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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Judge Not (Part 4) Necessary Judgements

How lovely to see others through the eyes of mercy. And painful. At times it is necessary to see with those eyes the damage we do to one another when the faithful act unfaithfully through sexual sin. St. Paul gives us a powerful complement to Jesus’ command to ‘not judge’ when the Apostle implores us as church men and women to exercise wise judgments in regards to our fellows who have fallen into grievous sins. Why? St. Paul understood that unchecked sexual immorality had power in the believing community to impact the purity and holiness of others.

Paul’s Greco-Roman world differed significantly from the Hebrew community of Jesus in regards to sexuality and spirituality. The Apostle advanced the Gospel among citizens who worshipped many gods and goddesses and whose sexual practices reflected that diversity. Whereas Jesus liberated the poor from the legalistic shame of the Pharisee, St. Paul contended with the near shamelessness of new converts emerging out of an idolatrous, highly sensual world.

In I C 5, St. Paul describes a man in the Corinthian Church who was committing incest with his father’s wife. And the Church was proud of it! (1C 5:2) The severe nature of the sexual immorality at hand coupled with an arrogant tolerance of the sin inspired St. Paul to exhort the members of Christ’s body at Corinth: ‘What business is it of mine to judge those outside of the church? Are you not to judge those inside? Expel the wicked brother from among you.’(12, 13)

In other words, we must discern when the integrity of the Church is being violated. That matters to Jesus and it should matter to us: we must each do our part when members are violating each other.

St. Paul clearly is ‘passing judgment’ on this Corinthian man, and he does so without reservation. His reasons are clear: tolerating sexual immorality among believers has an especially pernicious impact on the whole: ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’ (v. 6) Such tolerance undermines the moral standards of the community overall.

Commenting on Paul’s judgment and discipline of this man, Pauline scholar Dr. Robert Gagnon writes: ‘If the Church refuses to take a firm stand against an obvious and severe violation of sexual immorality then its resistance to other types of sexual immorality will be weakened beyond repair.’

Unlike Jewish disciples who were subject to myriad regulations concerning sexual purity, the Corinthians boasted of their sexual liberties as a sign of their progressive, grace-filled faith. St. Paul reminded them in Chapters 6 and 7 of the power of the human body to bind them to intimate communion with God or to other gods and goddesses. He is simply applying Jesus’ mandate: serial, unrepentant immoral behavior puts one at risk from inheriting the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 5: 27-30: Jesus implores us to destroy what stumbles us so we can avoid hell!)

St. John the Apostle invokes the same principle in regards to ‘tolerating’ the prophetess Jezebel whose teaching ‘led the servants of God into sexual immorality’ at the church in Thyatira. The Apostle prophesies intense suffering for all in the church who fail to repent (Rev. 2: 20-23). Strong language: both St. John and St. Paul bring judgment, a sword intended to separate the holy from the defiled in order to preserve the integrity of the whole.

That integrity includes the invitation for the defiled to repent unto the mercy of God. In truth, mercy motivates both John and Paul in their judgments. St. John invites the Thyatirans to turn away from their deception and so avoid suffering; St. Paul implores the Corinthians to turn the immoral man out of the fellowship so that his sin might be destroyed, his soul saved (1 C 4:5). The purging of impurity from the fellowship is married to the hope of restoration for the fallen.

The excesses at Corinth and Thyatira demanded decisive, divisive judgment in order to preserve the dignity of the faithful.

What matters to Jesus, to St. Paul and St. John and I think Pope Francis is that we do not over-emphasize the threat of others’ sexual immorality. We run the risk of magnifying ‘specks’ and missing our own planks.

Two keys here: although we can and must judge certain acts as being a grave, we must entrust ultimate judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.’ (CCC 186)

The basis for such moral discernment is our personal reckoning with moral vulnerabilities. Scripture and Church teaching command us over and over to make wise moral judgments about ourselves. The horizon Jesus has opened for us frees us to make wise moral judgments. And we must, if we want to engender life in our fellows, not confusion or lust or fear.

Solomon implores us to ‘preserve sound judgment and discernment; they will be life for you’, an antidote to not getting entrapped in sin. (PR 3: 21) ‘A man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself,’ (PR 6:32) and I dare say, his marriage too. How blessed we are, when through God’s mercy we have removed the plank from our own eye and can help our brother remove the speck in his.

