The President’s disclosure that he now accepts so-called “Gay marriage” has received a good bit of political analysis. I am no political prognosticator and this is not a political blog. But when the President invokes Christ and the “golden rule,” to justify his decision, now I think we have something to discuss on a blog like this.
We have discussed at great length the problem with homosexual “marriage” before HERE, HERE HERE, and HERE) there is no reason restate it all again. Just click through to read those sorts of articles. Further I make reference in this post to Scripture’s consistent teaching forbidding Homosexual acts. I do not set forth all the Scriptures here but you can read what I have set forth more fully here: Biblical Teaching on Homosexual Activity
In this post however lets consider the problematic appeal of the President to Jesus to affirm Gay “marriage.” Specifically Mr Obama said to ABC News:
…In the end the values that I care most deeply about and she [Michele] cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me….
It is a common problem today that people often present simplistic portraits of Jesus Christ to support a variety of agendas. And the portraits of Jesus are not only simplistic, they are incomplete (usually intentionally so), and fail to accept that Jesus cannot be reduced to a simple sentence or two.
I would argue this is what the President is doing here. As if to say, “Jesus, was basically a nice and affirming person, who spoke of Love, and so beautifully and taught us to do unto to others as we would have them do to us. “Surely,” the thinking goes, “this Jesus would affirm and rejoice over two Gay people getting “married.”” It is as if this were all Jesus was or said, “Love…Do unto others”. Never mind that he had some pretty high standards when it came to sexuality (Matt 5:27-30; Matt 15:19; Mk 10:11; Rev 22:15; Rev 21:8) Never mind that he told his apostles he had other things to teach them and would send his Holy Spirit, and never mind that His Holy Spirit inspired the Epistles writers like Paul to speak clearly in the ancient Biblical tradition about the sinfulness of homosexual activity, fornication, and adultery  “Never mind all that,” says the modern world, and our President, “I chose the Jesus who said only, ‘God is love, and be kind to one another.'”
And this is the textbook definition of heresy, to pick or choose. The English word derives from the Greek word hairesis, meaning to chose.
The essence of orthodoxy is in the balance [3, 4] and maintaining the tensions inherent in Jesus and the Christian message. The essence of heresy is to pick and choose. And, as author Ross Douthat has ably demonstrated in his book Bad Religion – How we became a nation of heretics, there is a lot of heresy being peddled today. Heresy picks one, or perhaps several teachings, and emphasizes them in exclusion to other teachings which balance and complete them. And to be fair, as Douthat points out, heresy is not just a problem on the left side of the political or theological aisle. The right does it as well (e.g. prosperity gospel, easy justification for war etc).
The modern tendency on the left, from which the President speaks has been to reduce Jesus to a rather harmless hippie who went about talking about love and inclusion and healed people. Gone from this harmless and politically correct Jesus are volumes of verses that help complete the picture: a Messiah who claimed authority in our lives, who spoke quite clearly of sin, yes even sexual sin, and who warned repeatedly of the coming judgment, and the reality not only heaven, but of hell.
But Jesus is not either of these descriptions alone, he is both. Orthodoxy is in the balance, not choosing one or the other or tipping in one direction.
In a masterful description, Ross Douthot shows the paradoxes and the necessary balances about Jesus and the faith with which true orthodoxy must wrestle and hold in tension:
Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a wise ethicist the next. He’s a fierce critic of Jewish religious law who insists that he’s actually fulfilling rather than subverting it. He preaches a reversal of every social hierarchy while deliberately avoiding explicitly political claims. He promises to set parents against children and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. He makes wild claims about his own relationship to God, and perhaps his own divinity, without displaying any of the usual signs of megalomania or madness. He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping. And of course the accounts of his resurrection only heighten these paradoxes, by introducing a post-crucifixion Jesus who is somehow neither a resuscitated body nor a flitting ghost but something even stranger still—a being at once fleshly and supernatural, recognizable and transfigured, bearing the wounds of the crucifixion even as he passes easily through walls. (Kindle Edition Loc. 3005-16)
Douthat goes on to conclude:
The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus…..[Where heresy says which one] Both, says orthodoxy….The goal of the great heresies, on the other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus. (Ibid).
Indeed a remarkable passage, even if I might quibble with a few words (e.g. the standards of Jesus moral vision are not “impossible” with grace). I would highly recommend the book and will be commenting on it some more in days ahead.
