How should we treat others?

Jesus and the Samaritan woman1A year or so ago, I came across the following quote: “other people’s real lives were more important than my mere beliefs.

I copied this to my twitter feed and someone responded with a comparison to adultery and a story Philip Yancy told in a book he wrote about a person who excused his adultery with God’s grace saying, in essence, “God will forgive me.”

The story about Yancy’s friend raises a good point. Sin can hurt other people.  The person who sent me the story said “sexual sins hurt so many people”.

Yes, it is obvious that some sins have the power to really hurt other people. But I’m not sure that adultery is the same as homosexuality in this sense at all.

Adultery is not a sexual sin so much as a breaking of vows, and as a result, destroying trust and confidence — causing real and lasting harm. I’m not sure how adultery can really compare to a mutually exclusive homosexual relationship.

Adultery as a sin is not even about sex. Someone could have a non-sexual relationship with a co-worker and cause jealousy in and harm to his life-long partner (for example, his wife) if it began to compete with his relationship with his partner.

Sex is definitely a powerful urge and we can easily fool ourselves into doing things that are painful to a lot of people if we are not careful with our sexual desire, but I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that God picks “sexual sin” out as a special category deserving of careful consideration.

Jesus summed up the Law and prophets with two commands: “Love the Lord … Love your neighbor”. I can see making an argument from the perspective of purity that homosexuality violates the first commandment, but I don’t think homosexuality itself violates the second. Adultery, on the other hand, definitely violates the “Love your neighbor” bit.

Still, the first commandment (and the purity argument) is ignored every day. A couple of examples are in order:

First, America has an obesity epidemic. (I’m a “victim” of this epidemic if you use BMI to measure it.)  Obesity can be evidence of gluttony — a misplaced desire for food, and one of the deadliest sins — definitely a violation of the purity argument.

And, while times are changing, we still treat people who take God’s name in vain — one of the ten commandments, arguably more important than anything the Bible says about homosexuality, and another argument from purity — with more humanity than homosexuals.

This brings me to this bit from St Issac:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

Too often we confuse zeal for purity.  Even if we are pure as the driven snow, pride — another one of the deadliest sins — can creep up on us and we’ll become zealous in our pursuit of purity and start ignoring the admonition to “Judge not”.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying as an “excuse” for sin. I’m no more excusing my friend’s sins than I am my own lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, or pride.  But just as I pray for God’s mercy and hope in it, I hope for God’s mercy for others.

It is true that there are prophets in the Bible who pointed out other people’s sin.  And maybe you are like John the Baptist who zealously pointed out Herod’s sin, but I prefer to follow St. Issac here and emulate Christ’s gentler example.

Christ sat down with the woman at the well even though he knew she wasn’t pure and said “I do not condemn you” to the woman caught in the act of adultery. He said “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

I suppose it is just a sign of my lukewarm ways that I’m more comfortable trying to be like Jesus here than John.

3 thoughts on “How should we treat others?”

  1. To the woman caught in adultery, Christ says, “Go and sin no more.” Sin is sin, whatever the form, they all separate us from God and that is the real issue.

    God loved us enough to provide Jesus to correct that separation, but in accepting forgiveness, we repent, we aim to “GO and sin no more.” Quit looking for reasons to justify ‘why I can do this sin. As believers we are to turn to God and His way, not excuses and justifying doing things my way. Part of doing things His way is to extend the same love that He did because all of our righteousness (and self-justification) is as filthy rags to God. Whether a braggart, glutton, adulterer, homosexual or liar, God wants us to turn to him, be washed, and become new creations in Him. We do not defend any of those sins as sort of okay, lying, stealing, gossiping or sexually defying God’s plan for His creation. That we all fail, we all sin, we all are guilty, yes, but that just means we all need God’s love equally because it is all filthy rags without the death of Christ interveaning for us.

    The best way to get others to see Christ’s sacrifice is to love them, to come alongside so they can experience it through His forgiven ones.

