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Priestly vows and homosexuality

by Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
The controversy surrounding Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera’s position that individuals ought to be allowed to define their sexuality and the stout defence of that position by The Rev. Fr. Yohan Devananda (a.k.a. John Peiris) make it necessary for me to take up my pen again. Fr. Yohan would have done himself more credit had he not gone on to describe my response to the Bishop in the Sunday Times as a "broadside" before reading it at all. He has commented in two versions of essentially the same article in the newspapers, the Island (22 April, 2003) and The Daily Mirror (25 April, 2003). In The Island he claims that I had quoted some inconclusive and unconvincing texts from the Bible, whereas I did not quote single verse from the Bible. In his second article, apparently after reading my piece, he says, rightly, that I objected to the Bishop’s position as being against the Bible and the formularies of the church.

Christian ethics, which include truthfulness and integrity, have come down from the Bible and the Church has affirmed these for 2000 years without controversy. Non-Christians, who largely share these values, have not been in doubt as to what they are, at least until recently. As a practising Christian, I am enjoined to write when senior churchmen give non-Christians very mistaken ideas about Christian morals. It is for this reason that I took issue with the Bishop of Colombo when he pronounced homosexuality as an acceptable practice within Christianity in a media interview. Others supported me.

Let me say at the outset that while it is un-Christian to vilify homosexuals, the practice is unacceptable within the Church. Fr. Yohan’s argument to the contrary is threefold: - viz 1) Several ancient and indigenous cultures accepted homosexuality; 2) St. Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality was based on his peculiar Jewish roots and hence lacks universal application; and 3) As Fr. Yohan charges, I and the others with me have not understood the mind of Christ which is about love and servanthood, and therefore we must accept loving and non-aggressive homosexual relationships.

Any careful student of the Bible would realize that Christ and his apostle Paul affirmed each other regarding sexual conduct acceptable among Christians! Differences are created artificially by failing to distinguish between the audiences they addressed at different times. Both of them affirmed the Law of God as given in the Old Testament to be valid till the end of time. Christ, when addressing his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount affirms this in the strongest terms (Matthew 5:17-18) and warns them that they must observe the spirit of the law and not the mere letter. Thus lusting after a woman, and not just the physical act, becomes adultery.

Christ’s strongest rebukes were aimed at the Jewish priesthood - the Pharisees and the Sadducees, The reason: They were by tradition, the protectors of the received Word - the law and the prophets. It was a position they used for their personal aggrandisment while losing sight of the spirit of the Law and the quality of mercy. This is significant, for when he dealt with ordinary sinners and gentiles (the Canaanite woman, the centurion, and the Samaritan woman at the well), there was no trace of rebuke, but rather courtesy and personal concern for the individual. In the same spirit, Christ told Pilate that those who brought him to be crucified had the greater sin.

The same could be seen in Paul. He was as stern in reprimanding unbecoming conduct among Christian communities as Christ was with the Pharisees. The reasons were identical. Those, to whom God had given the Word and had received it to preserve and witness it, would be judged more severely for their transgressions, which became a stumbling block to others. It is something our bishops and priests must not forget.

On the other hand, when dealing with those outside the faith, Paul was courteous and appealed to them on commonly accepted values - e.g. respect for the rule of the law when dealing with Roman officials and governors. Also when his ship ran into a storm on his journey to Rome, rather than talking about their morals, Paul was solicitous for the welfare of his shipmates, soldiers and sailors, and saw them through to safety despite the loss of the ship.

Let us then drop this misleading canard about significant differences between Christ and Paul. They both accepted the Law and the Prophets as standards laid down by God for all time, as the only basis on which there can be social harmony, trust and fidelity. It is a matter for great surprise that some of our leaders who have studied the Bible over a lifetime should choose to interpret the "Mind of Christ" by using what he did not say explicitly, forgetting the very ancient tradition to which he was appealing. Indeed Christ always addressed the Jewish audience and he did not repeat what they all accepted. It was his task to preach the Kingdom and he exhorted his listeners to give life to the Law by going beyond the merely legalistic - e.g. going the extra mile. Moreover, it was to be expected that homosexuality, which they all regarded as an abomination, should not be mentioned in public.

With Paul, it was different. He was dealing with fledgling Churches in Gentile communities, where prohibitions, though they existed, were not so strong. In the case of practices where no compromise was possible, Paul, in his Epistles, had to exhort the Churches sternly, and even have some members expelled to preserve the purity of the Gospel. The conduct of Christians was not to be the stumbling block of others receiving the Gospel.

Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees and Paul’s sternness with the Christian elders who failed in the nurture of their flock had the same rationale - those who received the revelation of God and the grace following it, had failed in their commission and had abused their position are to be judged far more harshly than those who sinned outside the revelation. The priesthood that sought the crucifixion of Christ was far guiltier than Pilate, the Roman proconsul who sanctioned crucifixion.

