How so? Their thoughts sometimes accuse them. At other times, their thoughts actually defend them! If you do not believe it now, you will believe it on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ.”
This passage is often a proof text for demonstrating that LGBT+ people really do know that their “lifestyle” is sinful. They know it, the claim goes, because their consciences accuse them. They have to work double time to combat this inner knowledge. In fact, they work so hard that their conscience actually begins to defend them against deep, inner convictions that gay relationships are sinful. Some say that gay marriage is the ultimate attempt to legitimize gay relationships in a battle to finally tame inner conscience turmoil.
My friends, we slip into moralizing others when we script passages like this for LGBT+ people. We entirely miss how it might apply to our own lifestyle! How many people who view porn find a way to accommodate it as a common struggle? It is, after all, every man’s battle. How many divorced individuals’ defend their role and motives? How many who have committed adultery seek relief from the guilt by pointing out deficits in the care they received from their spouse? How many of us when we gossip begin with, “I don’t mean to gossip, but…”
I once counseled a teen who experiences SSA. Against the wave of his fears and desires, he was attempting to find a path forward where living in a same-gender relationship would be acceptable. He did not talk about negotiating with God. He did not refer to acceptance from his family. He spoke of his own conscience. “I need to retrain my brain,” he said. If only the rest of us were that honest…
Knowing that this teen had once been suicidal, my heart ached for the pain he experiences. Soon thereafter, I had a deep encounter with Romans 2:14-16. I did not moralize his life. Instead, I asked myself this question: “What mental, emotional and spiritual health impact occurs when a person experiences an inner voice (their conscience) which simultaneously accuses and defends them over attractions within that represent how one offers and receives romance, love and affection?”
Passages like Romans 2:14-16 can tempt us into moralizing others; or they can invite us into the very place where we get a glimpse of the deep pain SSA/LGBT+ young people experience as they wrestle over personal faith, the Bible and their desires. This kind of compassion does not water down biblical truth. The love that flows from the True Vine often bends low even as truth remains. Jesus bent low to die for us yet nothing about his compassion ever lessened the impact of the remotest letter of the law.
The next time you and I read difficult scriptures that tempt us to think of others, let us remember to retrain our brains. First, think not about others but how the difficult passage applies to our own life. Second, resist the often subconscious urge to moralize others. Choose instead to find the outreach or pastoral care question that might reach the heart of the person you care about. This protects against judging others, preserves a level playing field at the foot of the cross and enhances our ability to bring Christ within us to people where they are. This is not a compromise, because this is the Gospel. Amen.
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