Gays, greed and biblical orthodoxy

Gays, greed and biblical orthodoxy

by Jon Kuhrt

I have watched with interest the reactions to Stephen Kuhrt’s article about the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCAUK) and its role within the controversies about gay and lesbian relationships within the Church. Stephen called for “a careful, nuanced and loving engagement with the issue, its complexities and the human beings that it involves”. In response Matt Kennedy on the Stand Firm in the Faith website www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/24813 described him as “weak, passionless, powerless, passive, compromising, institutionalist, impotent”.

Rather than simply being weak many evangelicals have a deep and genuine concern for humility in their approach to issues of sexual behaviour – not least because of their awareness of their own frailties and weaknesses. This is why Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation is such a powerful book and is having such influence among a wide cross-section of evangelicals.

Humility is not weakness. Indeed followers of Jesus should always take a humble approach whenever we discuss the behaviour of others. God’s grace shows us how we can all be selectively orthodox in our interpretation and application of Jesus’ teaching. The issue of wealth and greed is a good example to discuss.

The problem of wealth

Unlike gay and lesbian relationships, wealth and greed is a subject about which Jesus spoke a huge amount. There are so many clear teachings of Jesus which - if we are to take scripture at its face value - show the incompatibility of following him and being greedy. Examples that immediately spring to mind are the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19), the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13), the Rich Ruler (Luke 18:18) and the clear instruction that you cannot serve both God and Money (Luke 16:13). There are plenty of others – and you can’t read Luke’s gospel for long before unearthing many more.

But as this perceptive song points out, Jesus’ example and teaching is not always reflected in the lifestyles of his followers:

The cars in the churchyard are shiny and German
Distinctly at odds with the theme of the sermon
And during communion I study the people
Threading themselves through the eye of the needle
[1]

The song rings true because we know how tricky the issue of wealth is within the church. Many Christians are continually wrestling with the challenge of how much they should spend on their cars, holidays and home furnishings. Many vicars and Bishops feel genuinely uncomfortable with the scale of their houses and are concerned about the consistency between the Church institution and the challenge of Jesus.

I believe the size of the mortgage we take on is the most spiritually significant decision we make. But we have to ask ourselves how often in Church culture are we truly honest about how we use our money? Is Jesus truly Lord over our bank accounts? For many Christians our relationship with money is the love that dares not speak its name.

I wonder what the proudly evangelical churches in the City of London actually say about the greed, reckless lending and massive bonuses within the banking world? They might be hot on issues of personal moral conduct but are they ‘biblically orthodox’ on the issue of corporate wealth and greed?

Neutering the challenge of scripture

Christians have developed some worrying ways of neutering these straightforwardly radical and demanding areas of Jesus’ teaching. We say things like ‘it was not the wealth of the rich ruler that was the problem but that he loved his wealth more than Jesus’. Instead of a demand which ‘amazes’ the disciples, we turn it into a gentle statement on priorities that would shock no one. It leads to us consoling ourselves that if we really mean it when we sing and worship God then it justifies a massive house and multiple cars. This kind of thinking is rife in middle class evangelical churches.

The process of domesticating Jesus’ challenge around wealth starts very early. My kids have a cute book of Stories Jesus Told which says that the ‘eye of a needle’ was a really small gate in Jerusalem which required a camel to take off all his packs before entering. But according to many scholars this is simply a myth developed in the medieval era. Most of us know that any honest reading of scripture show that the life, teaching and example of Jesus clearly show us that following him will mean embracing simplicity and costly generosity.[2]

On the subject of wealth, Jesus said to the money-loving Pharisees: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money….what is highly valued amongst men is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:13ff). As Tony Campolo has written in an essay called Can a Christian own a BMW?[3]: ‘The rich know that if they take the biblical Jesus seriously, they will have to do a lot more than get their priorities right…Jesus calls us to abandon the things of this world, use our resources to feed the poor and take up the cross.’ Rather than simply condemining people with a weakness for German engineering, Campolo challenges us to think about how we steward what God has given us.

Being judgemental?

Whenever I have raised this issue in church discussions, people often say things like ‘But we must not be judgemental’ and will often point to the gaps and inconsistencies in their own life (or mine!).

Exactly. Now that really is being biblical.

Increasingly I believe that Jesus’ radical example and the costly nature of discipleship should simply drive us to our knees in humble repentance. And it is in this humility, in fear and trembling, that we discuss the attitudes and behaviours of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Examining the logs in our own eyes leads us to humble acknowledgement of our own sin and failings. This is a place of humility where we develop a nuanced and loving response to people of great wealth.

We have to recognise that the wider world sees very clearly when the Church sits light to Jesus’ teaching about greed and money. So when we talk harshly about gay and lesbian people we easily appear as hypocrites who are selectively orthodox and who love pointing the finger at others. It is easy to assume that it is fear or hatred of homosexuality that is the real engine room of this concern for Biblical orthodoxy on this issue when they see us sitting so light to other areas of Jesus’ teaching.

So I do believe that followers of Jesus should take a ‘careful, nuanced and loving position’ when it comes to discussing issues of sexuality – because this is what we need to do whenever we discuss the behaviour of others. All of us who want to be ‘Bible-people’ during these current controversies need to reflect deeply on Jesus’ challenge to the judgemental religious leaders of his day:

‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.’ Luke 11:39


[1] The Divine Comedy, The Eye of the Needle

[2] For a brief social analysis of Jesus encounters with the rich and poor see Comforting the Disturbed, disturbing the Comfortable by Jon Kuhrt available at http://www.communitymission.org.uk/includes/documents/cm_docs/2009/c/comforting_the_disturbed.pdf

[3] Tony Campolo Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Touch, p101

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