A further word about Christ’s respect for tradition. When the Pharisees asked Christ about divorce (Maiversal application; and 3) As Fr. Yohan charges, I and the others with me have not understood the mind of Christ which is about love and servanthood, and therefore we must accept loving and non-aggressive homosexual relationships.

Any careful student of the Bible would realize that Christ and his apostle Paul affirmed each other regarding sexual conduct acceptable among Christians! Differences are created artificially by failing to distinguish between the audiences they addressed at different times. Both of them affirmed the Law of God as given in the Old Testament to be valid till the end of time. Christ, when addressing his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount affirms this in the strongest terms (Matthew 5:17-18) and warns them that they must observe the spirit of the law and not the mere letter. Thus lusting after a woman, and not just the physical act, becomes adultery.

Christ’s strongest rebukes were aimed at the Jewish priesthood - the Pharisees and the Sadducees, The reason: They were by tradition, the protectors of the received Word - the law and the prophets. It was a position they used for their personal aggrandisment while losing sight of the spirit of the Law and the quality of mercy. This is significant, for when he dealt with ordinary sinners and gentiles (the Canaanite woman, the centurion, and the Samaritan woman at the well), there was no trace of rebuke, but rather courtesy and personal concern for the individual. In the same spirit, Christ told Pilate that those who brought him to be crucified had the greater sin.

The same could be seen in Paul. He was as stern in reprimanding unbecoming conduct among Christian communities as Christ was with the Pharisees. The reasons were identical. Those, to whom God had given the Word and had received it to preserve and witness it, would be judged more severely for their transgressions, which became a stumbling block to others. It is something our bishops and priests must not forget.

On the other hand, when dealing with those outside the faith, Paul was courteous and appealed to them on commonly accepted values - e.g. respect for the rule of the law when dealing with Roman officials and governors. Also when his ship ran into a storm on his journey to Rome, rather than talking about their morals, Paul was solicitous for the welfare of his shipmates, soldiers and sailors, and saw them through to safety despite the loss of the ship.

Let us then drop this misleading canard about significant differences between Christ and Paul. They both accepted the Law and the Prophets as standards laid down by God for all time, as the only basis on which there can be social harmony, trust and fidelity. It is a matter for great surprise that some of our leaders who have studied the Bible over a lifetime should choose to interpret the "Mind of Christ" by using what he did not say explicitly, forgetting the very ancient tradition to which he was appealing. Indeed Christ always addressed the Jewish audience and he did not repeat what they all accepted. It was his task to preach the Kingdom and he exhorted his listeners to give life to the Law by going beyond the merely legalistic - e.g. going the extra mile. Moreover, it was to be expected that homosexuality, which they all regarded as an abomination, should not be mentioned in public.

With Paul, it was different. He was dealing with fledgling Churches in Gentile communities, where prohibitions, though they existed, were not so strong. In the case of practices where no compromise was possible, Paul, in his Epistles, had to exhort the Churches sternly, and even have some members expelled to preserve the purity of the Gospel. The conduct of Christians was not to be the stumbling block of others receiving the Gospel.

Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees and Paul’s sternness with the Christian elders who failed in the nurture of their flock had

the same rationale - those who received the revelation of God and the grace following it, had failed in their commission and had abused their position are to be judged far more harshly than those who sinned outside the revelation. The priesthood that sought the crucifixion of Christ was far guiltier than Pilate, the Roman proconsul who sanctioned crucifixion.

A further word about Christ’s respect for tradition. When the Pharisees asked Christ about divorce (Mark 10: 2-9), Christ rejected Moses’ leniency saying that he had been pushed to compromise with a people who had become hard-hearted. He went on to say: "From the beginning of creation God made them male and the female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave unto his wife, and the twain shall be one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together let no man put asunder." The second sentence above was quoted by Christ from Genesis 2:24, once more showing his deep respect for tradition while clarifying its deep spirit. The first part affirms heterosexual union as part of God’s plan for mankind.

The sanctity of marriage - joining an individual man to an individual woman - and its indissolubility were therefore ordained by God. The protection of fidelity within that divinely ordained union has therefore been enjoined as a part of the discipline of indirk 10: 2-9), Christ rejected Moses’ leniency saying that he had been pushed to compromise with a people who had become hard-hearted. He went on to say: "From the beginning of creation God made them male and the female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave unto his wife, and the twain shall be one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together let no man put asunder." The second sentence above was quoted by Christ from Genesis 2:24, once more showing his deep respect for tradition while clarifying its deep spirit. The first part affirms heterosexual union as part of God’s plan for mankind.

