Gay versus the poor
by David Cook
April 12, 2007
I’m constantly perplexed by the amount of energy that my fellow Christians invest into the debate over homosexuality and the church.
It feels to me like a whole lot of people have got their understanding of what’s important in their faith completely out of kilter.
A while back at a music festival I was sitting with a bunch of Christian friends, and the subject of homosexuality came up. I mentioned that I thought there were more important things to worry about, and anyway there’s only a handful of verses in the whole Bible – New and Old Testaments – that directly deal with the issue of homosexuality, and that even some of these are a matter of scholarly and interpretive debate.
The vehement response was a real example of how the subject touches a raw nerve with a lot of Christians, and how much emotional energy they’re willing to put into arguing and proving their case. But sadly I think it’s a misguided result of a church culture that has an unbalanced emphasis on personal morality issues.
Consider this: there are only a handful of verses in the Bible that deal with homosexuality (a sample of some has been collated here http://www.biblebb.com/files/tniv/HOMOSEX.TXT ). Yet when it comes to direct commands for the follower of God to attend to the needs of the poor and stand up for the rights of the oppressed, the Bible is overloaded. For a comparison, click here http://www.biblebb.com/files/tniv/POOR.TXT and here http://www.zompist.com/meetthepoor.html.
If you cut out all the verses in the Bible that speak of the obligation to the poor, you’d basically not have a Bible left. Yet many conservative Christians somehow boil their faith down to personal morality issues. In an interview with buzzflash.com, Sojourners chief Jim Wallis points out that poverty is a big moral issue too, and one that the Bible gives great importance to.
“The right is very comfortable with the language of faith and values and God and faith. In fact, they think they own it sometimes, or almost own religion or own God.
“And then they narrow everything to one or two hot-button social issues, as if abortion and gay marriage are the only two moral values questions. And those are important issues and they need a deeper, wider conversation – kind of a moral discussion on all sides. That’s fine.
“But did anybody really suggest or imagine these are the only two moral values issues? I’m an Evangelical Christian and I find 3,000 verses in the Bible on the poor, so fighting poverty is a moral value too . . .” (For the full interview click here http://www.buzzflash.com/interviews/05/02/int05008.html)
The Bible also has plenty of content warning against many things that are conspicously absent from the passionate (and usually sincere) rantings of most Christians.
For instance, there are many stories that warn against the evil of absentee landlords but I don’t hear too many Christians getting worked up about this issue (probably because many in the Bible belt are themselves absentee landlords).
The Good Book also clearly speaks against lending money for repayment with interest (now an accepted norm of our society), the dangers of wealth and material accumulation, and on it goes.
Yet despite the weight of such pressing issues that the Bible appears to focus on, the modern Christian church spends much of its time and energy on this issue of homosexuality, and particularly, it seems to me, the average pew-sitter doesn’t spend a proportional amount of energy getting passionately involved with responding to the Biblical directives about poverty.
It really troubles me, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.
And to be perfectly blunt, I think it’s because the gay issue is a soft target for many Christians that requires little real commitment or sacrifice.
It’s much easier to huff and puff in church and public meetings and get a feel-good sensation from having “taken a stand” for your faith than actually having to make difficult choices about your own lifestyle.
Responding to the multiplicity of verses in the Bible about obligations to the poor, oppressed and suffering is difficult, complex and an ongoing challenge. It requires constant struggle over issues of money, lifestyle, political ideology and materialist culture – and then actually doing something about it.
It’s seems to me to be much easier to spout invective about the evils of homosexuality (and feel self-righteous because you’re “not like that”) and maintain your personal status quo than to question whether you really need the new Lexus, if it’s ethical to own shares in a company that profits from the arms trade, or why you don’t know anybody who is poor besides the World Vision kid in the picture on your fridge.
The morals of homosexuality may or may not be arguable from a Biblical perspective, but that’s not my issue and I don’t really care to debate it (those who are interested in a background to both sides of the argument should click here http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibi.htm). But really, if you have a view that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, that’s up to you and you can argue that with someone else.
My gripe is that the whole debate seems to serve as a smokescreen for inaction on issues that the Bible gives more priority to.
If Christians could inject as much passion and energy into the issues that the Bible actually focuses on, then collectively we might make a huge difference to the state of the world that demonstrates the vitality that we claim our faith has, rather than looking like a bunch of finger-waggers who stand at a safe distance throwing stones at others or denying communion to one section of the community as a means to “protecting” our piece of turf.