We want our churches to be safe and clean sanctuaries. But still earthy and honest enough to welcome dirty sheep so they can have a fighting chance to become clean! Perhaps this is among Pope Francis’ main points: Rather than a Church which clings to its own security, He wants a church that is bruised and hurting because it has been out on the streets…‘ If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is because so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the light, strength, and consolation born of friendship with Jesus, and without a community of faith to support them…’ (EG 49)

Might we be empowered by a renewed Gospel that has power to open the horizon of others and grant them a new vision and a new hope for their lives? These men and women surround us in our daily lives: persons with SSA who are blinded by both homosexual fatalism and the stigmatism of the Pharisee.

Might we trust the truth that has set us free, divine love that surpasses our weaknesses and compels us to build bridges rather than walls with others? Let us not be content with being a tidy truthful church but a messy fruitful one. Let’s manifest the mercy that has power to open for all a whole new horizon.

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Judge Not? (Part 3) The Merciful Kingdom

It is impossible to grasp Jesus’ most famous statements on ‘not judging’ (in LK 6:37-42 and Matt. 7:1-5) without understanding Almighty Mercy. Today we face the kingdom of homosexual fatalism and the kingdom of the Pharisees; in joyful opposition to both kingdoms, Jesus opens a horizon—a whole new world—for us.

Fittingly, He prefaces His reference in Luke to ‘not judging’ by referencing ‘mercy’. He said: ‘Our Father is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.’ (LK 6: 35b, 36) He proceeds: ‘Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ (vs. 37, 38)

Matt.’s reference is similar: ‘Do not judge or you will be judged. In the same way you judge others, you will be judged. The measure you use will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, given the plank in yours? You hypocrite: Take the plank out of your own eye then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s.’ (Matt. 7: 1-5)

Jesus is speaking to His followers who had received mercy and yet who lived in a legalistic culture. He opened their horizon through a powerful love that exposed their deepest sins and forgave them. His very love established truth in their inmost parts, thus fulfilling the Law. He did not nullify the fact of sin—the moral law–but actually deepened its meaning then filled it with mercy. These listeners had received that mercy. In a merciless religious world, would they in turn extend that mercy and so demonstrate that they belonged to another Kingdom?

That is the essence of Jesus’ exhortation ‘to not judge.’ It is as if He is saying: ‘Consider how I have treated you. In light of the horizon I opened for you, will you let go of your judgments that close that horizon on another? In light of your felony for which I treated you mercifully, will you extend mercy to this person’s misdemeanor? Having been released from the prison of sin and judgment and shame, will you release others from their prisons?’

He highlights our authority as members of this new Kingdom. God will judge us according to the judgments we make of others. Our horizon will stay as open as our hearts are toward those we are tempted to judge. Do we view them as as intrinsically ‘gay’ or as sons and daughters of the Father, men and women of dignity created to live chaste and fruitful lives?

Jesus reminds us to first identify our own poisons, to spit them out, drink in mercy as our cure then extend that mercy freely to those we view as poisonous. To not do so puts us dangerously close to the Pharisees and homosexual fatalists who live small lives and reduce others to their size. Jesus came with a big Kingdom and invites us into it. He may first take us down to our depths but He does so to raise us up with mercy. He gives us a big eternal horizon so we can view others expansively, with generosity. He wants us to love others out of that largesse.

Here we must ask Jesus to see as He sees, not the mere outward appearance of a person but the heart of one whose misdirected quest for love may well be breaking ground for divine love–the cry and cure of every human being.

Pope Francis writes: ‘One cannot help but admire the resources Jesus used to dialogue with His people…I believe His secret lies in the way that He looked at people, seeing beyond their weakness and failings…We must make present to broken people the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and His personal gaze…Such tender attentiveness ‘heals, liberates, and encourages others to grow in Christ…’ (EG)

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Judge Not? (Part 1) Merciful Judge

Pope Francis launched a thousand speculations when he quipped ‘who am I to judge?’ in response to a journalist’s questions about persons with same-sex attraction, including Catholic clergy men. I cannot interpret Francis’ exact meaning here. But I know that in our increasingly gay-friendly climate, his words have become only too familiar. In many Christian circles, the believer who challenges the moral goodness of gay identity, practice, and marriage is usually shrugged off with a ‘who I am to judge?’, as if that statement itself marked its proclaimer as profoundly loving.

The paradox: many who refuse ‘to judge’ homosexuality can be shrill and dismissive toward persons who disagree with them–quick to pronounce grave judgments on those who have a problem with gay behavior. For example, a devout friend of mine has been trounced by her Catholic family for her refusal to bless a family member’s lesbian relationship. In truth she has sought the much harder road of loving both parties actively while not shifting the boundary lines of what she knows is God’s best for human relating.

