What about Hell?
One of the fundamental concerns that exist for Traditionalists is that if we get this wrong, LGBTQ people will be in danger of Hell.
We do an injustice to many sincere and loving Christians, if we paint them out to be simply hate filled, closed minded, bigots, for holding a traditional belief.
For many, the staunch commitment to their belief is the desire to rescue peoples souls from the fires of Hell.
Now there is much diversity in the Christian faith about what Hell is exactly, but what most Christians can agree on is that Hell – whatever it is – is not good. It is a place – or state of unbeing – that is separate from all that is good. Some describe it as eternal conscious torment, others speaks of it in terms of annihilation, that when a person chooses to reject Life, that God grants them their wish, allowing them to cease to exist. Still others, speak of Hell as the fulfillment of all our desires, a place where those who have rejected God, get their wish. A world without God, which – in this view – would be a world without Love, Life, or anything good.
Our purpose today is not to untangle the different threads of Christian tradition on this topic, but rather to ask the question, what happens if we get this wrong? Will Gay people be in danger of hell?
As discussed in the previous blog, most Christians no longer see being Gay as a sin. A Gay person can serve in church, lead worship and become a minister, as long as they remain celibate. What is viewed as sinful is not gayness, but the expression of their sexual orientation.
And so, many – not all – traditionalist Christian’s believe that if a Gay Christian is in a relationship, regardless of how loving, or committed that relationship may be, they have chosen to actively rebel against God. And since they are actively choosing to sin, this is proof that they have not accepted the Gospel, and thus they are in danger of Hell.
Is this concern valid?
Now, let’s for a moment assume the traditionalist position is correct, is this concern valid.
If same-sex relationships are sinful, are Gay Christians who are in loving, covenantal relationships, rebelling against God, and thus putting their salvation at risk?
1 Corinthains, is it a slam dunk?
**Now before we get into it, I would like to note that I will not be getting into the arguments surrounding the context and translation of the two words in the below passage which that have come to be understood as homosexuality. We may look at them in a later blog, but at this point, we will be examining the passage on the level which it is most often presented.**
If you look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 it might seem to be the case. If we were for a moment, to accept the traditional way of reading this passage, assuming that Paul here has in mind healthy, consensual committed same-sex relationships, than one might be forgiven for thinking that the matter is settled.
“… Do you not know… that male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders… will inherit the kingdom of God… (NIV)”
So, that settles it.
Well, perhaps. But, take note of what happens when you read Paul’s vice list in it’s entirety. Let’s take a look.
“…Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral… idolaters… male prostitutes… homosexual offenders… thieves… greedy… drunkards… slanderers… (or) swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God…”
Now, when we read the entire vice list rather than just pulling out the words we believe condemn gay relationships, we are left with a different picture, and a much higher standard by which to measure ones salvation.
Not only – if we take this passage literally – will Gay people in same-sex relationships be barred from the Kingdom, but also those who are greedy, those who cheat on their taxes, or take cash under the table, those who steal, those who seek financial gain at the expense of others, any who engage in any sort of sexual sin, will also be in danger of exclusion from the Kingdom of God.
Now, your first thought might be, yea fair enough, of course unrepentant sinner’s will be unable to enter the Kingdom. And I’ll give you that point, I agree. But, let’s think that through a little further.
Unrepentant sinners will not enter the Kingdom of God
What do we mean by that?
Do we mean that people with specific sins in their lives, who – even though the scriptures may seem clear on the issue – continue to live in sin, are in fact rejecting God, and will not be saved by Christ’s grace and mercy?
Because, if that’s the case, who can be saved?
Think about that for a moment. Who among us lives completely free of sin?
Who of us – if we are honest – has repented of every sin in our lives?
Perhaps, your argument is that being free of sin is not the point, as long as you repent, and attempt to stop practicing your sin.
Sure, but can you honestly say that there is no area in your life where you have not repented?
If you – like me – are a citizen of the West, and a member of the Western Church, than you and I participate daily in the sin of greed and exploitation. We are part of a society that is set up to worship the god’s of Consumerism and Individualism. And this system we are a part of, feeds off our greed.