The sanctity of marriage - joining an individual man to an individual woman - and its indissolubility were therefore ordained by God. The protection of fidelity within that divinely ordained union has therefore been enjoined as a part of the discipline of individuals and the Church as a community. Can anyone dare to suggest that Christ even remotely contemplated homosexual unions on similar terms? It is only a Church that has chosen a course towards insignificance in compromising with a world of quicksilver relationships, that can promote such ideas, by misappropriating words such as "love".

After dissecting apart St. Paul and Christ, another step in the game of intellectual contortions by our new Christian leadership-gone-astray, is to bring "ancient indigenous cultures" as having parallel sanction. This is a poor argument. The Bible too speaks of "ancient indigenous cultures" that practised child sacrifices (Psalm 106:36, 37 and Ezekiel 16: 36) were condemned by the prophets in the strongest terms. As Christians, we cannot get away from the fact that God revealed himself to the ancient Jewish nation in a special way and refined them through much suffering to be fit to receive the Messiah and the Gospel. There are no other standard for Christians.

Besides disservice to Christ and his Church, Fr. Yohan also does Greco-Roman culture a disservice to further his argument. C.S. Lewis, whose writings profoundly influenced three generations of Christians, in his essay "The Poison of Subjectivism", dismisses the divergence of ethical standards among different culture as "a good, solid, resounding lie": "[A man spending a few days with Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics] will soon discover viduals and the Church as a community. Can anyone dare to suggest that Christ even remotely contemplated homosexual unions on similar terms? It is only a Church that has chosen a course towards insignificance in compromising with a world of quicksilver relationships, that can promote such ideas, by misappropriating words such as "love".

After dissecting apart St. Paul and Christ, another step in the game of intellectual contortions by our new Christian leadership-gone-astray, is to bring "ancient indigenous cultures" as having parallel sanction. This is a poor argument. The Bible too speaks of "ancient indigenous cultures" that practised child sacrifices (Psalm 106:36, 37 and Ezekiel 16: 36) were condemned by the prophets in the strongest terms. As Christians, we cannot get away from the fact that God revealed himself to the ancient Jewish nation in a special way and refined them through much suffering to be fit to receive the Messiah and the Gospel. There are no other standard for Christians.

Besides disservice to Christ and his Church, Fr. Yohan also does Greco-Roman culture a disservice to further his argument. C.S. Lewis, whose writings profoundly influenced three generations of Christians, in his essay "The Poison of Subjectivism", dismisses the divergence of ethical standards among different culture as "a good, solid, resounding lie": "[A man spending a few days with Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics] will soon discover the massive unanimity of practical reason in man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from the Australian aborigines Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery, and falsehood, the same injunction of kindness to the aged, the young and the weak, of almsgiving, impartiality and honesty`85 he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the Law of Nature." Lewis adds, "It is untrue to say that Greeks thought sexual perversion innocent. The continual tittering in Plato is more evidential than the stern prohibition of Aristotle. Men titter thus only about what they regard as, at least, a peccadillo`85"

It is but right that the whole debate on homosexuality raises several facets about identity. Christian ministers and Bishops who vowed to uphold the teachings of Christ, advocating un-Christian positions. Men of God who are supposed to preach love, rushing to attack without even reading the piece they attack. Bishops living in and preaching heterosexual marriage to us at Sunday School, preaching quite something else in the newspapers. Bishops and clerics who consider themselves liberal preaching peace to the nation while defending in Church forums the practice of standardization that sparked off the militancy. Priests preaching the simple ashramic life, running NGOs that support their chauffethe massive unanimity of practical reason in man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from the Australian aborigines Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery, and falsehood, the same injunction of kindness to the aged, the young and the weak, of almsgiving, impartiality and honesty`85 he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the Law of Nature." Lewis adds, "It is untrue to say that Greeks thought sexual perversion innocent. The continual tittering in Plato is more evidential than the stern prohibition of Aristotle. Men titter thus only about what they regard as, at least, a peccadillo`85"

It is but right that the whole debate on homosexuality raises several facets about identity. Christian ministers and Bishops who vowed to uphold the teachings of Christ, advocating un-Christian positions. Men of God who are supposed to preach love, rushing to attack without even reading the piece they attack. Bishops living in and preaching heterosexual marriage to us at Sunday School, preaching quite something else in the newspapers. Bishops and clerics who consider themselves liberal preaching peace to the nation while defending in Church forums the practice of standardization that sparked off the militancy. Priests preaching the simple ashramic life, running NGOs that support their chauffeur-driven cars and hand-phones that most of us cannot afford. And indeed, priests whose duty is to preach the Gospel, wearing chakras round their neck, quoting and asking us to live by the standards of the Paganism that Christ came to overcame.

We would be excused for wondering if our Church leadership positions have been taken over by confidence tricksters who live off our tithes by pretending to be something they are not.


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