Disclaimer! - In saying the President is exemplifying heresy (i.e. pick and chose Christianity), I am alleging material heresy, but I am not call him a heretic. It is not my role or in my competency to to declare someone a formal heretic.
But the President is clearly proclaiming a very partial and thus reconstructed Christ. The real Christ is, as Douthat ably notes, far more complicated and far less vague than the President would have us think. And there is far more to his teaching than the “Golden Rule.”
Another form of heresy common today is to pick and chose Scripture. The usual approach, especially in terms of homosexuality and sexual matters in general, is to reduce the entire New Testament to the verbal utterances of Jesus alone, a kind of “red letter” reductionism. This of course, denies the inspiration of the entire New Testament and, in effect, says that Acts, all the Epistles, and Revelation are not the Word of God, are not inspired, and may safely be ignored.
But this is heresy since we cannot pick and choose the books of the Bible, we cannot tear out pages, or cross out lines. Orthodoxy is to accept the whole of the Sacred Text, and to consider its claims with reference to the whole of Scripture and in keeping with its trajectory. For a Catholic, of course this is done in union with the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition.
Many supporters of homosexual behavior adopt this heresy by saying, “Jesus never said a word about or against Homosexuality.” True, but he also never said a word about a lot of things: drinking to excess, beating one’s wife, he never forbade ethnic humor, or said people should wear clothes, He never declared how big and how much money should be spent on the military etc, whether Government should provide welfare etc. Since Jesus did not say out of his own mouth we cannot beat our wives then it must be okay to beat them? Of course not. An argument from silence is very poor and unhelpful.
Further it is heresy to say divine revelation closed with the ascension of Jesus. Rather it continues unto the death of the last apostle. The Epistles are every bit the Word of the Lord, and authored by the Same Holy Spirit as are the Gospels. We cannot pick and choose what we like.
To be clear, the reading of Scripture is not a purely mechanistic endeavor. For example, merely pulling proof texts out of thin air, and out of context is wrong, for that too is often heresy – picking one thing, forgetting the rest.
Rather, Scripture is to be read in a way which respects the overall trajectory of the Scriptures as God leads his people through stages to Christ. Therefore certain things are operative early in Scripture (e.g. certain feasts, dietary laws and punitive measures) that later fall away or are fulfilled. Thus Passover is fulfilled and subsumed into the Eucharist, Jesus cancels dietary laws by declaring all foods clean, the application of stoning and other severe punishments are curtailed etc. But all these organic developments take place in Scripture itself, and can be observed there.
However, there ARE teachings (notably the Divine Moral Law) that remain unchanged and are continuously articulated at every stage of Biblical revelation. They do not undergo change or fall away.
Regarding sexuality, at no stage in the Old Testament all the way through to the end of the New Testament, is fornication or adultery affirmed. The same is true for homosexual acts. At no stage, anywhere in Sacred Scripture are homosexual acts or fornication, or adultery ever affirmed, nor are these acts described as anything but sinful (e.g. Leviticus 18: 22; Lev 20:13; Gen 19; 1 Corinthians 6-9; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Rom 1:19ff, inter al).
Thus orthodoxy, which holds to the whole and does not pick and choose Scripture, must in every way accept and announce that these are sinful acts, sinful enough to exclude one from the Kingdom if they are not repented of (e.g. 1 Cor 6:9).
Simply ushering in a “Jesus is love” argument cannot override texts like these. For the same Scripture which says, God is love, also contains these teachings forbidding extra-marital sex and a host of other moral teachings. The Biblical record sees no essential conflict in saying both “God is love” and “Fornication, Adultery, and Homosexual acts are sinfully wrong.” Thus neither should we have a problem. Orthodoxy says “both.” Heresy says, “there is tension here and I am going to resolve it by picking the concept I like and excluding the other.”
The orthodox approach accepts the tension and sees a Christ who loves sinners (us) and holds them close, but who also summons us to repentance and a life that is increasingly free from sin and conformed to the truth by his grace .
I don’t know how the President will fare politically, but he has flunked theology and is, if you ask me (and even if you don’t) refashioned Jesus for his own purpose.
As for comments, I would rather not debate the whole Gay Marriage issue and/or the sinfulness of homosexuality. We’ve done that here before and the Church teaching is clear and is not going to change. I am most interested in comments that zero in on the problem of heresy – pick and choose Christianity and how it relates not only to this issue but others as well. But you decide.