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Moral issue? Justice issue? —Answer: 'Who is my neighbor?'

by Stephanie Olson (WordAlone board member)

November 19, 2004

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

photo of Stephanie OlsonAs Christians struggle with the sexual morality issues today, too often, it seems participants in the discussion are not even on the same playing field. Some call it a "justice issue" and others call it a "moral issue," making it difficult to find agreement. The "some" (using the language of the ELCA study Journey Together Faithfully) who propose the Christian Church should perform "marriage" ceremonies for persons in a homosexual relationship, and ordain a person who is in a homosexual sexual relationship, argue these changes are based on justice and call it a justice issue. The "some" who do not believe these are good changes to make in the order of ministry and family organization, argue it is a moral issue, and these changes are in conflict with the moral standards of human society and Christian beliefs.

How can we, as Christians, who are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, watch a homosexual person be abused without compassion and action? Yet, how can committed Christians, walking humbly with our God, not accept God’s design of sexual intercourse as the act of marriage, that is, with sexual intercourse a man and a woman "become one flesh" and "joined by God, let no [person] separate" (Matt. 19:9)? The problems and pain with this conversation are worsened when homosexuals are cruelly or unjustly mistreated by people, some who are confessing Christians, and justice is not done. This has led to significant moral confusion and has thrown many confessing Christians into a state of moral crisis.

We read instructions in the Bible, like in Micah as noted above, and see "love justice" and "do kindness" and it moves us to compassion when the newscast tells us of a homosexual person abused. We feel mercy when we hear them crying because, in their homosexual relationships, their lives are incomplete. This pushes our Christian "justice and kindness buttons" and motivates some, out of pure compassion, to break the rules (both social and Scriptural) to accommodate homosexual sexual activity. The pain of this moral crisis is reflected back when those who cannot agree with this accommodation are labeled "unjust" and "heartless" when they, walking humbly with God, cannot dishonor Him by changing the moral code to accommodate homosexual sex.

So how, here, in the real world, do we, as Christians, do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God? Jesus told us the answer to this in two parables. The first was in the answer He gave to the question "who is my neighbor" after telling us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. We just need to "modernize" the parable and show we learned from it.

"Pat" (gender neutral name intentional) who is openly homosexual, when out for a bike ride was intentionally run off the road by a car, and when on the ground, was kicked and beaten. The bike was run over and left in ruins beside Pat. Terry, president of a local ELCA congregation, recognizes Pat lying with the bike by the road, knows Pat is homosexual, and remembers what Jesus said in Luke 10. Terry stops, calls 911 on a cell phone, and stays with Pat providing blankets and comfort. Terry "loves kindness" in ministering to Pat.

The Christian police officers carefully collect evidence at the scene and use modern detection to arrest those who beat Pat and bring them to trial. At the trial, those accused of beating Pat, defended themselves by stating they caught Pat in the act of homosexual sex, and this act was "an abomination" before God, and that Pat should be punished for this. The judge, also a Christian, publicly agrees homosexual sex is immoral, but states beating another and damaging their property is also immoral and criminal. The jury supports the verdict of aggravated assault and those who beat Pat serve jail time, providing Pat with justice in a fair civil trial.

To deal with the rest we listen to how Jesus taught us in a second situation (John 8), very much like Pat’s above. A woman, caught breaking God’s law by committing adultery, is brought before Jesus for punishment. The punishment for this woman was death by stoning. Jesus made all who were accusing the woman face their own sin before punishing her for adultery. Jesus, acknowledged the woman’s adultery as sin, but He also did not condemn the woman. Rather, He saw her potential for redemption, and challenged her to "go and sin no more." I believe this is where the Christian Church needs to focus in this issue: the redemptive power of Jesus Christ in our lives.

I had the wonderful opportunity in the past year to see anew the redemptive power of our Lord Jesus Christ in the lives of others. I was humbly awed as I watched two people who were seriously broken and in bondage to sin set free and transformed by Jesus Christ. I have seen His redemptive power at work in these lives, which were once in bondage to alcohol, drugs, and/or sex, transforming them into persons who are vital, alive and free to live life abundantly. I am amazed and ashamed at how I forgot, but it was more than 40 years ago when Jesus redeemed me, transformed me and showed me how to live life abundantly.

Forty years ago I was a proud, young Christian, and in prayer, I proudly asked Jesus to take "all that was bad in me" and get rid of it, "right now" so I could be perfect "now." He lovingly said, "I can’t do that." When I asked Him why, He quietly told me, with great compassion, "Because there would be nothing left." I bowed in fear and shame, because I thought I was really pretty close to being good. Then He told me what He would do, if I were willing. He said he would take me, my self, one section at a time, break it down and rebuild it. He said it would be painful at times and I would not always like it, but by doing so, He would redeem me to become the person He wanted me to be. I bowed and agreed. It has been a struggle since, and at times I have succumbed to temptation, failed and bowed again for forgiveness. In all this, Jesus has continued to break down and rebuild. It has been 40 years, and He continues this work in my life now. I am humbly aware of how He has mended my broken-ness and redeemed me from my sinful self daily.

This is what I see Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery, and what I see Jesus Christ can do for Pat—and for those who beat Pat. This is where the Christian Church, the body of Christ, is missing the point in this whole discussion of justice and mercy versus sexual morality. These three things that God asks of us are not mutually exclusive. In Christ, they work together in our lives daily as we allow the redeeming power of Jesus to work in our lives and the lives of others. We too often miss the power of Christ’s words to the woman: "go and sin no more" after she calls Him "Lord." We forget to see that walking with Jesus, she is not only forgiven but also redeemed from her life of sin. In this redemptive power of Jesus Christ, we all may love justice, do kindness, walk humbly with our God and love our neighbor as ourselves.