It hasn’t been an aim of mine to focus on homosexuality in my posts in the last few weeks–but there have been several things which have presented themselves, and seemed helpful, so I’m going with it. Along those lines, over the next few days I’m going to post a series of passages from Robert Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice. They deal specifically with looking at how Jesus related to people who, in His day, were especially considered “sinners.” There’s a lot to learn here for all of us, from all walks of life, about relating in a Christlike way to others from all walks of life:
The Pharisee had forgotten that, despite all his righteous acts, he was still wholly dependent on God’s ongoing mercy. Because he trusted in his own righteousness, he lacked the requisite humility for responding to sinners with compassion rather than contempt (see Luke 18). All had lost the sense of gratitude and humility that flows from an awareness of standing under perpetual grace. They could only begrudge a generous response to others less deserving than themselves. There sin was not that of expecting repentance from others but rather that of setting up barriers to thwart that repentance.
What was distinctive about Jesus’ ministry was not that he refused to make judgments about the conduct of others, or even that he lowered his moral standards. What was distinctive was his incredibly generous spirit even toward those who had lived in gross disobedience to God for years. He expended enormous effort and exhibited great compassion in the search for the lost. Jesus did not wait for the lost to come to him. He went looking for them. He invited them to participate in God’s gracious kingdom, extended to them his powers of healing, and entered their homes for table fellowship. He did not approach sinners with contempt or condescension.
When sinners responded favorably to his message, they were not treated as second-class members of God’s people but welcomed without reservation to the banquet. Jesus joyously welcomed the penitent as if their life had always been characterized by faithful service. There was no probationary period or recrimination for past wrongs and no suspicions about the genuineness of their repentance. Instead, he threw a party for them which celebrated their return. Their mere humble “yes” to Jesus was enough to put their past behind them. In effect, Jesus was declaring a national amnesty from past offenses for all those who followed him. To many observers Jesus had made matters all too easy for the reprobate.
All of this should serve as a wake-up call to those in the church on both sides of the theological aisle. For liberals who think that an aggressive outreach to those on the margins of society entails acceptance without transformation and a diminishment of the church’s moral standards, Jesus’ ministry provides incontrovertible proof that the church can practice radical love without sacrificing “one iota or one letter stroke” from God’s demands for righteous conduct. For conservatives who think that upholding holiness means complete separation from and contempt for the wicked of the world, Jesus’ ministry demonstrates that righteousness can be wed with love. When either love or righteousness is sacrificed, the church proclaims a truncated gospel.
As regards the church’s response to practicing homosexuals, there must be a willingness to fraternize with them in a spirit of humility and to offer God’s forgiveness merely on the basis of a penitent spirit. Such a posture toward practicing homosexuals has nothing to do with changing the church’s assessment of homosexual practice as a perversion of the created order. Indeed, it demands such an assessment as a necessary precondition to finding and healing the homosexual. Jesus did not confuse love with toleration of all behaviors and neither should the church.
–Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, p.212-213