Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lessons on LGTB Bridge Building from The Book of Acts, Pt 2

Previously, I wrote a meditation on a lesson learned from Acts 8 on the subject of building bridges with the LGBT community. We saw how Philip placed a greater emphasis on proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Eunuch; he was less concerned with correcting the Eunuch's sexual identity. Today, we look at Acts 10-11, in which Peter receives from God a vision of a sheet filled with unclean animals. God commanded Peter to eat of the animals on that sheet, and he responds, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." God says back to him, "What God has made clean, do not call common." For the longest time, I thought that God was telling Peter and the rest of Christendom that it was now okay to eat these unclean foods, for Christ has come to fulfill the Law. Indeed, that is a part of this story, but there is another component to the vision that teaches us how to build relationships with other people.

At the beginning of Chapter 10, we are introduced to a man named Cornelius who is a Centurion in the Roman Army; we also learn that Centurion was a devout believer. God instructs the soldier to travel to Joppa to find a man named Simon (who is now called Peter). Faithful Cornelius packs his belongings and makes his way to the port city, and four days later, he finds his man. This is what happens next between Cornelius and Peter in Caesarea.

And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man." And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.
And Cornelius said, "Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.' So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord." (Acts 10:23-33, ESV)

Context is needed. Jews and Gentiles were never supposed to mingle with each other; the old Law of the Torah declared Gentiles an unclean people. That means that Peter the Jew and Cornelius the Roman (Gentile) should never be friends. Furthermore, early Christians and Romans didn't get on well either, yet we have a Jewish Christian and a Roman Christian sitting "in the presence of God." God called Cornelius, the Roman Christian, to visit the Christian Jew named Peter, a command that violated so many social norms and the covenant of the Torah. In fact, the Greek word that we translate as unlawful in v. 28 is athémitos, and another translation of that word is abomination. We've seen this word before in other passages from Scripture, from the Torah in fact.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22, ESV)
It was an abomination for Gentiles and Jews to associate with each other. It was unlawful for men have sex with other men. These words, for the Biblical person, had the same meaning. God tells Peter, "Do not call common that which I have made clean." Before we jump to the conclusion that Bible clearly says that homosexuality is not a sin, let's step back to look at the bigger picture. Just as the ancient Jewish Christian no longer needed to fear the threat of defilement from being in the same room as a Gentile Christian, we no longer need to fear, judge, or exile the members of the LGBT community from our churches or presence. God has declared them clean, just as He has declared straight people clean. Many people, however, are loathe to associate themselves with members of the gay community; fear drives many possible relationships a Christian could have with a gay man or woman.

"What do I say if they ask if homosexuality is a sin?"

"What if my gay friend dates another dude?"

"My gay neighbors invited me to their wedding this fall. I'm afraid that if I go, I will validate their sinful relationship."

"My daughter just came out to me. What do I do?"

"My gay co-worker just asked me to have a drink with him at a local bar. Is he hitting on me?"

Love is not the foundation of those questions; fear and anxiety is. God says in His Scriptures to not call common or unclean that which he has made clean, and Jesus commands us to love one another. Peter and Cornelius did the unthinkable for people of their generation; they sat together in the presence of God. What will we do? How will we act? Will we define people by their sin? Or will we see who each person can be, whether straight, gay, bi, transgendered, or questioning, in the person of Jesus Christ?

Until next time,

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