Another Commentary

Here is a statement that comes from my denominational affiliation, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod regarding yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

In discussion last week with the guys at the Rescue Mission, clarification was sought about homosexuality and why it seems to dominate Christian attention in the media these days.  Is this because homosexuality is somehow a bigger sin than others?
I think it’s helpful to think of this question in two directions.  One is vertically, which addresses the issue of sin and homosexuality as a specific sin in the relationship between humanity and God.  The other direction is horizontally – which addresses relationships among humanity and creation on earth.  The question has to be answered two times, because of these two  directions.
The first direction is easy.  Vertically, in our relationship between God and humanity, homosexuality is no worse (and no better) than any other sin.  Romans 3:22b-25a makes this clear.  Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 makes this clear.  Sin is who and what we are, and any sin means that before God we are in need of salvation from God, since we cannot accomplish this ourselves.  Sexual sins are no worse than dishonoring our parents, or lying about our neighbors, or coveting our neighbor’s property, or failing to honor the Sabbath.  We all fall short, and the how is immaterial to God.  For this reason we cling to the hope of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God whose death and resurrection open to everyone willing to accept him the promise of forgiveness of sins.  All sins.  
Regarding the horizontal realm and our relationships with one another, now sins begin to take on a hierarchical character.  This is not because, ultimately, one sin is worse than another.  Hurting or sinning against my neighbor is always bad.  But we experience them as worse (or better) than one another.  Because the experience of any given sin is relative to the experience of any other sin, we treat them somewhat subjectively as better or worse.  
So it is that a child who shoplifts a candy bar is (or at least was) treated differently than the person who commits murder.  Both are sins.  Both hurt someone else (as well as the perpetrator).  But murder is experienced as substantially worse a crime than shoplifting.  As such, the punishments differ markedly in their severity.  
It isn’t just a matter of age, either, where we treat the child more lightly than the adult because the child hasn’t had the time to fully learn how wrong their actions are.  An adult who is caught stealing a TV will be treated to different penalties than an adult who murders.  Again, both actions are wrong, but the one is experienced as inflicting greater (or more permanent) harm, and therefore the punishment is greater.
Ranking sins horizontally this way in terms of how they affect each other isn’t wrong.  In the Old Testament (the book of Leviticus in particular) God provides not just rules but also punishments for various crimes.  Whether you agree with the punishments is not the issue here, but simply demonstrates that in terms of our interactions with one another, sins that are more serious are treated more seriously.  Otherwise, we run the risk of, on a large, human scale, losing sight of the fact that some sins really cause a lot of damage to others.  Some sins, when they gain traction within a society or culture, wreak havoc on a scale that far outweighs other types of sins.
Sexual sins seem to be high on the Biblical list of types of sins that are so dangerous to a community that they must be punished severely.  Given our human preoccupation with sin – or at least our American one – this makes a lot of sense to me.  
Obviously, not everyone agrees.  
Which means that I continue to love my neighbor – not by agreeing that whatever my neighbor wants to do is necessarily right or healthy, but by loving that neighbor through prayer and gentle witness (as I am able and they allow me) to real truth, real hope, real joy.  Sin remains hurtful and dangerous whether others choose to see it that way or not.  The hurt and damage are amplified though when we attempt to convince others or ourselves that it is not sin, that there are no consequences.  A lot of people down the line are going to be hurt by the decisions being made today.  Christians will need to be the first in line to forgive and minister to those who are damaged by these decisions.  

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