Love in Christianity

I am not Christian. I read the Bible (typically the Revised Standard Edition, although I often compare with other translations) as an exercise in understanding the perspective and motivations of the most common religion in my culture, and there are some parts of it I genuinely enjoy. Whether I like reading it or not, however, it is inevitable that I will hear it quoted at me.

So sometimes I quote it back.

To build an extended case here in favor of Biblical approval of same-sex marriage, I submit the following.

1 John 4:7-21 establishes the premise that God is love, that loving is equivalent to godliness and that disdaining love is the very opposite. Point in fact, it states that anyone who claims to know God while disdaining love is a liar.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 explains the nature of love, which I quote here for emphasis: patience, kindness, never jealous or boastful, nor arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong, only right. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things — and it is everlasting, whereas everything else, even scripture, is doomed to decay. Notice some of these qualifiers: it does not insist on its own way, it endures all things, believes all things, bears all things. If God is love incarnate, then how can these not apply to God as well?

The word “rejoice” invokes Romans 12:9-21, specifically verse 15 where it says to rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. This calls back to Mark 12:31 and Matthew 22:39 which invoke the law we have collectively come to term the Golden Rule.

Jesus commands love for each other in John 13:34-35 and states that the love of his followers will make them recognizable to others, evoking Matthew 7:15-20‘s “knowing them by their fruits” and then describing that the bad fruit is indeed evil. This love is commanded to be universal as both Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 10:25-37 assure us.

All the law is summarized in Romans 13:8-10, and it is summarized as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and further clarified, “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” If you should happen to be a person who thumps the Bible and invokes Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 and say you do this out of love, and your neighbor tells you that your love is causing harm, then it cannot be love — and with that bookend, those who do not love, do not know God.

As for the nature of sin, Paul described it in Romans 14:13-23 as, to invoke Martin Luther King Jr., an inescapable network of mutuality. Those who love without reservation are closest to God regardless of their orientation, and if the sight of those lovers brings you such a crisis of faith… well, I won’t quote any of the three passages regarding what Jesus would rather you do to your eyes than stumble. We can be quiet in our love, but if you demand that our love cease or be hidden away so as to make us quieter still, then the time has come to lose the part of yourself that is so intent on violating the law.

In this case, I recommend it be the part of your faith that has demanded you invoke the final item in Proverbs 6:16-19, but ultimately, it rests with you.

Originally published in Kimberly Knight’s blog, Coming Out Christian, with slight modifications.

Numbers 5:11-31

Trigger warning: Abortion

Those of you who are familiar with my debating rhetoric probably know that I am partial to these verses. While Exodus 21 (pre-Happy Meal translations) and certain lines referencing the breath of life have their merits, nothing quite sums up the Biblical point of view, for me, than a ritual for which the intention was to destroy a fetus.

The text of Numbers 5:11-31 goes on at some length, repeating its contents about three times, but the key part is this:

Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

This is one of several reasons why I do not believe the Bible upholds a right to life from conception onward.

Rather than go on at length about my pro-choice position (I feel little I have to say would be new to anyone), I’d like to signal boost someone else instead.

Trigger warning for abortion and rape discussion.

Defeating the Dragons: Ordeal of the Bitter Waters

Pope Francis and his opposition

As many of you will have probably already heard, Pope Francis came out recently with a message about faith and good deeds that turned some people upside-down in a scramble to creatively re-interpret it to mean what they thought it should mean.

What Pope Francis said was definitive. He was adamant about it.

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone,” the pope told worshipers at morning Mass on Wednesday. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!

He didn’t say everyone has the opportunity to be saved if only they pursue a very specific teaching of Christianity. He said we are all saved, full stop.

It continues to amaze me that so many people, from fundamentalists to atheists, insist that it must be otherwise. To begin with, this view isn’t even supported by the Bible. The very lines cherry-picked to exclude non-Christians are part of a larger context which states the opposite. If you will forgive a little armchair theology, I would like to give my interpretation of these verses.

Romans 3:22[a]: This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

This is an example of how tweaking the translation changes the meaning altogether to one which is convenient to the person using the text as a clobber verse. The original translation was “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Suddenly the meaning of the text changes completely from “if you believe, you are righteous” to “you are righteous because of him, if you believe this story.”

Moreover, those who quote this often prefer to skip over Romans 3:22[b]-24, which states that all people are justified by the sacrifice. This is repeatedly upheld by Romans 5; verse 1, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21. That’s pretty definitive as well.

But it all ties in with–

Romans 3:28: For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

This is usually interpreted as a variant of “by faith, not works,” indicating that works alone are insufficient. Yet Romans 3 goes on immediately to say that God justifies everyone through the same faith, both Jews and Gentiles. How can this be, if Jews and Gentiles have different faiths? It then concludes, Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. Upholding the law is a tenet of the faith, therefore upholding the law is upholding faith.

This is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament. Those who believe, do. Those who do, believe. The two are tied together, as we’ll see in–

John 14:6: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

This one actually makes me angry. It’s such a dishonest reading of the text. It’s one sentence in a passage that says much more. John 14:5-14 is the whole of it.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

The verse which, so carefully plucked from the whole, suddenly conveys a completely different message when laid back into its proper context. Suddenly it has nothing to do with faith in Jesus and everything to do with faith in his teachings. “How do we know the way to God?” Thomas asks, and Jesus replies, “I’m going to God, so just do what I do.” John 14:23-24 reinforces the message: Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. Matthew 25’s description of the day of judgment drives the message in even harder.

Doing good deeds isn’t enough, no. My interpretation, reinforced by reading the Bible several times over, however, is that the faith in Christ has nothing to do with having faith in Christ as a deity and everything to do with faith in the meaning of his teachings. Christ taught sacrifice over and over. He taught that the greatest act of grace is to give up something of your own for a person with less, whether it’s money, possessions, time and attention or simply love.

Moreover, as Slacktivist members and Fred Clark himself have said over and over, if we are truly in the image of God and God is without our limitations, then God cannot have less love, mercy, justice or compassion than the least of us. If my love, mercy, justice and compassion are greater than God’s, then that cannot be a God worth worshiping — and I do not believe such an entity could exist and still be God.

I refuse to believe a sociopath can care more about people than God, and I love you all enough to make great sacrifices for you. Why should God be any different?