Friday, June 05, 2015

Judging Jenner

Here is a classic example of foolish reasoning around the Jenner episode. Needless to say, the commentator (a certain Benjamin Corley) is ironically passing judgment on those who "judge" Jenner's actions, which is to say that he is making a determination about what is right and what is wrong and warning us all not to declare that Jenner is sinning against God and man. It is not possible to be moral without regularly making judgments about right and wrong, which is why the Scriptures are full of laws and moral exhortations that underscore this point.
What is particularly sad is that Corley has two masters degrees from Gordon Conwell Seminary, is working on a Ph.D. in missiology at Fuller Seminary, and has already published a book, called "Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus" (published by a press I never heard of before: Destiny Image in Shippensburg, PA). This is Christianity 101 and he should know it. Doubtless he would respond that he once "knew" it and now has rejected it as a misrepresentation of Jesus; but in asserting such he would be wrong.
Almost half of Jesus' sayings in the Synoptic Gospels are accompanied by judgments and warnings about being excluded from the coming kingdom of God if certain behaviors are not discontinued. Even the Sermon on the Mount ends with a triplicate of judgments/warnings regarding those who merely hear Jesus' words but do not "do them" -- in the same chapter, incidentally, that begins with the statement "Do not judge lest you be judged" (7:1). Go here for a whole series of Jesus' judgment sayings found in the Synoptic Gospel (not counting material found only in Matthew's Gospel where the ratio increases to 60%): (pp. 6-12). John the Baptist, the man who baptized Jesus, "judged" Herod Antipas' marriage to his brother's wife to be a violation of Levitical incest law and reproved him for it. I'm quite sure Herod thought he was doing God's will. And what, pray tell, was Jesus doing when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove out the animals with cords? Holding judgment in abeyance?
Jesus' very outreach to tax collectors (economic exploiters) and (sexual) sinners was premised on the judgment that, sans such an outreach to them replete with call to repentance, they would not inherit the very Kingdom he was proclaiming. Jesus excoriates judgment that majors in minors (Paul makes a similar observation in Romans 14:1-10 regarding matters of ethical indifference) or judgment that shows no desire to recover someone for the kingdom of God, not judgment per se. He does not direct his followers to disregard the Scriptures and his own teachings in making moral judgments about right and wrong. His remarks about church discipline (Matt 18) and about rebuking those who sin and calling them to repent (Luke 17:3-4) requires a "judgment" of right and wrong. His instructions to the disciples to go out with his message "Repent!" (Mark 6:12) is another case in point, among many.
Corley's statement, "Love is not simultaneously possible while we are judging someone" is ridiculous. Indeed, it is not possible to love apart from such judgments. Parents cannot truly love their children without making regular judgments about the rightness and wrongness of their behavior. The context for Lev 19:18b, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself," includes the command "you shall reprove your neighbor, lest you incur guilt for failing to warn him" (Lev 19:17). To fail to reprove Jenner is an act of functional hate that consigns him to self-delusion and the judgment of God.
Yes, contra Corley, we can know with confidence that transsexualism is wrong (and citing Pat Robertson's verdict is hardly a compelling case otherwise). The malakoi ("soft men") condemned in 1 Cor 6:9 are a close analogue: men who actively feminized themselves to attract male sex partners, seeking to erase the marks of their masculinity. For the very reason that homosexual practice is wrong, transsexualism is all the more wrong because it is an even greater complaint against God for the way that one is made. See further:…/TranssexualityOrdination.pdf (pp. 5-6).
Nor is it the case that one must "know with absolute certainty that Caitlyn [sic: Bruce] simply chose to be transgender of her [sic: his] own free will, as an act of rebellion against God." Of course Bruce Jenner chose to mutilate his male body. No one had a gun to his head and the state has not yet declared him to be insane or mentally incompetent. I'm quite confident that Bruce made the choice of his own free will, thinking (erroneously) that he was doing God's will. That is the nature of sin.
The incestuous man at Corinth doubtless thought he was doing God's will. When Paul in context declared, "Stop deceiving yourselves," and reminded the Corinthians that "sexually immoral persons ... will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10), he was not giving the incestuous man a pass if the offender thought he was complying with God's will. Paul never reverses the principle that if someone thinks something to be sin it is sin to such a one (Rom 14:14). He never asserts (for it would be ludicrous for him to do so) that if someone doesn't believe a sin to be a sin it is no sin to such a one.
In fact, an exasperated Paul asks the rhetorical question, "Is it not those inside the church that we are to judge?" (1 Cor 5:12), by which Paul means not just judging per se but, as the context indicates, imposing church discipline. He is not precluding determinations that the pagans are living godless lives. Such a view is a matter of course with him, as when Paul states to the Thessalonians that in their sexual lives they are not to live like Gentiles (pagans) who do not know God (1 Thess 4:5).
Romans 1:18-32 is all about humans becoming warped in their thinking but nonetheless being held accountable by God for their actions because, although they had evidence all around them from "the things made" that their actions were wrong, they chose not to recognize the evidence as such. In their idolatry, sexual immorality (including homosexual practice), and an array of other sins (1:28-31) they were quite simply "without excuse." In 1 Thess 5:14 Paul exhorts his readers not to stop passing judgments on immoral conduct but rather to tailor the force of the correction to the degree of resistance: "admonish the disorderly, speak soothingly to the discouraged, hold on tight to the weak."
I could go on but by now the point ought to be obvious. As I have noted often before, Augustine said it well: "Do not imagine that . . . you then love your son when you do not give him discipline, or that you then love your neighbor when you do not rebuke him. This is not love, but mere feebleness. Let love be fervent to correct, to amend. . . . Love not in the person his error, but the per-son; for the person God made, the error the person himself made. (Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John 7.11; NPNF, slightly modified). Mr. Corley is still young. May he profit from Augustine's words, and what is more, from the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.

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