Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

A magnificent (?) obsession

One of the favorite metaphorical grenades frequently lobbed in the current American culture wars from members of the left into the opposite camp, is captured in a statement I recently came across from Jim Wallis, the left's default (and virtually sole) "evangelical spokesman":

...there are evangelicals who care about other issues besides abortion and sexuality and family matters.

Of course evangelicals during the fifty or so years that I was one cared about every aspect of life because they believed that all of life is given by God and that He has deputized His people to represent Him in every facet of life as ambassadors of His Kingdom. But Wallis and the less demonstrably Christian spokespersons on the left continually come back to the mantra that homosexuality and abortion are the "only" social issues that matter to evangelicals or what they call "the Christian right." And they apply it to any Christians who may have voted for the current President, whether evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox like me.

To Wallis and to the secular left, government programs like welfare and medical insurance for those unable to afford private coverage are issues equal to and, in most cases, more important than abortion and the "right" of homosexual partners to marry. To conservatives, however, most social problems should not be solved primarily by government programs but rather by nonprofit organizations based on their worldview and religious commitments in order to work for the alleviation of suffering and inequities. So I can allow that when it comes to "problems" the government can take a stand on, abortion and special civil rights based on sexual preference or practice may be as readily identifiable as any. And certainly these issues are the ones most Christians are able to unite around. But should Christians be so "obsessed with sex" as a "gay rights" organization press release described this syndrome this past week?

In analyzing my own justifying this way of thinking, I wondered if there is biblical warrant for "sexual sins" having such a central place, or could it be that it has become more of a political cause than a truly religious, moral one. I found my answer in a recent Bible study. In Acts, the Bible's own history of the early church—the very early church, from days to a few years after Jesus' ascension—the first major controversy and contention among the Apostles and disciples was over how gentiles who wanted to become Christians should be treated. Should they be made Jews before they could become Christians? Did they have to be circumcised, or was baptism enough? And did they have to learn and follow the complicated rituals and dietary laws and regulations imposed on the Jews through Moses, or should they be exempted from all but the moral laws (that is, those defined primarily by the Ten Commandments)? Chapter 15 of Acts describes the first council of the church, which was held in Jerusalem to answer these questions. This passage from that chapter describes the Apostles' ruling:

And they wrote letters [to the gentile Christians not able to be at the council] after this manner: "The apostles and elders and brethren send greetings to the gentile brethren who are in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia. For as we have heard that certain [teachers] who went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, 'You must be circumcised and keep the law,' to whom we gave no such commandment. It seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Soirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: That you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication. If you will keep yourselves from these you shall do well. Fare you well."

Acts 15:23-29

Did you catch it? The only dietary restrictions were to abstain from meats sacrificed to idols, and from meat that still had the blood in it (which included animals killed by strangulation). And the only other "social" law they had to keep was to refrain from fornication or, as many modern translations say it, "sexual impurity." Both abortion and homosexual practices are covered in this prohibition; abortion used primarily in this generation as an after-the-fact form of birth control occasioned by unmarried sex, and homosexual practices always being between couples whom God has not joined as husband and wife. Finding this in this context of the first years of the church, when the Roman Empire was just at the beginning of its being converted, strikes me as proof positive that nothing mattered more to the church then, and to God, than sexual purity, and nothing should matter more to the church in this new ever-more-pagan society seemingly modeling itself after the pre-Christian Roman world.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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