The coffee you drank this morning, the chocolate you ate last night, the cheap as chips shoes you brought from the Warehouse in the weekend, all came at a cost. A cost that you chose not to pay. A cost that was paid in blood.
The wealth of the Western world is built off the exploitation and rape of the third world. Whenever you participate in this consumeristic, neo-liberal, capitalist system, whenever you buy cloths that aren’t ethically sourced, or food that isn’t fair trade, heck whenever you buy a new phone or ipad, you are willfully, and actively participating in the sin of the Western Empire.
And you do participate in it, there is no denying that. The worship of Consumerism is so intrinsically tied to our way of life, that there is almost no getting away from it.
And for those who may wish to distance themselves from it, who claim perhaps that they do not know, or aren’t aware, there is no excuse. In this age of information, if you do not realize the cost of participating in our consumeristic culture, it is because you have chosen to ignore it.
And that, in it’s self, makes you complicit.
So, how can you be saved? How can you think to lead church, or preach on Sunday, or judge your gay whanau, because unless you renounce and repent of your greed, you also stand condemned?
You see, this standard is impossible to live by. If we are brutally honest, we all have sin in our lives which we refuse to repent of. Whether it is unforgiveness, greed or even pride, if our salvation is based on our active rejection of every single sin filled aspect of our lives, none of us will enter the Kingdom.
And that in fact is the point Paul makes in Romans. In the first few chapters of Romans Paul builds his case, first against the Gentiles, and than against the Jews. He does such a great job in fact, that by the end of it, the reader is left wondering, if anyone can be saved?
Paul expounds his case in more depth than we have time to analyse here, but in Romans 9:30-33 he gives us a hint. The gentiles are saved, not because they have good works, or because they have tried to live righteously, but because they simply accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
I like the way the NLT puts it “…Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith… But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him.”
I wonder how much like the Jews we Christians have become? Seeking to measure each others salvation based on the choices the other makes, or the way another lives their life. We have created a new moral code, not to dissimilar to that created by the Jews themselves, a new law by which we measure one another’s salvation.
And this new legalism is revealed most clearly in the manner in which we judge our Gay Christian whanau. For in our condemnation of them, we have become like the pharisees, placing heavy burdens on the shoulders of our rainbow whanau which we ourselves are not prepared to bear.
Coming back to 1 Corinthians, it is interesting to note that the sins listed in chapter 6:9-10 are sins which the Church in Corinth are engaging in. Yet, even though the Church is engages in these sins, Paul continues to address them throughout his letter as brothers and sisters in Christ. He doesn’t say, hey you greedy, prideful, sexually immoral people, you are going to hell unless you change. No, rather he exhorts the Corinthians to be who God has already created them to be. They are the temple of God (3:16), they are the body of Christ (12:27), despite their sin, they are the church. Paul’s message to the Corinthians is for them to be who God has already created them to be.
Where does this leave us?
So, coming back to our question at the start of this blog, if we get this wrong, and if same-sex relationships are truly sinful, will Gay Christians in same-sex relationships be in danger of Hell?
I think, based on the information we have explored in this blog, the answer is no.
For it is by grace we have been saved… through faith…
If we truly believe this, than the claim that a Gay Christian, who is in a relationship is not saved due to willful rebellion against God, is a claim we cannot make, unless we ourselves are willing to put our own salvation on the line.
Conceding this point obviously does not fully answer our question of whether Gay marriage can be accepted within the church. And obviously, it raises more questions, which are yet to be explored, like the role of repentance, and the question of how the Gospel lines up with what we have explored in this blog (we will turn to these questions in the next blog).
But, if we can recognize that this is not a salvation issue, than perhaps this fear we have that our rainbow whanau are in danger of the fires of hell, can be laid to rest. For it is this very fear which often distorts and twists both our message and our posture towards LGBTQ people.
But, if we accept this, we can stop being afraid.
And perhaps, with that fear put to bed, we can truly learn to Love LGBTQ people.