To be sure, Jesus makes a big deal about not judging others wrongfully. Yet He insists we make proper moral judgments by relying upon His mercy and discernment. The Apostle Paul is our patron saint here; he urges us in the Spirit of Jesus to ‘judge those inside the church’ (1Cor 5:12).

So how do we make proper moral judgments without being judgmental? One key: keep first things first–the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That God became flesh in order to break the grip of our moral disorder and to transform us into His own image—that is good news, so stunning in fact that all other considerations must bow before the One who makes all things new.

Becoming ‘judgmental’ in the truly negative sense results from losing this Gospel-centeredness. Losing sight of Him, we become self-reliant and prone to self-justifications. We must defend ourselves—we’re all we’ve got! Self-justified ones tend to judge wrongfully, defensively. That applies as much to liberals as to conservatives. For example, as a ‘lefty’ young man, all I could defend do was defend my ‘gay’ way. I knew no other road, as Jesus was not yet mine.

Mercy alone breaks the bonds of self-justification. Mercy opens up for us a whole new world; it frees us to live out the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict, quoted by Pope Frances in the ‘Joyful Gospel’(EG): ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.’

Jesus opens up for us a whole new horizon. He cuts a decisive path for us. He made a way for Divine Love to surpass all other loves that compete for our hearts. United with Him—Jesus our horizon, Jesus our path, Jesus our goal, we begin to become more like Him. Part of the fruit of Christ-likeness is the call and the capacity to make wise moral judgments. Such discernment invites new life for us and for others.

The primary word in the NT for ‘judging’ others is rooted in the noun for judge, or GR krites. The verb ‘to judge’ (GR krino) means to separate one thing from another, to select, choose, examine, or investigate. Judgment in the NT is anchored in the understanding of God as the One who judges absolutely. That has a strong OT precedent as well, and refers to the all-seeing, all-knowing Creator who determines the eternal fate of His creatures based on His complete knowledge of them. God the Judge is the ultimate examiner of human hearts; He is thus the only One qualified to separate the wheat from tares, sheep from goats, saved from unsaved.

‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to what his deeds deserve…’ (Jer. 17:10)

‘Since you call upon a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here with reverent fear.’ (1P 1:17)

Jesus defines Himself as one with the Father in judgment: ‘My Father…has entrusted all judgment to the Son. He has given the Son authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.’ (JN 5: 22, 27)

These verses and many others make clear that only the Creator–Father and Son–have power to determine the eternal fate of His creatures. Glory Alleluia! That frees us by forbidding us from judging others’ ultimate fates. Clearly a divine call…

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The Joyful, Fiery Gospel

‘God infuses the soul and sets it on fire with the Spirit of Love.’ St. John of the Cross

My heart burns with hope. After a week enkindled with story after story of God’s healing love in the lives of persons wounded by homosexuality, I am a believer: the fiery love of Jesus overturns the claims  of those who insist that ‘homosexuals cannot change.’ The Gospel truth is vastly superior. Jesus sets persons captivated by same-gender longing free: free from the shaming events and beliefs that inspired the inclinations, free from the sensational habits that enslave one to lust, free from the Pharisee and free from the secular bully who wants to impose chronic homosexuality as one’s destiny.

Our third Restored Hope Network in Portland OR started on the Feast of the Sacred Heart: the devotion to Jesus’ fiery, merciful heart that inspired St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy (a much-loved devotion at Desert Stream Ministries.) Among persons emerging out of same-sex attraction who testified of steady, inspired progress in chastity and gender complementarity, I witnessed over and over the power of Jesus’ sacred heart: the fiery love that surpasses all other loves, an intimacy so profound and deeply personal that one is provoked by Love Himself to surrender all and begin again with Christ Himself as one’s guide. Is this not the fruit of the joyful Gospel that Pope Francis, quoting Benedict, extolled when he described that Gospel ‘not as an ethic or lofty idea but…a Person’, who offers our wounded lives ‘an open horizon and decisive direction?’

As I listened to dozens of persons gathered from around our country and beyond, I witnessed this flame of Love that in truth had opened their horizons and granted them a clear direction. That is nothing less than a series of diverse encounters with the One who makes all things new! This reflection on the Sacred Heart offers us a glimpse of what happens in the hearts of men and women, singed by homosexuality, who discover the greater passion of God’s all-consuming love for them.

