Near Molong, NSW 2011

All choose to sin...

This is an excerpt from the post Redeeming Holiness from late 2018.  

" .... And worse, holiness based upon goodness is to privilege my own sin. Let me take you through a thought experiment. Trigger warning: I am about to bluntly summarise attitudes which are often called "homophobic," but which I think, are also finally the same deep, barely conscious, fear that God does not love a person and will reject them; the fear which I slowly recognised within myself.

When we are in this phobic or fearful place, we are not yet able to see a definition of holiness by the exclusion of LGBTIQ+ people has its roots in our fear, and we are certainly not able to see that our effort at holiness is driven by any fear of God on our part. Holiness by doing good, by keeping a standard, is a strategy to blind us to, and to relieve us from, our fear that God does not really love us.

And to be clear: Fred is utterly wrong in his assertions below that there is something sinful about being LGBTIQ+;  utterly, blindly wrong. Our sexuality is a gift from God, and no one has the right to define or name our sexuality for us, or to categorise us by it.

The thought experiment.
Fred and I have much in common, including this: We both fear for the survival of our grandchildren in the societal collapse we see is inevitable; a collapse caused by the changing climate we humans have caused by our greed— by our sinfulness, in fact. When we meet at the Froth and Fodder café near my church, and I ask how he is doing, Fred has tears in his eyes as he recounts the joy and terror he felt as he nursed his son's newborn daughter. "When we hit 1.5 degrees warming, she'll only be 22. What are we doing to God's Earth?"  

But we are not meeting to discuss this. As friends, we are meeting to try to find some common ground in the controversy over the full inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people in the life of the Uniting Church, an argument The Assembly first began to address in 1982.

It has divided us two. I have removed my wedding rings and will not conduct any marriages until the decision of Assembly in 2018 is respected and confirmed. Fred thinks Assembly was utterly wrong in its decsion. Fred is not happy about the ordination of LGBTIQ+ people, either. And we talk and talk.

"How can you allow these people to live in such sin? How can a church condone sinfulness by marrying them and blessing their sin!?"   

We get nowhere— you know that disagreement over this subject mostly ends in stalemate. When our basic axioms differ we cannot agree. And if our basic axiom is founded in the anxiety that God will not love us unless a certain measure of goodness is adhered to then we cannot give way, for our life depends upon this holiness. When people raise arguments in Synod referencing events such as Joshua 7 (the argument sometimes referred to as not allowing "sin in the camp,") what they are saying is that they are afraid of a God who does not love them, but will punish them.

Eventually, I snap, "The problem is that you are privileging your sinfulness over mine, and you are privileging your sinfulness over the sinfulness of LGBTIQ+ people."

 "So they are sinful then?"

"No more and no less than you or I. You are merely privileging your sin— excusing it, and so you cannot fathom that sin and holiness are completely inadequate terms for a discussion on marriage, or on belonging to church."

He asks me how it is that he is privileging his sin. I point through the café window, past my bike chained to the veranda post, to the Kmart car park.

"You drove here in a brand new Holden Captiva— you didn't even buy a little Yaris or a Prius. You and I both know these things are destroying the world, and yet you brought you bought a new one—  you drove it here while weeping for your son and your granddaughter. What will she think of you?"

"That's offensive! What else can I do— ride a bike around my parish?"  He smacks at my helmet sitting on the table.

"Yes, you could."

"You have a car."

"I do. An old van I drive only if I have to bring someone to church. But I rode here, the whole 40 kilometres. I will ride to visit a congregant this afternoon, and I'll ride home. You live in the inner suburbs— what is it? 8 kilometres? 25 minutes on a bike? I do it several times a week. Do you even have a bike?"

I can see the answer is no.

"So you have chosen not to buy a bike. You have chosen to buy a four-wheel drive to drive in the city.  You have chosen what you know is sin. Yet you deliberately excuse yourself from adding to the human sinfulness which may kill our grandchildren and half the world when you could choose another way.  You are privileging your sin over mine. The word for that is hypocrisy."

And as the anger of our argument grows, the reader can see that holiness based upon goodness devolves into winners and losers, and is already unravelling into violence. And everything we do to seek to reconcile begins in defensiveness because we fear— we know— that our place among God's gathered people is at risk... and if we are driven out, our deepest sense is to wonder whether God loves us.

In fact, I was initially puzzled why I was so viscerally invested in the early arguments within my Synod about the inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the church—  I really had no idea of the wider spectrum of human  sexuality. My levels of compassion were, frankly, underdeveloped, and I had no idea of the suffering LGBTIQ+ people suffered. And then I realised that even at the beginning, I instinctively knew that if there was no room for my friends, there would soon be no room for me.  Holiness as goodness needs a scapegoat who is bad. Once the scapegoat is cast out, it needs to find another one. As a couple of much older friends who had escaped from a cult said to me, "Andrew, we spent 40 years of bible study watching to see who would make a mistake so we could all jump on him."

Is Fred a "straw man" developed for my convenience here? I think that in Romans 1:18-32, Paul's diatribe against sinners is the same argument. He says in Romans 2:1, "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things."  Even if I were to accept that same gender relationships were sinful— and they are not— I could only condemn them as a hypocrite who pretends his own sinfulness does not matter. Sinfulness and goodness are no criteria for judgement or exclusion; they are inadequate for speaking about holiness. They use oranges to judge apples."


Further reading: “But the Bible says…”? A Catholic reading of Romans 1 

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