A liberal Christian take on the punishment of sexual sin.
So, months after I started my petition to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene in the plans of Uganda to bring in the death penalty for gay people, I still haven’t reached 100 signatures. I have to admit, I am disappointed and perturbed. Fortunately, other secular petitions have had much more success and the bill has been shelved again, but that hasn’t stopped me from wondering where all the liberal Christians are, and why we seem so reluctant to stand up for what we believe.
Possibly the problem is that the fundamentalists know exactly what they believe and can point to the biblical passages they think support them. They have no doubt, because that’s the comfort of fundamentalism – clear rules, black and white morality and no need to figure things out for yourself.
I’m pretty sure the Bible refers to that kind of legalism as being something suitable for a child – something that has to be outgrown when the believer becomes mature enough to make their own decisions, hear God’s spirit for themselves and learn to understand the principles behind sin and grace, evil and good so they can guide themselves like a grown up in the world.
So, let’s go back to the idea of executing someone because they take part in a sexual sin. What is the Christian position on this?
First of all, we’ve got to ask ourselves, are we sure that being gay is a sin at all? For my own part, I’m convinced by arguments like these http://whosoever.org/bible/ that it is not. I feel that if we’re not 100% sure that something even is a sin, it’s a travesty of injustice to punish it as if it was equivalent to murder.
But what about those Christians who are not convinced by the arguments that being gay is not a sin at all? What should be their position on the idea of capital punishment for sexual sin?
Fortunately we have extremely clear guidance on this question. I would hope there could be no better guide for Christians than Christ himself. What did he do when he came across a group of people trying to execute someone (by stoning) for a sexual sin?
He said “let him who has no sin cast the first stone.”
His hearers were wise enough to realise that none of them came into this category. Gradually they figured out that they didn’t have a leg to stand on when it came to thinking they were so righteous they could afford to condemn anyone else. Eventually they became so ashamed of themselves that they slunk away and left the poor adulteress unharmed. Then Jesus – who was without sin, and had every right to judge – said “neither do I condemn you”, suggested she might like not to do it again, and let her go.
How anyone could get from this to “slay all the sinners!” I have no idea. But to my mind, if we know what Christ would do, and we decide we know better – if we think we are more righteous and have more right to condemn our neighbour than Jesus, who refused to do so, I venture to say we’re doing it wrong.
And if we think our brothers and sisters in Uganda are doing it wrong, is it not our duty to say so? Is it not our duty to help them to be merciful? Is it not our duty, in short, even if we think being gay is a sin to oppose the brutal punishment of sinners, because that’s not Jesus’ way?
And if we think being gay is not a sin, then shouldn’t we be furious and appalled that people think it’s somehow Christian to murder people for no damn good reason whatsoever? I think we should. As they say – for evil to triumph it is only necessary for good people to do nothing. It’s time us non-fundamentalists stopped silently shaking our heads and started at least saying ‘no’.
Admittedly, because we all have to make up our own minds we will never have the united voice the fundamentalists have, but even that – even hearing a chorus of Christians who think many different things and disagree with each other – will do something to reduce the effectiveness of the apparently unified voices calling for intolerance and oppression.
Besides, how can we live with ourselves if we sit back and say nothing?