‘What strike me most in contemplating the Sacred Heart of Jesus are the flames which consume and surround it. These mysterious flames cannot be contained even in that burning Heart; they escape through the wound, pass around the Cross and among the thorns, penetrating it completely. In a word, it is a burning heart, an inflamed heart. And what is this sacred fire that consumes the Heart of Jesus? IT IS THE FIERY LOVE HE HAS FOR US. “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (LK 12:49)’ Father Martin Berlioux

I witnessed the kindling of that fire during our week together. A huge log was thrown into the fire by the premier (at our conference) of a new feature film expertly directed by my friend David Kyle Foster. Entitled ‘Such Were Some of You,’ the film features a dozen stories of men and women whose gay destiny was consumed by the fire of divine love. I recall Christie, a brilliant gender-confused women whose rowing coach at Stanford invited her into Christ and a whole new life, Jim who at 10 began imitating porn films with his elementary school buddies and whose life was changed by a friend imploring him to enter into her community of faith where Jesus was transforming lives, Maite whose Catholic upbringing was undermined by sex-play with an older girl that led to everything but Jesus. Desperate, she attended a Spirit-filled Catholic meeting that was the beginning of a whole new life.

I write this for my fellow Catholics in particular: if we want the Sacred Heart of Jesus to blaze and light up the darkened lives of those we love most, then we must mobilize our communities to provide living, breathing, winsome onramps for those stumbling around in our confusing, demonizing landscape. ‘Such Were Some of You’ features more evangelicals than Catholics because frankly, evangelicals have done a better job than Catholics in providing life-transforming communities for young people turning from homosexual sin. Let’s catch up! We have a profound inheritance in our moral understanding and most importantly, in our reliance upon the One who makes all things new through His Body, broken and offered to us.

Let us renew our efforts to create space in our parishes for healing community: places of actual encounter between His sacred heart and the broken hearts of persons becoming conformed to an image other than Christ. Your children and theirs will thank you for such an effort. Take heart. His sacred heart is ablaze and effectual in love to transform persons with SSA.

‘How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts.’ Pope Francis (EG 261)

Click here to purchase ‘Such Were Some of You’ from Pure Passion.

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At Home, to Heal

‘Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of Jesus Christ. When the Church loses this apostolic courage, she becomes a stalled Church, a tidy Church, a Church without fertility, because she has lost the courage to go to the many people who are victims of idolatry, of worldliness, of weak thought…Those who do not walk in order not to err make the more serious mistake.’ Pope Francis

Jesus suffered to heal us, to restore what was lost in our merciless lives.

I live to help make His Church a juncture for mercy–that encounter between our real suffering and the fruit of His. Imagine my delight when, last month, we started our first Living Waters group ever in an American Catholic parish.

About 25 men and women, Protestants and Catholics, gather in admitted brokenness under the one Cross. We have names for our distress: sexual addiction, same-sex attraction, abuse, and the havoc these things had wrecked on our single and married lives. Most importantly, we dare to believe that mercy has a name, Jesus Christ, and that His Church is the best place to expose the broken ground of our lives to His.

We shall covenant together for twenty weeks to exchange fear and shame and exaggerated desires for His desire to call us His own, His treasured ones who please Him as we seek to treasure others, to not reduce them to objects of fear or lust but rather to see Christ in and though them.

It is messy. We see Him and others through blood-shot eyes. But His Spirit has gathered us, and the Son has gone before us, and has granted us access to the Father whose love, mediated through each other, surpasses our old weak definitions.

I believe in living an integrated life: to be known where I worship. That means securing a place where I can voice my need constructively to the Christ present in my brother and sister. How else will we overcome shameful sins, hidden in darkness? How else will relational wounds heal?

Last year, as I waited in line at Mass, I noticed something beautiful. I saw Karen who has been equally wounded and converted by a gay-identified loved one, then Kenn who struggles daily to be free from Internet porn. A ways back was Tim, abused by a priest and yet still hungry for Jesus, and Sue, so intent on Christ that she would rather confess her same-gender attraction as a need for God rather than as a socio-political declaration.

I had met each of them in a series of small groups I had run prior to Living Waters. Now together, as one broken body, we waited before Christ Crucified to partake of the fruit of His suffering. Under the Cross, His Body broken for us, I could see it: we are becoming the Body, broken for each other. Healing and joy rises from the feast Jesus has prepared for us.

‘You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest.’ (IS 9: 3)

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