Monday, May 23, 2005

God's Law and Civil Law

The civil judicial system with its courtroom scenes creates a distortion in our view of God's law. In the courtroom, we have an impartial judge looking in on a slice of someone's life and deciding whether or not that person's actions were in accordance with the law.

This creates the illusion that the law is a closed system upon which we can pass judgment from the outside. In reality, however, the judge himself is within the law and his actions in judging are also governed by the law. This isn't a problem in civil law, because the civil law provides for the judge passing sentence.

In God's law, however, things aren't so clean. God's law, unlike civil law, requires compassion. And whenever we are relating to someone else, we must remember that even in the act of reacting to this person, we are under the command of the law. So we cannot say, "The law forbids that behavior, therefore I will treat this person harshly." The law forbids us to act this way.

This is nicely illustrated in the story of the woman caught in adultery. The scribes and pharisees catch this woman in the act of adultery (or so they say) and bring her before Jesus to be judged. The scribes and the pharisees in this scene are acting as if they are outside the law, looking in at the woman's actions. But Jesus models behavior within the law as he shows mercy.

This is my chief complaint about the conservative treatment of gays and lesbians in the Church. Whenever the question of homosexuality is addressed, it is always addressed as if we can stand outside the law and pronounce judgment on others.

But I am convinced that the first question has to be how should I relate to people with a different sexual orientation than myself. And even the distinction according to sexual orientation disolves when I really consider this question. The question becomes, how do I love my homosexual neighbor as myself. Within this line of reasoning, I never even get to the question of whether or not homosexuality is a sin.

And that's where I get even before grace enters the picture.


LutheranChik said...

I notice that a lot of people on the other side are lately given to saying, "I'm just a poor, miserable sinner like everyone else, and I do things that are wrong, too, but...and proceed to wax histrionic in a way that suggests gay "badness" is waaaaay badder than their heterosexual, run-of-the-mill badness.;-)

Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself because of my relationshipless state, LOL (from my mouth to God's ear...)-- it does provide an interesting dimension to engaging these folks in conversation, because they can't go after what I do...I'm not doing it. On the other hand, I'm certainly not penitent for being who I am (I have plenty of genuine faults to be penitent about). So they have to deal with me on my own terms, human being to human being, Christian to Christian, not on their stereotypes. It's one of those lemonade-from-life's-lemons situations. Of course, there's no dinner and a movie in it for me, so it's a mixed blessing.;-)

LutheranChik said...

But getting back to your point...unlike civil and criminal law, as one Lutheran pastor put it in an op-ed piece I read once (dealing with then-President Clinton's indiscretions) -- God's justice is mercy, and God's mercy is justice. God's ways are not our ways, nor God's thoughts our thoughts. And as people living in the now and the not-yet we live in the tension between earthly and heavenly concepts of justice; it's easy to inaccurately apply the principles of one realm to the other. (That works both ways, too, as when one meets peace-and-justice oriented Christians, as I have, who don't seem to have a good working model for dealing with criminals -- they want to deal with them from a spiritual level, but don't have a plan for dealing with them on a societal level, that protects others from the criminals' predations.)

*Christopher said...

Wow! I'm glad I found your blog. This made my day, after a very crappy day indeed.

mindflame said...

I am not sure I understood what you are getting at but I defiantly disagree that we have no right to say homosexuality is wrong. Let’s look at the story of the adulterous woman. Jesus did not interfere until people made a point of asking him. Stoning her was the law of Moses and He was going to allow it. (Even though the people administering the justice were guilty, as well) Therefore, it would seem we are permitted as a society to bring about an imperfect justice. Her's was a very imperfect justice, notice she was caught in the act but no man is being stoned. Secondly and I think this is most important, Jesus after he saves her from the other sinners says, “Go and sin no more.” She was not claming to have acted justly (as many homosexuals do). Jesus was forgiving but not tolerant of sin. When we deal with homosexuality, we are just dealing with fellow sinners and there are no special sins. However, we step over the line into indorsing sin (and harming the person) if we do not have the courage say it is wrong. Sometimes love means telling people they are sinning.

Andy said...

My primary point is that we must keep in mind in our treatment of gays and lesbians that our behavior is also under the law, the law that calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Now as to whether or not we should be saying their behavior is wrong, I've never been in their shoes, and I don't know what it's like, but the nearly universal testimony of gays and lesbians is that this is simply who they are. I'm inclined to believe them. Compassion compels me to believe them.

The way I see it, this is more like accepting Gentiles into the Church than it is like cleansing lepers or forgiving adulteresses.