  2. You’re absolutly right. Sin is sin and there is no excuse. I thought that was clear in what I wrote.

    The point that I was trying to make is not that we have any reason to excuse ourselves — we remind ourselves that we are the chief sinner at every liturgy . Instead, the point was that if we really understand our own sin, we’ll have very little reason act without compassion towards others.

    Yes, “Go and sin no more”, but I know that I sin every day despite Jesus command. i’m not excusing it — that is just the reality.

  3. Resident atheist here, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.

    If we look at the Ten Commandments, 1 through 4 (using the Septaguint numbering rather than the Talmudic) are about one’s own relationship with the Lord. Even 2, graven images, is possible to interpret in a “you can’t draw or sculpt” way but is far easier in modern contexts to interpret as how one approaches those simulacra, not in what they are. Otherwise maps become forbidden.

    5 is about relationship to your parents (the obvious reaction from those abused is “what if they don’t honor you?”)

    6 through 9 are about your relationship with others, and as you note are about not abusing trust. In all of these, there is a clear victim, a non-consentual partner (I’ll delve into that in the context of adultery in a moment).

    10 is about your relationship with yourself.

    Of those 10, 4 are about you and God, 4 have a definite victim, 1 is about your relationship with yourself, and the only one, #5, doesn’t presume other things about the relationship.

    (Especially since in the Talmudic tradition the ones about your relationship with God are restrictions because you’re one of the chosen people. If you’re not, all bets are off.)

    But going back to the adultery one, there is debate in many Jewish traditions over whether the Torah forbids premarital sex at all. Quite a few even conservative sects have concluded that it doesn’t. So it seems to me, very clearly, that “adultery” isn’t about the sex, it’s about the breach of trust with the person you’re married to.

    Which is, I think, where Jimmy Carter was coming from when he famously admitted to adultery without having had sex: “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”

    So I think there’s two ways to interpret “adultery” in the context of the Ten Commandments: Either it’s about procreative sex, or it’s about intimacy and trust.

    But let’s pursue the “okay, so what does sex outside of marriage” mean question: I think only the most ardent Clinton supporter thinks it’s limited strictly to intercourse. And if we back off from that question, is skin to skin contact a necessary part? Orgasm? The lines start to blur.

    The circumstances of my meeting my now wife, the communities we were both in, meant that fairly early on we had a discussion about non-monogamy. We both agreed that non-monogamy was an option in the context of our relationship, but we’d have a conversation about it first, not spring it on the other person as a done deal.

    We’ve been “an item” for a decade and a half now, married for six and a half or so years, and we haven’t had that conversation yet. Surprising both of us. Except…

    Just under two years ago we started square dancing. Modern Western Square Dancing has two branches, straight and “gay”. Straight clubs tend to be an extremely “coupled” activity, singles have generally not been welcomed, divorces have meant that people stop dancing, at least until they can find someone. “Gay” clubs started in gay communities, but have a substantial number of straight members because you don’t need to have a partner (and, even though the calls and moves are the same, some flourishes tend to be different).

    There are two women I dance with regularly that have provoked that conversation. Both of them are lesbian, one of them has another committed partner the other one is in a relationship. My dances with them have no physical aspect that doesn’t happen when we go dance at the very uptight straight clubs.

    But the flow, the level of communication, the subtle taps and squeezes that say “okay, now I’m about to raise my hand to twirl you” and “yes, and I’m about to twirl”, with these two dancers feels so intensely intimate that we’ve had that conversation.

    I certainly don’t need it to turn into genital touching or orgasm, it’s just that delicate probing, “are we spinning like this? like that?”, that “if I hold you like this you’ll respond that way” sense of bonding, that makes me think it could be adultery. If we didn’t talk about it.

    And, conversely, as Dan Savage famously asked Stephen Colbert: “It depends. Is it adultery if I’m committing it at one end of a guy and he’s committing it at the other end of that same guy?”

    So I’d, in fact, propose that adultery has very little to do with sex, and everything to do with trust and betrayal of that trust.

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